Written by Alayna Frankenberry
1. “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash – At first listen, “A Boy Named Sue” seems an unlikely candidate for Parenting Song of the Year, but if you stop and think about it, it's a song that hits pretty close to home. Growing up, we all have things we blame our parents for, from giving us unique names that act as bully magnets to dressing us up in hand-me-down overalls or conducting lengthy interviews with our terrified teenage boyfriends. When we become parents ourselves, we start to understand the method behind their madness. Sometimes we even adopt the same parenting strategies for our own children. Or, as with Johnny Cash's tormented protagonist, we swear not to let history repeat itself.
2. “Cat's in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin – Known for its ability to turn a grown man into a weeping child in under four minutes, “Cat's in the Cradle” is not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately, no parent-child relationship is perfect, and sometimes we don't realize how quickly the time is passing until it's too late. This is a truly heartbreaking song, but there's a silver-lining. When heard at just the right time, this song can serve as a wake-up call for neglectful parents. It can help them repair a distant relationship before it's too late.
3. “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack – If you've been to a wedding in the last decade, there's a pretty good chance you've heard “I Hope You Dance.” A favorite of father-daughter dances, this country classic details all the hopes a parent holds for their child's future, from finding love to keeping faith. Sure, some of life's curveballs are unavoidable, but this song isn't so much about wishing for a perfect future for your child. It's more about hoping they have the strength to weather the storm and to live the full breadth of life, not just the length. Or, as Womack puts it, “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance.”
4. “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle – There are few relationships as special, or as hard to put into words, as the one between a father and his daughter. Bob Carlisle paints a perfect picture of the father-daughter bond in his 2005 hit. The song examines the relationship between a father and his daughter from the time she's a little girl to the day he walks her down the aisle, and Carlisle perfectly captures that feeling of dumbstruck wonder that comes along with being a parent, with watching your child grow and change. “For all that I've done wrong, I must have done something right.” For such a simple sentiment, it says so much about what being a father really means.
5. “She's Eighteen” by Etta Britt – Being a parent isn't always easy, especially when your child hits their teens. But while you're sure to experience your fair share of arguments and even a full-fledged fight or two, sometimes the chaos is a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to see your son or daughter for who they really are and who they want to become. Those growing pains can be tough to handle, and Etta Britt from Wrinkled Records does them justice in her new blues rock hit “She's Eighteen.” The mother in the song stands at a crossroads as her daughter leaves home for the first time. Etta's plaintive voice echoes what so many parents feel as they watch their children mature: “I wish I could lock that door and throw away the key, but she needs to be free.”
How can you explain what it's like to be a parent? You can't – not really. Like sky-diving or that first special kiss, being a parent is something you have to experience yourself to truly understand. In short, it's complicated, and words are clumsy tools. But when you set those words to evocative chords and a delicious melody, something magical happens. Great songwriting has the power to unlock one's own emotions about being a parent or to conjure them in the heart of a bachelor. So the next time your life as a parent triggers emotions you can't quite describe, just play one of these songs and let the singer do it for you. And unless you're chaperoning a van full of teenagers to the mall, feel free to sing along.
About the author:
Alayna Frankenberry is a freelance writer who lives in Pittsburgh. She still cries every time she listens to 'Cat's in the Cradle."