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 latest book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2019.

What Makes for a Happy Mom?

Looking for the recipe for a happy (or happier) mom? Ann Douglas has a few thoughts to share on what actually contributes to happiness in mothers.

Looking for the recipe for a happy (or happier) mom? Ann Douglas has a few thoughts to share on what actually contributes to happiness in mothers.

Wondering what actually contributes to happiness in mothers (as opposed to what the all the guilt-inducing messages about motherhood might have you believe)? This is a key theme in my brand new book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, and it is the focus of my parenting column for CBC Radio this weekend. Just in case you aren’t able to tune in, here are a few highlights from some noteworthy research about what does — and doesn’t — make for a happy mom.

What moms love most about motherhood

Believe it or not, motherhood isn't just another word for misery. We moms actually derive a lot of enjoyment from motherhood and, not surprisingly, what we enjoy most about being moms is actually spending time with our kids.

As psychologist S. Katherine Nelson and her co-authors put it in a groundbreaking study entitled In Defense of Parenthood: Children Are Associated with More Joy than Misery, which was published in Psychological Science back in 2013: "Taking care of children provides parents with more happiness, on average, than their other day-to-day activities."

So far from being the source of misery, time spent with our kids is actually the good stuff in most mothers' lives.

What moms love least about being moms

Of course, that kind of begs the question: what is it about motherhood that moms love least?

The research is pretty clear on this point, too. It's all the other stuff: the stuff that gets in the way of these moments of connection with our kids. All the feelings of anxiety, guilt, and being overwhelmed that are pretty much baked into the experience of modern motherhood, in other words.

Parenting isn’t just hard. It’s almost impossibly hard. And for reasons that have little to do with parenting.

Parenting isn’t just hard. It’s almost impossibly hard. And for reasons that have little to do with parenting.

One way to manage those less-than-happy feelings is to rewrite the stories you’re telling yourself about what it means to be a good mother.

This is something I spoke with author and registered psychologist Vanessa Lapointe about recently, while I was researching my CBC Radio parenting column. Here's what she had to say: "The idea of being happy really begins with going kind of deep down within ourselves and beginning to tell ourselves a narrative or a story about our our life about ourselves as mothers, about our children, about our partners, about the world that we live in….that we concoct a story that works for us rather than a story that works against us."

So acknowledge that things are hard and then work at rewriting the script in your head — the one that tries to tell you that you're not a good enough mom.

Of course, a mindset shift isn’t going to be enough to move the happiness dial in a major way for a mom who is feeling really crushed by the demands of work-life imbalance or who is feeling frustrated by the fact that she seems to be shouldering a disproportionate amount of the parenting load.

And, as it turns out, these two factors are really key ingredients in the recipe for maternal unhappiness. So if you’d prefer to whip up a batch of maternal happiness instead, it’s pretty clear what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to switch up the recipe a little.

Reduced work-life conflict = happier moms

Research conducted by the US-based Council on Contemporary Families highlights the fact that parental happiness levels increase in the presence of policy that makes it less stressful and less costly for parents to juggle the competing demands of work and family.

When things aren't working well on that front, mothers in particular tend to experience a lot of guilt. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found, for example, that mothers experience significantly higher levels of "work-interfering-with-family guilt" than fathers do.

The good news is that access to quality affordable childcare is a complete game changer for moms, allowing parents to juggle the competing demands of work and family more easily. It helps to minimize work-life conflict, encourages greater equity in couple relationships, and eliminates the so-called motherhood tax (the fact that mothers are penalized in the workplace in terms of both income and opportunity because they still tend to be the ones in their families who take the lead when it comes to caring for children).

So better family policy that actually reflects the realities of what's happening in Canadian families in 2019 is definitely a key ingredient in the recipe for a happier mom. And it may explain why childcare is showing up on the wish lists of a lot of moms this Mother's Day. I actually spotted a hashtag on Twitter this week that declared #childcarenotchocolates. I don’t know about you, but I loved that so much….

A more realistic job description for the position of “mother” = happier moms

If you've always had a nagging suspicion that being a dad tends to be whole lot more fun than being a mom, well, it turns out that science is on your side. A 2016 study conducted at Cornell University concluded that mothers report "less happiness, more stress, and greater fatigue" during the time they spend with children than fathers do.

The job description for “father” is still a whole lot more forgiving than the job description for “mother.”

The job description for “father” is still a whole lot more forgiving than the job description for “mother.”

At the root of the problem is the fact that the job description for "father" continues to be a whole lot more manageable than the job description for "mother." There are more flexible and more realistic models of what it means to be "a good dad" as compared to "a good mom" — even in 2019. These stubborn gender norms conspire to make life harder for moms and dads alike which, I should add, means any person of any gender who happens to step into either of those prepackaged roles.

How does this play out in real life? Well, for starters, mothers tend to spend more of their time with their kids taking care of the hands-on, hard work of parenting, freeing dads up to enjoy more of the fun stuff.

And really, who wouldn't enjoy the fun stuff of parenting more?

There’s no one-size-fits-all motherhood experience

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all motherhood experience — just as there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all anything. Some moms do have a tougher time than others. Some kids are easier to parent than others. Some stages of motherhood are easier and more enjoyable than others. (Spoiler alert: The preschool years tend to be the motherhood sweet spot.) And some parents are at increased risk of parent burnout (which is more likely to occur when parents have sky-high expectations of themselves).

It’s okay to be a gloriously imperfect mom. In fact, it’s more than okay!

It’s okay to be a gloriously imperfect mom. In fact, it’s more than okay!

So taming your own expectations of what’s realistic and possible for you in your life right now may be the most important ingredient in the recipe for a happier you. And that starts with celebrating the fact that moms don't have to be perfect. It's okay to be a gloriously imperfect mom. In fact, it's more than okay. By giving your child the gift of a gloriously imperfect mother, you're teaching your child something really important: that none of us have to be perfect in order to be worthy of love. And what a gift that message is for any child to receive.

So here’s to ditching the guilt and embracing the joy this Mother's Day.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous bestselling books about parenting and the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Her two most recent books are Happy Parents, Happy Kids and Parenting Through the Storm. A passionate and inspiring speaker, Ann delivers keynote addresses and leads small group workshops at health, education, and parenting conferences across the country.

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My Most Memorable Mother's Days

Sometimes Mother’s Day is sad. Sometimes motherhood is sad. Here’s what you need to know if your heart is broken this Mother’s Day.

Sometimes Mother’s Day is sad. Sometimes motherhood is sad. Here’s what you need to know if your heart is broken this Mother’s Day.

When you’ve been a mother for as long as I have (nearly 31 years, but who’s counting?), special occasions like Mother’s Day can start to blur together. It can be tough to try to figure out which child gave me which ceramic handprint on which particular Mother’s Day — unless, of course, the kindergarten teacher who supervised the handprint-making activity had the foresight to scrawl my child’s name on the back of his or her creation. (Thanks, teacher!)

But while most Mother’s Days tend to run together in my head — happy times spent in the company of my husband and my four kids — some Mother’s Days have proven to be a bit more memorable than the rest, for reasons both happy and sad.

Take Mother’s Day 1988, for example. I was 38 weeks’ pregnant and both hugely pregnant and hugely impatient to give birth. I couldn’t wait to meet my baby. I couldn’t wait to become a mother. I was excited and nervous about what lay ahead — and very conscious that my life would be radically different the next time Mother’s Day rolled around: I would actually be someone’s mother.

That was a Mother’s Day high point — a day spent in delicious anticipation of the birth of a much-wanted baby.

But I’ve experienced some Mother’s Day low points, too, years when I wanted to skip the day entirely because it was too painful to think about motherhood at all.

Take Mother’s Day 1997, for example. I was reeling from the stillbirth of my fourth child the previous fall. Or Mother’s Day 2003, when I was trying to make sense of the sudden and unexpected death of my mother just a few months earlier. On both of these occasions, I found myself going through the Mother’s Day motions for the sake of my other children while waiting for the day to end so I could forget about Mother’s Day for another year.

Sometimes Mother’s Day is sad.

Sometimes motherhood is sad.

When you love someone intensely and deeply, with all your heart, you leave yourself vulnerable to grief and pain and loss. Whether you’re a mother who has lost a child or a child who has lost a mother, the loss is searing and life-changing.

The upside of that pain, of course, is joy — joy that can find its way into your life again.

I remember the intense joy I felt on Mother’s Day 1998 — seven months after the birth of my youngest son and nineteen months after his sister was stillborn. As I cradled him in my arms and looked into his soulful little eyes, I savoured the fact that, on that particular Mother’s Day, I was basking in the sunlight of gratitude and happiness rather than shivering in the shadows of grief.

If you are a mother whose heart is breaking this Mother’s Day, here’s what you need to know:

  • You are not alone (even though it may feel that way). Other women are grappling with the same difficult mix of emotions as you are on this day that is dedicated to all things motherhood and moms.

  • And not every Mother’s Day will be as painful as this one. We’re a resilient bunch, after all, after all. You will find joy in your life again. And you deserve to feel that joy.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy after Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss and, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids and Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between.

Spoiler Alert: The College Admissions Scandal is Actually About Economic Anxiety

I’m amazed how much time I spend thinking about the economy these days -- and how often I find myself writing about it and/or speaking about it, too. It’s gotten to the point where I feel the need to inject a note of explanation a few minutes into my Happy Parents, Happy Kids parenting presentation: “Hey, parents: if you’re starting to wonder if you accidentally stumbled into an economics lecture by mistake, please bear with me for a couple more minutes. I’m about to connect the dots between what’s happening in the economy and what we’re experiencing in our lives as parents: all the feelings of anxiety, guilt, and overwhelm.” At that point, I proceed to talk about the many ways that economic policy decisions spill over into our daily lives as parents in often-messy ways -- and in ways that only serve to make parenting so much more difficult and more stressful.

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I think we need to be doing this more often -- connecting the dots between economic policy and what we’re experiencing in our day-to-day lives. Because when we fail to take into account the many ways that economic decisions impact on our lives and experiences, we fail to pick up on the real story -- what’s actually driving people to behave in extreme, seemingly illogical, and/or self-defeating ways.

Take what happened this past week, for example. One of the biggest news stories of the week was about the US college admissions scandal: how wealthy parents have been trying to rig the system in order to give their children an unfair advantage at college admissions time. Needless to say, the majority of stories were fuelled by a tidal wave of outrage at those parents. But, in the majority of cases, the stories failed to grapple with the bigger picture: why even incredibly privileged parents feel such tremendous pressure to try to rig the admissions process on behalf of their kids.

So why are those parents feeling that pressure? The answer, of course, is economic anxiety. While these super-wealthy celebrity parents may not be worried about losing their home or being unable to put groceries on the table (the kind of stuff that tends to come to mind when most of us think about “economic anxiety”), they’re worried about a loss of status. They dread the prospect of watching their children tumble downward into the ranks of the merely garden-variety wealthy as opposed to the super-wealthy, for example. In other words, the economic anxiety is real for these parents, even if their worst nightmare scenario (“My kid might have to settle for an upper middle class life!”) is the stuff of which parental fantasies are made for the rest of us. After all, at a time when precarious employment is on the rise, a more typical dream might be considerably less lofty (“My kid has a full-time job with benefits and he can even afford to pay his own rent!”)

This whole opportunity-hoarding phenomenon is something I wrote about in the previous issue of my bi-monthly newsletter newsletter The Villager -- and it’s a point I made again this week in an interview with a reporter from GlobalNews.ca. I hadn’t expected the reporter to include my comment in her story, given that the piece she was writing was focused on how the college admissions scandal is likely to affect the lives of the young people affected, but, to my surprise and delight, she did:

Douglas says we should be looking at why parents feel this immense pressure to assist their kids in the first place. She says today’s economic realities and “dog-eat-dog” world makes parents do everything in their power to help their children get ahead. “All parents are feeling that pressure right now, it’s not limited to any certain economic group,” [Douglas] explained. “Until we grapple with some things that are happening on the economic and cultural level, I think we are being really hard on the parents who are engaging in this behaviour because it makes so much sense… in terms of the pressure they’re feeling.”  

I think we need to be talking a lot more about this stuff. I, for one, will certainly be continuing to do so, even if my efforts leave a few parents scratching their heads, wondering if they accidentally stumbled into an economics class instead of a parenting presentation.

I’ll be doing so because looking at the bigger, structural factors that are making life harder for parents is the path forward to a happier and healthier future for families and communities.

In other words, this conversation matters a lot.

What Parents Love -- and Hate -- About Parenting Books

This may seem like a strange thing for me to write about the very same week that my latest parenting book is hitting the bookstore shelves, but there’s actually a very logical explanation. I just finished drafting an email to a group of parents who had responded to a survey of mine on this very issue. You see, back when I was just starting work on my new book, I had invited them to offer their best advice on what makes a parenting book helpful, not harmful. And, let me tell you, they definitely came through for me.

Here’s what I learned from them about what makes for a great — or a not-so-great — parenting book.

They told me that they were looking for parenting books that are diverse in every conceivable sense of the world: parenting books that reflect the fact that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all experience of parenting—or even a one-size-fits-all definition of family. Here’s how one parent put it: “Share recipes for good parenting, but make it clear that parents can—and should—substitute different ingredients in order to create their own special recipe for parenting: one that may be different from yours, but that’s still amazing.”

Ann Douglas is the author of Happy Parents, Happy Kids, which was published by HarperCollins Canada this week.

Ann Douglas is the author of Happy Parents, Happy Kids, which was published by HarperCollins Canada this week.

They urged me to steer clear of pat solutions and quick fixes—and to recognize that “not everything works for every family — and that’s okay.” They also cautioned me to avoid giving parents the message that “they’re doing it all wrong.” Parents are already feeling anxious and guilty enough, they explained. What they need is more kindness and compassion and less judgment.

They challenged me to grapple with some really big-picture issues. Issues like the lingering affects of trauma (and how that affects both parents and kids); the many ways that public policy makes parenting harder; race; class; gender; neurodiversity; and the challenges of parenting in a rapidly changing and often very scary world. Above all, they urged me to confront my own privilege and to challenge myself to write for a range of readers, not just readers with experiences similar to my own: “Talk to a diverse range of parents! Not just people like you!” they said.

“Parents don’t have to be perfect. No one gets parenting right all the time." - Ann Douglas,  Happy Parents, Happy Kids

“Parents don’t have to be perfect. No one gets parenting right all the time." - Ann Douglas, Happy Parents, Happy Kids

They spelled out what they loved about parenting books they’d read — and what they just plain hated. The books that they loved were books that taught them something: books that provided them with new insights and strategies that they could apply to their lives as parents and that were kind, compassionate, and real at the same time. And, as for the books that they quickly tossed aside? Those were the books that tended to serve up impossibly high ideals: “Parenting is messy and exhausting and just plain hard sometimes. Reading about the perfect parent or the perfect kids just feeds that sense of failure,” they said. They also urged me to bring my own glorious imperfection to the table. “We need to throw out the idea of the perfect parent. And parenting book authors need to acknowledge the limitations of their own parenting abilities and knowledge.”

As you will see if you happen to read my book, I took the parents’ comments to heart. In fact, if you take a moment to skim through the book’s introduction, I think you’ll spot their fingerprints on every single page. (Or at least I hope you will.) I am grateful to these parents for inspiring me to write the bravest parenting book that I am capable of writing: a book that isn’t afraid to connect the dots between what’s happening in our communities and what we’re experiencing in our own families—and to talk about what would actually help to make things better for parents and kids.

Ann Douglas is the author of Happy Parents, Happy Kids, which was published by HarperCollins Canada this week.

A Guilt-Free Guide to Becoming a More Active Parent

Yep. I’m putting the “guilt-free” thing right in the headline for this blog post. That’s because I know how easy it is to feel weighed down by guilt about not being as physically active as you’d like to be (and as the world keeps telling you that you should be). For entire decades of my life, I was the poster child for self-neglect. I had pretty much given up any hope of ever getting to a healthy weight or becoming a physically active person. And yet I was able to turn the situation around, gradually, over a period of time, with a whole lot of support from family and friends. So that’s the perspective I bring to this conversation. And I think it’s a timely one to have during New Year’s Resolution season. Here are some thoughts about all that! - Ann

New Year’s resolutions season has rolled around yet again – a time of year that is too often characterized by sky-high expectations followed by crushing regrets. The guilt of failing to follow through on a New Year’s resolution can be particularly crushing if you’re a parent who is trying (and so far failing) to encourage your kids to be more physically active. The good news is that there are things you can do to increase your odds of making your family’s new active living resolution stick – and in a sustainable, guilt-free way. Here’s what I’ve figured out along the way.

You’re not the only parent who is struggling to be more active (although it may feel that way).

Happy Parents Happy Kids will be published by HarperCollins Canada on February 19, 2019.

Happy Parents Happy Kids will be published by HarperCollins Canada on February 19, 2019.

Sure, your Instagram feed is overflowing with photos of parents doing all kinds of active things, but that’s not how things are playing out in the lives of every single parent. Some parents find it really tough, particularly during the early years of parenting. So if you’re finding it tough, too, please know that you’re not alone.

When I was researching my forthcoming book, I stumbled across some rather mind-blowing research about how becoming a parent impacts on a parent’s physical activity levels. (Spoiler alert: it’s not good news!)

Becoming a mother for the first time typically leads women to become less physically active — and that dip typically lasts for the next four years! And it’s not just moms who miss out on their workouts. New dads/partners often feel pressured to cut back on time spent exercising on their own in order to meet the increased demands of parenthood and to avoid triggering feelings of resentment in the couple relationship.

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But it’s not all bad news. Not by a long shot! Some parents choose to treat the transition to parenthood as an opportunity to become more active. They see it as a turning point in their lives—and opportunity to become more (as opposed to less) healthy. They’re highly committed to making these changes, so they find ways to troubleshoot the barriers that might otherwise prevent them from being as active as they’d like. They have a plan for working around time constraints, fatigue, childcare challenges, and the other things that can derail even the best of intentions – a plan that works at least some of the time!

Don’t set the bar impossibly high for yourself. Think progress, not perfection!

Start small and build on your successes over time. Don’t expect yourself to start running marathons over night (if, in fact, that’s even a goal for you). Measure success on your terms and think progress, not perfection. That’s the kind of mindset that helps to sustain you over time—as opposed to black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking.

Look for tiny chunks of time in your schedule when you actually have a hope of making physical activity happen. This is something I was speaking with Eileen Kimmett about recently. She’s a Peterborough, Ontario, mother of three school-aged children who made the transition from being completely sedentary back in 2012 to being someone who has totally embraced physical fitness — and who has helped her husband and her kids to do the same. She told me that what allowed her to become physically active for the first time in her life was identifying a chunk of time that she could devote to physical activity on a regular basis. For Eileen, that meant first thing in the morning, when her husband was available to take care of the children before heading off to work.

For other parents, it might mean squeezing in a walk during their lunch hour at work — when their kids are in childcare or at school. Given that childcare is one of the major barriers to being physically active when you have young children (one group of researchers found that an astounding 98.6 percent of mothers cite time commitments related to childcare as a major barrier to physical activity), this is a really practical way to make physical activity happen: by zeroing in on a chunk of time when you don’t have to worry about finding someone to take care of the kids.

Remind yourself that it’s okay to treat your own health as a priority. Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s self-preservation. And it’s an act of kindness toward your child.

Not only will you be giving your child the gift of a happy, healthy parent: you’ll also be modeling the kinds of lifestyle habits that will help your child to arrive at that happy, healthy place, too. It’s the ultimate win-win.

Parents who are able to be physically active on a regular basis tend to be happier and healthier. This is because exercises boosts your energy, improves the quality of your sleep, leaves you calmer and better equipped to deal with stress, improves your focus and alertness, and makes you feel better about yourself. It has far-reaching effects on your physical and mental health, to say nothing of your parenting.

And kids who have physically active parents benefit from some pretty powerful role modelling. There’s a solid body of research to demonstrate that more active parents have more active kids — and that more active kids become more active adults. (By the way, having one parent who is physically active is good. Having two parents who are physically active is great. Children are most likely to participate in sports themselves when both parents (as opposed to one parent or no parents) do likewise.)

And here’s an interesting twist: More active kids have more active parents. Active living seems to beget more active living in families. The top three tips to be gleaned from the research on what actually encourages kids to be active? Be active as a family; make it fun; and head outdoors!

Don’t rely on motivation alone. Motivation tends to fade pretty quickly.

Sure, use that motivation to blast off with great enthusiasm — but then anchor that resolution on something a little more solid, by creating a predictable habit or routine. Better yet, automate that habit so that you don’t have to waste any time thinking about whether or when you’re going to be physically active. You’ll just know you’re going to be active in the morning, in the evening, on the weekend, or whatever the case may be. And at some point down the road, with enough repetitions, being active will feel as automatic as brushing your teeth.

Embrace your new identity as an individual and as a family. Start to think of yourself as a physical active person and a physically active family, even if you’re relatively new to this thing. You’ll find it easier to honour your commitment to get out of bed a little earlier or to drag yourself off the couch after dinner if you remind yourself that, “I’m the kind of person – or we’re the kind of family – that is committed to being physically active on a regular basis.” You’ll want to live up to that image of yourself!

Don’t be afraid to tap into support from other people. Instead of feeling guilty for asking for that support, look forward to the day when you will be able to pay that favor forward by offering encouragement to the next physical activity newbie you encounter when you’re out for a run or a walk.

Finally, hold on to hope. Who cares how many times you’ve struggled to become active in the past. Maybe this is the time your new active living habit will stick! I know this can happen because it happened to me. Six years ago today (yes, today), I embarked on the journey from card-carrying couch potato to physically fit person — and I’ve never looked back. I’m living proof that it’s possible to make this shift — even if it feels completely impossible when you’re first starting out. Bottom line? You can find your way to that happier, healthier place.


This blog post is based on my most recent parenting column for CBC Radio. Want to listen to the entire thing? You can tune in to my conversation with Nana aba Duncan, host of CBC Radio’s Fresh Air, right here!

Ann Douglas is the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio and the author of numerous bestselling books about pregnancy and parenting. On February 19, HarperCollins Canada will be publishing her latest book, Happy Parents Happy Kids. This month, Ann is volunteering to lead Project Active Family for the physical literacy non-profit group Active for Life because she wants to encourage other parents to make the shift to becoming more active with their kids (and to make that shift in a sustainable, guilt-free way).