Do you speak Motherese? Could we learn Parentese?

Mom and baby by Ian DethOne joy of reading is discovering new words. Sometimes, I even remember them!

Motherese, a totally new word for me, made me ponder, even question, its appropriateness. Motherese describes the whispered communication between a mother and her baby that strengthens the familial bond. Some theorists suggest this whispered communication, cooing and humming, is the source of music in the long history of human evolution.

Certainly, I know that women have been the primary nurturers of children down through the ages but the place of fathers in the nurturing process has increased in our time. My immediate response was to talk back aloud to the book I’d been reading: “Shouldn’t the word be Parentese?”

I thought I might have hit on another new word, but a quick dip into Wikipedia revealed that I wasn’t the first to suggest Parentese as a more inclusive concept.

I want to underscore the importance of this reality but not in a way that diminishes the vital role of mothers. I want to reflect the presence and importance of mothers, fathers, even grandparents in strengthening the family bond. Fathers and mothers both have gifts to share with their offspring, but I want to especially voice the importance of fathers’ whispered communication to their young. Fathers and mothers both give warmth, tenderness, and gentle caring along with strength and competitive skills to children.

One of my sweetest, most tender memories as a young parent was the ritual of presence with my young daughters. When one of our infant daughters would awaken, especially during the night, I usually changed her diaper and then carried her to Judith for nursing. I often sat or lay next to them during nursing. When finished, it was my opportunity for whispered closeness. I would tuck my daughter’s tiny head under my chin, one hand holding her bottom, the other her back, and I would walk. I especially remember those nocturnal walks, the house dimly lit by street lights, when we would walk slowly around the house, up and down stairs, bouncing gently, while I hummed, sang, cooed and listened for the burp and the sleepy yawn. Even when sleep was assured, I sometimes continued the walk, treasuring those moments. Judith and I both shared our gift of whispered communication with our daughters.

Judith and I are blessed by being friends with some young families who have welcomed us as surrogate grandparents. I treasure watching the partnerships they nurture while rearing their children. We saw this with our own daughters and their husbands as they reared their families. It speaks well of marriage partnerships with neither parent dominant in setting boundaries and cherishing their children. Mutual love between partners and mutual role sharing with children are crucial. Love in action is a beauty to behold. Parentese is a loving word, a musical word, a spiritual word, reflecting the sacred in the midst of our daily lives.

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