This weekend, I lost my voice. That’s bad news for my parental leave mojo, because there is usually a ton of papa singing in this house. Here’s why even crap singers like me shouldn’t be afraid to belt out a ballad for their little one.
When I mean crap singer, I mean bad; I can hear that I’m out of tune but don’t know what to do about it. But it’s more than that – like most guys, singing in front of others doesn’t come naturally to me. Alone in the shower or in the car, sure. But with any sort of audience – in a choir, at karaoke, even at a birthday party – I always felt self-conscious. Until I had kids.
During my first stint of parental leave in 2017, I was surprised to discover that being home alone with a newborn for long stretches is a very quiet experience. Of course, babies do plenty of cooing, crying and laughing. And, you’ll do some talking too – reading them short little books, perhaps, or narrating your actions (“You’re hungry little man, eh? Don’t worry, papa is heating up your bottle right now…”). But across a full day of primary caregiving, a few intense bursts of sound can quickly get swallowed up in long periods of silence.
Music is your friend here. But what to play?
To fill the quiet periods, I started by putting on my normal Spotify playlists. But, I quickly found that my crying daughter would not be soothed by folk rock. Next, I searched for good baby-friendly playlists but I didn’t find anything that I liked; everything seemed too bouncy and synthesized. Ugh.
So over the course of a couple weeks, I put together my own playlist, filled with the songs of my Canadian childhood: a healthy dose of Raffi (if you’ve never heard of this man, stop what you’re doing right now and go listen to the insane genius that is Bananaphone!), a liberal sprinkling of Fred Penner (why had I never realised how dark The Cat Came Back’s lyrics are?!?), and the occasional Charlotte Diamond throwback (FYI ‘Earth, Water, Air and Fire’ is an anthem-in-waiting for today’s climate movement).
These were songs that made me smile, but I’d not heard most of them in at least 25 years and I had no clue about the lyrics. No problem, since it wasn’t my plan to sing along. I just wanted some gentle, happy music to help fill the house, and help pass the hours.
But music is tricky. It sneaks up on you.
At first, I would just hold my daughter and we would listen together on the couch. But as all children seem to prefer a little jiggle, I soon found myself up and swaying a little to the rhythm. One time, she was looking suuuuuuper sleepy just as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star came on, and it made perfect sense to whisper-sing the lullaby – just this once – to help her drift off. Twinkle Twinkle, of course, led to Wheels On The Bus. Which led to How Much Is That Doggie In The Window… and suddenly one day I found myself capable of a full-fledged thirty minute singalong. Entirely out-of-tune.
Strangely, my daughter did not care that I was a terrible singer. To the contrary, I could do my absolute worst rendition of any number and she would snuggle happily into my chest.
That’s when I realised that it wasn’t my off-key tones that she took comfort from; she was learning the sound of my voice and enjoying the closeness of those papa-daughter moments. The singing was awful, but the bonding was real.
Since then, I’ve developed a soft spot for – and comfort level with – singing for my child(ren) in front of others. I am still a little embarrassed and I might turn down the volume a little when others are nearby. But if I need to calm one of them down, I’m no longer afraid to launch into a little Baby Beluga, a capella.
Over the last three weeks of parental leave with my son, I’ve dusted off the old playlist and every morning we spend some time together listening and singing along. Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes it’s an hour. It’s always quality time.
This week, with my voice sounding even more like a croaky frog than usual, I’ll do even greater injustice to the artists of my youth. But my son won’t mind a bit.
Author’s Note: You’ll get even more inspired to sing for your little one once you realise it’s a great way to help them learn about the world.
For more information, check out the top 10 ways babies learn when we sing to them: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/10-ways-babies-learn-sing-to-them.
Or, for a more scientific argument, read this report (although ignore the sexist language – papa-led lullabies have the same effects): https://www.mother.ly/news/singing-to-your-baby-is-great-for-their-brain-development-says-new-study
P.s. For even more inspiration, check out the dance moves this little girl busts out when her dad starts singing.