Family / Random Musings

The Questionable Parenting of Nursery Rhymes

If you have kids, chances are you’ve read and sung silly nursery rhymes. Some are meant to teach kids lessons like how to count. Others are meant to relax children before they go to sleep. But have you ever stopped to analyze the words and what they really mean? There’s some questionable parenting out there in nursery rhyme land.

I present to you three case studies.

Case #1: Mother Duck of 5 Little Ducks

To give you an idea, this nursery rhyme is designed to teach kids how to count backwards from five to zero. It’s beginner subtraction. Which is fine and dandy, until we go all Dateline on Mother Duck. For those of you who are unable to watch the video, the words go like this:

“Five little ducks went out one day. Over the hill and far away. Mother Duck said, “Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!” But only four little ducks came back.”

And then the song repeats with four ducks, three ducks, and so on until no little ducks come back. At the very end of the song, sad Mother Duck calls one last time and all five ducks come back to her (I’ve also heard versions where the ducks don’t come back until angry Daddy Duck calls for them. For now we’ll ignore all that line implies).

Now, if this were real life, here’s how this nursery rhyme would turn out:

Three little kids went out to play, over the hill and far away. Mother Erin said “Hey kids come back!”, but only 2 little kids came back.

Mother Erin said, “Well that’s OK. It’s just you two for dinner today.” CPS came, “Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock!” Mother Erin placed under key and lock.*

*Ignore my crap rhymes. There’s a reason I don’t write children’s songs.

Verdict: Bad parenting  

Uh, here’s a clue, Mother Duck! You don’t just let the missing ducks stay out. In the words of Billy Madison, “You get your @ss out there and find those effing ducks!” At the very least call the police and fill out a missing child report and possibly set up an Amber Alert.

Case #2: The Parents in Rock-a-Bye Baby

Most of us know the words to this one, but just in case:

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetops,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

So let’s take a look at the evidence. The unnamed parents have placed a baby on the treetop. Then the wind blows so hard the cradle rocks and it falls down. Baby and all. I can only imagine this resulted in a dead baby.

Verdict: Bad parenting (in most cases)

Unless the parents were superheros (in which case, maybe this is how little superheros learn to fly and who am I to judge?), I can’t imagine any modern-day scenario where placing a cradle in a treetop is safe. I mean, I know. I know how it goes. Babies sometimes need crazy soothing methods to fall asleep at night, and maybe the rocking boughs were the only thing that used to work for parents. But not anymore. Parents, I urge you, do not become tempted by the words of this song. Get yourselves a bouncy seat and a truck load of D batteries instead. Problem solved.

Case #3: The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.

She gave them some broth without any bread,

And whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed.

Verdict: Bad parenting

Um, can we say child abuse? Hey, I know how difficult it can be to stay home with the kids all day. I imagine it would be especially hard if you lived in a shoe. The smell alone. *shudder* But the solution to the issue is not to whip the kids and send them to bed. Let’s try Time Out first, ok?

There are countless other cases (Mother Monkey who repeatedly lets her kids jump on the bed, Mother Hood who lets Little Red out into the dangerous woods alone without a lesson in Stranger Danger, and so on…), but I think the evidence is clear: Nursery rhymes aren’t so much lessons for children as they are cautionary tales for parents. Don’t be like these horrible mothers and you should be OK.

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11 thoughts on “The Questionable Parenting of Nursery Rhymes

  1. I always had that same thought about rock-a-bye, baby. I just don’t understand how a song about a baby falling out of a tree could be soothing and help a baby fall asleep.

    This post had me cracking up though.

  2. LOL, not going to touch the Duck thing after the weekend I had where I wished all my chicks had wondered off…

    The Cradle one, however, makes more sense when you think about Native Americans/Canadian First Nations and a baby papoose…mama would hang the papoose in a tree and let the breeze rock the baby to sleep. The falling OUT of the tree has never made sense to me though.

    And what about Ring Around a Rosy…ugh…nothing like a little Black Death song to sing for kicks and giggles with the wee ones.

    Fun post Erin, you crack me up 😀

    • I read about the Native American baby papoose when I was looking it up today. That’s an interesting way to think of it. I also read the original song may have actually been some sort of code referring to the events of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England. Crazy!

      Ring Around a Rosy is just plain creepy :). LOL!

  3. LOL this is awesome! I have always felt that Rockabye Baby was bizarre. Why the heck is that baby up in a tree? I mean, I would get it if the parent ran up a tree bc the baby was driving her crazy, but the baby? Really?

    I also think that the old woman living in a shoe is a forbearing of Octomom.

  4. I was nearly falling on the floor in laughter with this one, Erin! I sang to my kids, “When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and I will CATCH baby, cradle and all.” However, I have to admit I don’t know why I had them in the treetop to begin with.

  5. Good post Erin, it’s true, I keep finding examples like this. Just last night I read my boy a tots version of Jack and the Beanstalk. This version cuts out the “scary” part about grinding bones to make my bread (can’t imagine that tastes nice anyway). So in this version Jack just climbs the beanstalk, spots that the giant is loaded, steals his wealth, then chops the beanstalk down so the giant cannot get down and get his stuff back. Jack is simply an idiot and a thief. Good way to teach our children about the value of society.

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