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Lullaby: Being Together, Being Well

A new research paper by Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf, Lullaby: Being Together, Being Well takes a closer look at how and why lullabies make a difference. The research highlights the ways in which the Lullaby Project helps families come together and imagine a positive future for their children, as well as how writing lullabies can support a longer process of connecting and communicating, resonating with parents, grandparents, musicians, staff, and community members. The following is a summary of Dr. Wolf’s findings.

As part of the Lullaby Project, pregnant women and new mothers work with professional musicians to write personal lullabies for their babies. The project reaches mothers in clinics, hospitals, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, programs for adolescent and young mothers, and other community settings in New York. Across the country, the Lullaby Project supports families in their own communities through partnerships with local musicians and organizations. Between 2011 and 2017, arts research firm WolfBrown worked with participants, musicians, and supporting social service staff across 10 projects to develop an approach to portray the concurrent and short-term effects of composing a personal lullaby.

“There is no more critical investment for a community’s future than ensuring the well-being of mothers and their young children.”

Lullaby WolfBrown blog 2
Photography: Chris Lee

In just three minutes of writing a lullaby, musicians and mothers are able to collaborate and connect with one another. Through a process of questioning, elaborating on ideas, sharing personal stories and observations, singing and performing together, and hearing words of encouragement from musicians, the experience can offer mothers a sense of increased confidence in their abilities as parents.

Dr. Wolf notes differences in the experiences mothers shared “inside lullaby” (as writers and composers) and “outside lullaby” (as caregivers, partners, and workers in their everyday lives). Mothers “inside lullaby” used more positive statements to describe their insights, connections, achievements, relationships, emotions, meaning, and engagement. The ability to express oneself and explore feelings and experiences may help those living under stress to experience an increased sense of agency and well-being, which may also connect to improved mental and physical health.

“In some cases, writing a lullaby can ignite a much longer process of connecting, communicating, and well-being.”

Lullaby WolfBrown blog 1
Photography: Chris Lee

Participants report that their songs connect or reconnect them to various social supports, including the father or their partner and children, as well as other family members and mothers. According to Dr. Wolf, being part of a human network is a major factor in maternal and infant health during a child’s earliest years. She also suggests that lullaby lyrics and the talk that surrounds singing lullabies can provide an important opportunity for young children to hear new vocabulary, figurative language, elegant phrases, and exaggerations, which can aid in the child’s own language development. The music and lyrics of these lullabies not only affects the babies, but everyone involved, including parents, grandparents, musicians, and supporting social service staff members who care for mothers and their babies.

Listen to lullabies written as part of the Lullaby Project.

Read the full report.

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