Parenting Blog

The official blog for Ann Douglas, parenting book author and weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Ann is the creator of The Mother of All Books series and the author of Parenting Through the Storm. Her most recent book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, was published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2019.

Book Pairing #2: If you loved Happy Parents, Happy Kids, you'll love Change Your World

I’m back with another book pairing. (Yes, I know: that was quick! It’s because I have a huge backlog of books I’ve been meaning to blog about — and launching this new blog feature has inspired me to catch up on that backlog.)

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Anyway, the second book I want to tell you about is Michael Ungar’s latest book: Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success — a book that takes a deep dive into the science of resilience to identify the factors that actually allow people to thrive. (Spoiler alert: It’s not about hustling a little harder or being more motivated: it’s about being fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that is rich in opportunity.)

What I love about this book is that Ungar rejects the idea that success is something that is completely within our control as individuals and highlights instead the importance of broader, more systemic factors: what’s happening in our families, our community, and our world. Improving our personal circumstances becomes less about changing ourselves and more about joining forces with other people to make things better for all of us, in other words. As Ungar explains: “We need a clean break from the mindset that places the responsibility for self-actualization on an individual’s shoulders—it is a misread of what the science tells us about what makes us successful. If we want to understand why some people succeed and others do not, and if we want to succeed ourselves, we will need far fewer motivational gurus and much more help from the people in our families, our workplaces, our communities, and our society.”

Bottom line? It’s less about do-it-yourself and more about do-it-with-others.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Michael Ungar about his book. We talked about the importance of tapping into support from the village (a key theme in my most recent book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids) and helping our children to do the same. What follows are a series of questions (mine) and answers (his).

Q: Why are North Americans so drawn to self-help solutions? Why is it so hard for us to accept and embrace (a) our interconnectedness to other humans and (b) the impact of broader environments on our lives?

A: There is an overwhelming myth of the rugged individual that infiltrates every part of our social world. It seems to blind us to the real sources of our resilience: our relationships, our communities, our institutions. While I understand the need to be self-directed and motivated, the science of resilience tells us that striving in a world that offers us few opportunities to use our talents or succeed simply creates frustration and burnout (allostatic load). Our success depends on the world around us changing to meet our needs, or at least making opportunities available for us to use.

Q: Why is it important for children/youth to grow up understanding that they are part of something much bigger than themselves — a family, a community, humanity?

A: A child who understands that she is part of a larger system is a child who will have more of the building blocks for resilience. These include a sense of accountability to others, a sense of belonging, and a sense of one’s cultural heritage. So much of who we are, and our sense of wellbeing, hinges on our immersion in networks of relationships. Even in school, the quality of our relationship with our teacher can profoundly influence academic outcomes, especially for more vulnerable/challenged students.

Q: What is your best advice to parents in terms of how to foster this awareness?

A: First, model being part of a community, an extended family, a workplace. Then don’t be shy about insisting children become part of these relationships too. Expect them to eat with adults. Expect them to travel with you to places you are interested in. When our children see us navigating our way through the world, and finding ways to feel valued, they learn how to do the same. I just don’t understand why we let children become isolated, or insist that every activity is centred on their needs. This does nothing but create narcissism, when what we want is our children to feel a part of networks of people who rely upon them.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio.

Book Pairing #1: If you loved Happy Parents, Happy Kids, you'll love Right From The Start

Welcome to Book Pairings — a brand new blog feature that is designed to help you find other books you might enjoy reading.

I’m assuming that if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably read one or more of my most recent books (Happy Parents, Happy Kids, Parenting Through the Storm, or the newly updated edition of The Mother of All Toddler Books, for example).

That’s great (and, trust me, I’m grateful), but there is an entire universe of other great books you might want to know about as well.

Books that were written by someone other than me.

Books that somehow relate to the big ideas in many of my books: things like community and connection and resilience and parenting in ways that work for both parents and our kids.

Books that I loved and that I’m pretty sure you’re going to love, too.

And that’s what this new feature is all about: helping you to discover some other really great books. We are, after all, living in an age of information overload: a time when it’s increasingly difficult for books to find readers and readers to find books that they are guaranteed to love. That’s why I’m stepping in to do a bit of book matchmaking myself. It’s my attempt to be of service to both my readers and to the many authors whose work I really like and respect. Wherever possible, I’ll be including a mini-interview with the authors of those books. I think that helps to make things more interesting for you and it gives me a great excuse to connect with some of my fellow authors. It’s pretty much a win-win in other words.

So without any further ado, here’s the first book pairing.

Book Pairing #1: If you loved Happy Parents, Happy Kids, you’ll love Dr. Vanessa Lapointe’s brand new book Right From The Start

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Right from the Start (which is being published today) is a guide to getting parenting off to the happiest, healthiest start during the baby and toddler years.

Psychologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe has written a wise and intuitive book that takes gets at the magic of parenting. Dr. Vanessa sees and celebrates the transformative elements of parenting: the fact that parenting is a life-changing experience for parents as well as kids. The fact of the matter is that none of us are ever truly done learning and growing — and now we have the opportunity to learn and grow alongside our kids.

This is a key theme in my most recent book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids — and it’s something I talk about a lot in my weekend parenting column for CBC Radio. The reason is simple: I find this tremendously inspiring. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have all the answers upfront. We simply need to commit to learning and growing with our kids.

A few weeks back, I took the opportunity to connect with Dr. Vanessa Lapointe to talk with her about her new book. What follows are the highlights of that conversation. (I’m the one asking the questions and she’s the one giving the answers.)

Q: Why is it so important to “do your own work” as a parent? How does this make parenting easier and less stressful?

A: Becoming a parent brings with it entry into the parent-child relationship for the second time in your life. You’ve been in this kind of a relationship once before, when you were a child. This familiarity means that we can fall quickly into old patterns that were established for us in our own childhood. So even though you swear up and down you will do this differently or better, your subconscious programming will reactively take over. You want to stop yelling at your kids but you just can’t seem to jump on those shouts before they fly out of your mouth. You want to feel confident as a parent but no amount of self pep-talking seems to make any difference. This is how we are pointed to our own work. When we grow ourselves we can step in from a place of heart and strength to really grow our children in the best possible way. And while none of that is easy, it is decidedly worth it for the significant reduction in stress that you will experience alongside a huge increase in general ease and happiness with life.

Q: How important is it to connect with other parents who are just as committed to doing this work? Are there advantages to learning and growing alongside other parents and building a supportive community for yourself and your kids?

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A: As parents we were never meant to go this alone. Having a village or community of like-minded people who can champion and support you is really key when it comes to feeling like you’ve got this thing called parenting. To have a community that you can turn to on a hard day, or when something comes up that you aren’t really sure about helps parents to feel not quite so alone. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if parents everywhere had that kind of daily support? The trickle down impact for our children would be incredible! Kids don’t grow in isolation. As Urie Bronfenbrenner put forward with his ecological theory of development, they are nested in families and in communities and those nested influences are incredibly important in terms of developmental outcomes.

Q: What is your best advice to parents who may secretly worry that they don't actually have what it takes to be a good parent? (I think a lot of parents carry around this secret fear.)

A: I almost think we are wired culturally to run what I call a “not good enough” program. We live in constant fear of doing it wrong. But what if I told you that was just a story? What if it isn’t actually real? What if all along we have been perfectly wired up as humans to be incredibly brilliant at raising our young? Imagine if that were our story instead?! Think about the voice in your head that has you thinking you might not be a good parent. Hear that voice and understand that voice. And then, let that voice know that the real you has got this. And lean in to the possibilities of what comes with feeling like you’re going to get it figured out.


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio.

Parenting is a Two-Way Street

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Parenting can feel like an impossibly high-stakes activity. After all, what’s at stake is nothing less than the health and wellbeing of the next generation of humans. That’s more than a little daunting, don’t you think? Is it any wonder then that so many of us feel so much pressure to get this parenting thing right?

Well, here’s a simple yet all-important fact about parenting that might help to ease some of the pressure you might be feeling.

Parenting isn’t just about you! It’s actually about you and your kid. Instead of thinking of parenting as something you do to your kid, think of it as something that you do with your kid. Think of parenting as a two-way street.

That may seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s actually a pretty big deal. There’s a growing body of research to show that parents and kids shape one another’s behaviour in intricate and interconnected ways. Your child acts in a particular way and that elicits a particular response from you — which, in turn, causes your child to react in yet another way again. The effect is bidirectional, in other words. It’s anything but a one-way street.

Here’s where the good news piece comes into play. Because the parent-child relationship is constantly changing and evolving, you have endless opportunities to get it right. After all, your child isn’t the only one who is learning and growing. You’re learning and growing as a parent.

This message should be tremendously reassuring to every parent who ever wondered, “Do I actually have what it takes to be a good parent?” (which, quite frankly, is pretty much every single parent on the planet). Because here’s the thing: you don’t have to have everything figured out up front. You and your child can learn and grow together.

How this contributes to child development

Children aren’t just inert blobs of clay, waiting to be molded into shape by their parents. They play an important role in their own development. Parents have an impact on kids and kids have an impact on parents. The effect is bidirectional, in other words.

It isn’t difficult to figure out how an interactive and highly responsive parent-child relationship helps to support a child’s development. It helps to ensure that the needs of each individual child are met in a particular way in a particular moment — and it allows for the fact that those needs are going to change on an ongoing basis over time.

If you think about it, this makes so much sense. Each child is unique, so it makes sense that every parent-child relationship would be unique as well. Every child needs something slightly different from her parents. Add to that the fact that children are ever changing and you can see why it’s important that the parent-child relationship be incredibly flexible and nimble. The needs of a toddler are, after all, very different from the needs of a newborn baby, and they’re very different again from the needs of, say, a teenager.

Understanding this simple yet all-important concept can be a huge relief to parents. Suddenly, parenting becomes less about following a particular pre-scripted set of one-size-fits-none operating instructions and more about trying to answer the question, “What does this particular child need from me right now?”

This is something I was speaking with Dr. Jean Clinton about recently. She’s a child psychiatrist, a mother of five, and a grandparent of four. She encourages parents to recognize and celebrate the fact that parenting is all about parents and kids learning from and about one another. “It’s a relationship that evolves over time; and what grows in each of us as we’re learning about each other really is the heart of the matter,” she said.

A case in point: how babies learn how to talk

Want a concrete example of how this bidirectional thing plays out in real life?

Consider the way that babies acquire language. Their coos and babbles are designed to elicit a particular type of response from parents — that over-the-top exaggerated speech known as parentese. This is why, when you encounter a very young baby, you find yourself speaking in a repetitive, sing songy voice, “Are you just the sweetest baby ever? Aren’t you just the sweetest? Yes, you are!” Babies find this kind of speech utterly captivating. They listen attentively to these over-the-top speech sounds and, over time, they gradually figure out how to make these sounds for themselves. In other words, those babies elicit the very type of language learning that they need a particular moment — and those needs change over time. That’s why, by the time they’re ready to celebrate their first birthday, babies are communicating in a very different way, pointing at objects and asking, over and over again, through words or gestures, “What’s that?” They will have shifted their focus from sound construction to vocabulary building.

Another example: how parents and kids influence one another’s physical activity levels

But the bidirectionality of parenting isn’t just a phenomenon that happens during babyhood. It is baked into each and every single stage of parenting. There’s a growing body of research to show, for example, that more active parents have more active kids — and vice versa. Yes, more active kids have more active parents, too!

Let’s think about how things might play out in the life of a particular family — a family where the parents led pretty sedentary lives until Junior arrived on the scene. Let’s say Junior is one of those really high-energy kids: a kid who is in perpetual motion from the moment he wakes up until the moment he reluctantly heads to bed. The parents of this kind of high-energy kid might find themselves heading to the park after dinner to try to let him run off some of that steam — which could encourage them to become more active than they might otherwise have been. Lounging on the couch after dinner is no longer an option in their world — at least not now that Junior has arrived on the scene!

I don’t know about you, but I find this endlessly fascinating, thinking about the many different ways parents and children end up affecting one another — and how that continues to change over time.

What this means for parents who are raising more than one child

If you happen to be raising more than one child, you could be in for a bit of an exciting ride as you attempt to meet the needs of very different children in very different ways all at the same time. It can also be incredibly humbling as you come to terms with the fact that parenting isn’t 100% about you!

This is something I was speaking with Nicole Johnson about recently. She’s the mother of four school-aged children. She thought she had this parenting thing down to an art until her fourth child arrived on the scene. “I call my fourth my humility child,” she explained. “My [first] three went to bed super well: I had no battles with bedtime. And I thought it was all me. I just thought I was fantastic at this. And then I had my fourth child. He is a night owl and I realized very quickly with him that my other three went to bed well because that was just in their nature. It really didn’t have as much to do with me as I thought it did.”

Again, this all makes perfect sense. After all, if every child is unique, then every parent-child relationship is going to be unique, too, as each child works at getting her own unique set of needs met in a unique way by a particular parent.

This also helps to explain why siblings growing up in the very same household with the same set of parents can have very different experiences of being parented — to say nothing of very different relationships with each of their parents.

How learning about bidirectionality can help you to ditch some of your parenting guilt

Understanding that the parent-child relationship is dynamic and ever-changing can be a game changer for you and your child. It allows you to ease up on some of the pressure you might otherwise be putting on yourself to have everything about parenting figured out ahead of time; or to feel like you have to force yourself and your kids to conform to one-size-fits-all parenting advice that isn’t a particularly great fit for either of you.

It’s been my experience in my own life as a mom of four that one-size-fits-all parenting advice fits about as well as one-size-fits-all pantyhose (which is to say not well at all). So trust yourself to figure out what your child needs from you and trust your child to help you figure that out as well.

Of course, it’s helpful to learn about child development and to have a broad sense of what most children need at particular stages of their development, but don’t allow all that expert advice to cause you to overlook how much you already know and how much you will continue to learn as a result of your relationship with your child.

A couple of decades into this adventure called parenting, I now understand that that’s how things are supposed to work: that my relationship with each of my kids will always be changing and evolving because we as individuals are constantly changing and evolving.

Who knows where this parent-child adventure will take us in the years and decades to come?

I honestly have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting, including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. This column is based on her most recent CBC Radio parenting column.

Happier Parents, Happier Kids (my contribution to the Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report)

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The report (which is entitled Where Does Canada Stand? The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report) weaves together a tapestry of data to give us a comprehensive and balanced picture of how Canadian children are actually doing (as opposed to how we think they’re doing). The goal of the report (and the underlying Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being, which fuelled it) is to help Canadians understand what growing up is like for kids right now and what we can do to make that experience better.

The report poses some really bold and thought-provoking questions, like what kind of country does Canada want to be when it comes to the well-being of our children? As the authors of the report note in a powerful call to action: “The kids of Canada have one chance to be children. Canada has a chance to be a better country for Canada. Stand with children.”

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I tweeted some highlights from the report earlier this morning and I’ll be continuing to share data from the report via social media in the coming days. The reason is simple: I would like every single Canadian who professes to care about children to pay attention to the contents of this truly visionary report.

I particularly applaud the authors’ willingness to spotlight an uncomfortable truth that we don’t talk about nearly enough: the impact of income and social inequality on the lives of Canadian children. “UNICEF Canada believes that reducing income and social inequality is the greatest challenge and opportunity of our time, with potentially the greatest effects on all aspects of children’s lives in Canada.”

We need to look at the data, search our collective souls, and commit to taking action so that each and every Canadian child has a real opportunity to thrive.

Happier Parents, Happier Kids

by Ann Douglas

One of the key ingredients in the recipe for a happy child is a happy parent. When parents do better, kids do better – and vice versa. And, as for the recipe for a happy parent, the key ingredient in that recipe is good public policy.

Parenting doesn’t happen in a bubble. Parents can’t help but be affected by what’s happening in the world beyond their front door. And when it comes to policy decisions, the impact on parenting can be quite dramatic.

“Happier Parents, Happier Kids” by Ann Douglas appears on page 8 of  Where We Stand: The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report.

“Happier Parents, Happier Kids” by Ann Douglas appears on page 8 of Where We Stand: The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report.

Research conducted by the Council on Contemporary Families has found, for example, that parental happiness levels increase in the presence of policies that make it less stressful and less costly for parents to juggle the competing demands of work and family. There is, after all, a solid body of research to demonstrate that parents who struggle with high levels of work- life conflict are more likely to be stressed, anxious and depressed. And, what’s more, they’re also likely to be less healthy and more dissatisfied with their relationships with their partners and their kids. When work-life conflict is prolonged or extreme, parents end up being distant, inattentive, less sensitive and less emotionally available to their kids. That, in turn, takes a toll on the happiness of both parents and kids.

It isn’t just happiness that’s at stake. When parents are feeling stressed and overloaded, everything tends to fall apart on the health and wellness front – with the impact even greater if the mother is the parent who is feeling stressed. The good news is that there’s a way to put the brakes on this kind of downward spiral – and to create an upward spiral that allows both parents and kids to thrive.

It starts with family-friendly policies. As it turns out, access to quality, affordable child care is a complete game changer on this front, helping to minimize work- life conflict, encouraging greater gender equity within couple relationships and eliminating the so-called motherhood tax (the fact that mothers are penalized in the workplace for being the ones who typically take the lead on care).

Economic policy that helps to reduce income inequality is equally critical to help relieve the anxiety that so many parents and children experience. As the economic stakes get higher, the pressure on parents and kids gets ever greater, and parents are more likely to decide that harsher and more controlling parenting is the best way to respond to the challenges posed by an uncertain future.

For some parents dealing with trauma and health challenges, child care and other community supports can help them be the parents they want to be.

If we’re actually serious about producing a generation of children who are happier and healthier than their parents, we need public policies that help those children’s parents feel less anxious, less guilty and less overwhelmed. In order to make that happen, we need to shift from treating parenting as a problem that every family needs to solve on its own to choosing instead to embrace it as a collective opportunity to raise up the next generation of citizens together.

As it turns out, that happens to be a winning strategy. Societies that invest in children and their parents by implementing wise and forward-looking public policy also happen to be the societies that reap the greatest dividends on the happiness front. In other words, they’re the best countries in the world to be a parent and to be a kid.


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio.

A Quick Guide to Taming Back-to-School Stress

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Back-to-school season can be an emotional rollercoaster ride for parents and kids alike.

On the one hand, there’s all the excitement and activity that tends to accompany the start of a new school year. (New binders! New running shoes! A new backpack!)

But, at the same time, there can be a feeling of sadness, as parents and kids are forced to acknowledge the fact that summer is really-and-truly winding down. (Goodbye, summer evening marshmallow roasts. Hello, early morning school bus rides….)

What follows are some tips on minimizing the stress of back-to-school season and savouring what’s left of summer — the focus of my most recent weekend parenting column for CBC Radio.

Take solace in the fact that you’re not the only parent who finds back-to-school season stressful

A lot of parents find it to be a challenging time of year — and for good reason. It’s a busy time of year and it’s an expensive time of year. Kids have a habit of growing, so September is often wardrobe replenishment season on top of school supply purchasing season. Add to that the fact that the refrigerator needs to be stocked with the fixings for lunches and snacks and the fact that there can be hefty sign-up fees associated with various extracurricular activities and you can see why many parents begin to feel like they’re running a back-to-school marathon—an endurance marathon that is largely about emptying their wallets.

Resist the temptation to set the bar impossibly high for yourself

At this time of year, there can be a lot of pressure to get things organized. Super-organized, in fact. It can be easy to set the bar impossibly high for yourself—to tell yourself things like, “This will be the year when we finally have our act parenting completely together.” “This will be the year when every single school permission form and library book are returned on time.” “This will be the year when the gym clothes magically hop inside the backpacks each and every gym day.” Yep, it’s the stuff of which back-to-school fantasies are made and it can be a considerable source of back-to-school stress.

Calm yourself; calm your child

Parents have the opportunity to set the emotional tone for the entire family during back-to-school season. If you’re stressed out, your child is likely to pick up on and respond to those feelings. So the best way to keep your child from spinning out of control is to manage your own stress level.

This is something I was talking with Jenny Raspberry about recently. She’s the mother of two school-aged children. And she says that parents actually make back-to-school season harder on themselves if they leave all the preparations to the very last minute. Her best advice? Pace yourself! “Try to do a little bit at a time: Okay, does everybody have a backpack? Great! Okay, we need to make sure that everybody has a lunch bag. Okay. Maybe a couple of days later, you’re making sure that everyone has their water bottle. The more the parents are rushed and stressed, the more the children will pick up on that and act out accordingly.”

And the more likely it is that there will be tears at the bus stop on the first morning of school….

Reach out to your parenting “village” for support

Look for opportunities to share some of the back-to-school workload and to “be the village” for one another’s kids. Maybe you could take turns walking your kids back and forth to school. Maybe you could team up to plan a back-to-school picnic or barbecue (a fun way to take care of dinner during that busy and exhausting first week back at school). You can probably think of countless other ways you could join forces with other families.

Accept the fact that there will be a few back-to-school road bumps

Switching from your family’s summer to school-year routine can be challenging for all concerned. Personally, I have found that things tend to hit rock bottom on the Friday of the first week back to school. At that point, the adrenaline and excitement associated with the start of a new school year has started to wear off and everyone’s starting to feel tired—really tired—and really grumpy, too.

The good news is that you have the opportunity to help dial down that stress, both by accepting that change can be hard and by treating both yourself and your kids with compassion as you ride the rollercoaster that is back to school. It’s hard for them and it’s hard for us, but we can get through this transition together.

Resist the temptation to jam-pack your family’s schedule with a whole bunch of fabulous-sounding extracurricular activities

At this time of year, they all sound fabulous. But it’s important to be realistic about how many extra-curricular activities you and your kids can reasonably handle at one time.

Instead of just telling yourself, “It’s okay. I’ll find a way to make this work,” stop to consider how happy or how exhausted you are likely to feel a month or two from now if you actually try to shoehorn all these different activities into your family’s schedule.

How will “November you” feel about the commitments that “September you” is busy making right now?

Savour what’s left of summer

Yes, another school year is starting, but that doesn’t mean that summer is about to pack up its bags and leave town. If past years are any indication, the good weather should be sticking around for at least a little while longer. But we definitely want to make the most of it, while it’s still here. That means taking full advantage of the evenings and weekends; and heading outdoors as often as you can. It means zeroing in on the things that you and your kids you love most about summer and then figuring out how to continue to enjoy those experiences even after the school year starts again. It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. It’s simply about having fun together and about making a conscious decision to carry “the best of summer” forward into the new school year.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. This fall, she is launching The Village (a six-month online community of support and discovery for parents).