One Surprising Secret To Parenting That No One Ever Mentions
One Surprising Secret To Parenting That No One Ever Mentions
I have read hundreds of books and articles on parenting, but not a single one mentions this secret to a happy family.
In fact, I’ve only ever heard one parent touch on it… on a flight. Mom, dad and four teens were all together, looking happy and very tight. I asked the dad if they had any tips for me (I had 3 small kids at the time).
He mentioned this and that, but I only remember the one that nobody had ever mentioned before: ‘Music, listen to good music as a family. Life’s too short to listen to bad music.’ I remember thinking that was odd advice.
But since then, I too have seen the disco light.
Here’s eight ways music makes the Williams home a better place to live.
1. Music makes the people come together.
So sings Madonna. And so says me.
I’ve seen it in our own home – skirmishes radically reduce when I hit play and turn up the volume.
I just tried it – while writing this post in fact. The skirmish rate dropped from one in 5 minutes to 1 in 15. Because, science.
Seriously, why do you think this is? I think it’s because at any given point in the day, it’s as though our frame of mind is a soundtrack. If we were to play the soundtrack of the brain of each person in our house, there would be a cacophony. This silent inner cacophonies manifests in outer conflict every now and then. People out of sync with each other tend to rub each other up the wrong way.
But when we put music on, everyone begins to tune in to that soundtrack. Which means they’re also more in tune with each other, which means less clashes.
2. Music governs everyone’s mood.
I don’t know if there is a stronger environment-mood correlation between any two things than there is between speed of a beat and one’s emotional state. Chilled slow-beats lead to a chilled, reflective mood. Faster beats create joy and optimism.
Two weeks ago, as is my habit, I asked a mom of four adult children if they have any advice. They mentioned that mood-regulation is imperative. They explained that there’s only so much bandwidth for mood in a packed house. She explained that, in close proximity, bad moods affect the others. In a house of 3, if everyone has a bad mood once a week, that means that three days of a week, the house will dip emotionally.
Imagine then living in a house of 7… every day might experience a dip if we’re not intentionally trying to counter that.
Mood-lifting music can fill up a low-mood room in the same way that light can fill up a dark room, making it a place you want to be.
This is especially true in Winter, when families spend a lot more time in confined spaces together.
3. Music sets the pace of the house.
I used to sell products at trade shows. The event organizers explained to us that when there are less people, they will play slow music. This will slow everyone down, causing them to linger in our stands, giving us time to connect with could-be customers. But when there are lots of people, they will play fast music. This, they explained, will put people in more optimistic and decisive frames of mind, and will keep them moving so that others can come into our stand.
It worked just like they said.
Try it. Wake everyone up to funky, upbeat music – and you’ll get everyone ready and off to school and work quicker and with less fuss. Then at dinner time, and before bed, play slower music. Slower beats will help us slow down, unwind, and start getting ready for bed-time.
4. Music increases vocabulary.
One of the best ways to stimulate the intellectual development of your kids is to bring them up in a word-rich environment.
This is another reason music is so magnificent. I am amazed how many songs my kids know by heart. Even my little three-year-olds sing along. That’s because there’s no better memory device, I think, than putting lyrics to melody.
For example, my older kids have memorized all the lyrics of The Greatest Showman – such emotive words and metaphors. In decades to come, they are going to be trying to explain something and they will use those words and ideas, forgetting entirely how they got them to begin with. But I’ll know: we intentionally etched an endless assortment of words and images into their unconscious memory – through music.
(On the flip-side that’s one reason to carefully select what everyone listens to. Songs with swear words or sexually provocative songs are a no-go.)
5. Music makes people happy.
One argument for why kids cry when they’re born is that, for the first time ever, the music stops. Life in the womb is like life in a dance room – the reassuring beat of the mom’s heart, augmented by the repeated swishes and swhirls of this and that sound are the reason the child has never known boredom.
But then they pop out into an austere, white-light, silent universe. Not only are they separated from their mom, they are separated from the beat.
I went to a motivational conference earlier this year, where between sessions they made us dance. They encouraged us to dance as quirkily as we could. The reason they gave: ‘The shortcut to happiness is to dance.’
On this point, music is a chance to goof off. It was Brene Brown who first highlighted to me how a culture of cool destroys family life. Sure, being cool, might set one up socially in adolescence – hanging back in carefully crafted gestures, swaggers and facial expressions, and not showing one’s vulnerability. But if that culture is brought into the home, we can’t be real. We can’t be ourselves. And when can’t be ourselves, we when can’t be known and know, or be loved and love.
One great way to eclipse the culture of cool is to goof off as a family. And what better way than to dance stupidly together to music? Dads and moms need to lead the way.
Although I disagree with his atheistic views, I share this sentiment by Friedrich Nietzche, “I consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” (In terms of philosophical views, I’m closer to Kurt Vonnegut who said that he’d like written on his epigraph: ‘The only evidence this man needed for God’s existence was music.”)
6. Music embeds core values into family rituals.
Rituals, those things we repeatedly do, as a family are far more powerful if they drive a value deeper into the family culture. One way to do this is through short theme songs.
Let me start with daily rituals. I grew up with parents who would open the blinds in the morning and sing, ‘Good morning mister Sun the day has just begun. I like to see your smiling face! Good morning mister Sun!’ The value I imbibed was an optimistic approach to each day. Another morning ritual is to start the day with spiritually uplifting music. Our ‘Planetshakers Playlist’ not only gets our kids pumped up for the day, but it also turns their hearts heavenward.
Dinner times are an event in our home. One of the best ways we know to make them special is to pretend we’re in a restaurant. We do this by giving our children a turn to choose the kind of music we listen to while we eat. For example, we might say, ‘Ivy, do you want French café, Spanish café, Italian café, Cold Play or Chill music?’ She then takes great pride in her selection, and we all vibe along.
As for weekly rituals, we reverse out of the driveway on our weekend outings, and sing in unison: ‘Ha ha ha, ho ho ho, it’s happy family fun day. No matter what the weather, we’ll be together, so let’s have fun – by the ton!’ (Lyrics our own, tune from some Barney song. The little ones think we’re ‘tongue’ not ‘ton’). This songs helps us celebrate our togetherness, every opportunity we get.
Annual music-enriched rituals include happy-birthday songs, and Christmas carols. Inspired by the example of my step-dad’s massive extended family who maintain regular festive family gatherings decade after decade, we sing this song on big family events too: ‘The more we are together, together, together, the happier we’ll be!’
7. Music makes memories.
Someone encouraged me to sing to my kids when they were in their mom’s tummy, so that after they were born, along with mom’s heart-beat, my voice would be a source of comfort and security.
And it worked. I would sing my infants. In my own tune, I would sing, ‘This is your daddy singing to you. This is your daddy singing to you. I love you little Eli. I love you little boy.’ I think my first emotional bond with my infants was singing them to sleep. In fact, when I traveled, I’d leave a voice recording of the song – and Julie would loop it to them.
I will never forget dancing with my dad when I was 7 years old. Nor having a dance off with my brother when he was 23 (and unbeknown to us all, would be dead the following year). When I hear these songs, I feel close to my dad, and to my brother. They might both be gone, but the sense of them lives on in my memory, especially through these songs.
The other night, our good friends put their kids to bed early so they could celebrate their anniversary. Wine glasses in their hand, they listened to a playlist of the songs they loved in their dating years. Soon they were slow dancing in the kitchen, so grateful that they had each other.
Then one kid sneaked down and spotted the romance, ran up to fetch her brother and sister, and it wasn’t long before all 5 were slow dancing together… a brand new special memory being made, with its own soundtrack to match.
8. Music celebrates uniqueness.
Julie created a theme song for each of my kids. It wasn’t something she did very intentionally, but as the years have gone by, and we’ve added more kids and new songs to our family, these songs have become part of our family’s sound sheet.
My kids’ cousins came round earlier. Part of a current trend, they wanted to show us their favourite dance moves related to the computer game ‘Fortnite’. They went straight to this page, then each clicked on their song choice, and did from memory the related dance. (To see the various dances go here.)
Sometimes, we ask each child what they want us all to listen to. Using Spotify or Youtube, no song is beyond immediate reach. This can be enhanced with dance-offs, low lights and even family-appointed judges who from time to time (when things get really lit) might even hit the golden buzzer!
Also published on Medium.