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.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Parent

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent. Here’s how to be that village….

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent. Here’s how to be that village….

Parenting can feel like an exercise in endurance: much more marathon than sprint. But many parents today are left feeling like they are being asked to run an entire relay race on their own, without the much-needed support of any teammates.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work. We were never meant to raise children on our own. And doing so makes parenting so much more difficult and more stressful.

I think we need to talk about this more. I think we need to talk about why so many parents are hungering for support from “the village” and why that support can be so hard to find.

Because here’s the thing: Parents needs support and they need it at every stage of parenting.

13 million calories and counting

Parenting requires a huge investment: an investment that is much bigger than what any individual parent or set of parents is capable of providing on their own. Anthropologists estimate that 13 million calories are required to raise a child from birth to the point of nutritional self-sufficiency (the point at which they are capable of buying their own groceries). And that’s just talking groceries! As every parent on the planet will tell you, parenting is about so much more than buying groceries….

So where is “the village”?

These days, it can be challenging for any parent to find and connect with “the village.” Families are increasingly isolated and cut off from one another. Whether you blame it on the geography of our neighbourhoods or the relentlessness of our work schedules or the exhaustion of the combined work-life load, we’re increasingly squirrelled away in our own homes. Parents have to make a conscious effort to find and connect with other parents in their communities—and that can be hard.

And, of course, it’s important to acknowledge that it is more difficult for some parents to tap into support than others. I’m thinking about parents who may be new to a particular community; parents who are raising a child with some sort of mental health or behavioural challenge or health concern; parents who are barely scrapping by from pay cheque to pay cheque and who may not have the financial resources to sign their kids up for extra-curricular activities that might otherwise bring them into the orbit of other families; parents who are working unpredictable schedules that make it hard to make plans. All those factors can make it extra challenging to find let alone connect with your “village.”

On finding or rebuilding “the village”

If you’re a parent who is finding it hard to find support in your community, start out by looking for that support online. And then, once you’ve tapped into that support online, look for opportunities to carry those relationships into the community as well. Maybe you can find an online group for parents and kids in your neighbourhood that offers the best of both worlds: instantly accessible online support when you’re looking for support and advice in the midst of a really bad day (or even longer night!) of parenting plus offline neighbourhood get-togethers that provide opportunities for the face-to-face conversations that you may be craving.

And, while you’re at it, lose the guilt. Don’t feel like you’re imposing on other people when you accept – or even ask for – this kind of support. Think about times in your life when you were able to offer hands-on help to another person. What you no doubt discovered is that it doesn’t just feel great to be on the receiving end of such support. It feels just as great to be on the giving side of that equation. So don’t deprive your fellow villagers of the opportunity to experience the joy that comes from providing that kind of support to you.

Finally, recognize what the village stands to gain by supporting parents and kids. It can be hard to keep this big-picture in mind in our fiercely individualistic culture. Too often, parents who ask for support are rebuffed by harsh and judgmental messages that are anything but supportive (“Hey, parents. You made the decision to have kids. Stop asking the village for help in raising them!”) This is because we have a tendency in the broader culture to treat parenting as a personal problem that every family needs to solve on its own. But here’s the thing: the village has a vested interest in the health and wellbeing of its children because they represent the next generation of citizens and workers.

That’s how things are supposed to work. Parents are supposed to feel supported by their fellow villagers. There are, after all, so many things the village can do to make things easier and better for parents and kids—and it’s actually in the village’s best interest to do so. Because when parents and kids are healthier, “the village” is healthier, too. Talk about the ultimate win-win!

Want to read more about the importance of tapping into support from “the village”? You might enjoy this book excerpt from Ann Douglas’ latest book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids.

Self-Compassion is the Ultimate Parenting Guilt Eraser

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Here’s that parenting guilt eraser you’ve been looking for.

It’s called “self compassion” and it makes parenting so much easier and less stressful.

Learning about self-compassion has been life changing for me, both as a parent and as a person.

  • It has encouraged me to embrace my own glorious imperfection.

  • It has helped me to see myself as a work-in-progress and to recognize the hard work of being human as an amazing opportunity for personal discovery and growth.

  • It has helped me to recognize that I don’t have to be perfect and neither do my kids. We can be gloriously imperfect together.

And that’s why I write and speak about self-compassion so passionately and so often: because self-compassion is the ultimate guilt eraser.

Eager to start applying the principles of self-compassion to your own life? Here’s a simple way to get started. Think about what you would say to a friend who was having a really hard time (what you would say to support and encourage that friend) and then say those very same kind and reassuring words to yourself. Perhaps you might find yourself telling your friend something like this: “You’re doing the best that you can in a really difficult situation.” (Because sometimes life – and parenting – can be really hard.)

Want to know more? My most recent book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, takes a deep dive into all things self-compassion. I also highly recommend Kristen Neff’s book Self-Compassion – the book that got me thinking about self-compassion in the first place.

If you have a story to share about how you’ve been working at practicing self-compassion in your own life and/or encouraging other people (maybe your kids?) to do the same, I’d love to hear it. Hopefully, by sharing your story, you'll encourage other people to be a little kinder to themselves, too -- which may help to send out ripples of kindness into our world.

Can We Talk About Summer Parenting Guilt?

Work-life imbalance tends to get worse during the summer months, fuelling feelings of parental guilt, notes Ann Douglas, author of Happy Parents, Happy Kids.

Work-life imbalance tends to get worse during the summer months, fuelling feelings of parental guilt, notes Ann Douglas, author of Happy Parents, Happy Kids.

Can we talk about summer parenting guilt: about the fact that work-life imbalance has a tendency to become nothing short of crushing during the summer months?

Most parents I know are scrambling to piece together a patchwork quilt of summer childcare solutions — often very expensive solutions — in order to respond to the problem that has been dumped in their laps: the fact that the school year calendar is completely out of synch with the world of work.

Why does this matter? Because there’s a huge and growing body of research to show that work-life imbalance is a major source of parenting guilt and parental unhappiness.

But here’s the thing: parents aren’t the ones who should be feeling guilty. It’s policymakers who should be feeling guilty—for failing to create family and workplace policies that actually acknowledge the realities of what it means to be a parent in 2019.

We need policies that recognize the fact that the world of work has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Most parents aren’t just working: they’re working full-time — and someone needs to be caring for their kids while they’re at work.

So instead of allowing yourself to feel crushed by work-life imbalance guilt this summer, channel that emotional energy in other directions. Talk to other parents about what they’re thinking and feeling. Look for opportunities to join forces in some way. Maybe there’s a way you could help one another to shoulder some of the summer parenting load. And, while you’re at it, maybe you could start a conversation about the kinds of social and workplace policies that would actually help to ease that load. Because if every parent is feeling massively overloaded, isn’t it time for workplaces and policymakers to look for ways to ease that load? On second thought, isn’t it long past that time?

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, which explains why so many parents are feeling anxious, guilty, and overwhelmed — and what it’s actually going to take to make things better.

Summer Parenting Storms: Weathering the Emotionally Stormy Summer After High School

The high school graduation celebrations are officially behind you and your teen’s entry into college or university is still a couple of months away. This summer should be all about harvesting the fruits of all your earlier parenting labours and truly savouring your relationship with your teen, right?

Well, maybe….

While that all sounds great in theory, the reality tends to be a whole lot messier. In fact, the summer before college or university can be an emotionally stormy time for parents and teens alike. Here’s what you need to know to ride out those storms.

Seek the wisdom and support of other parents

Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have a friend who has weathered some of these storms as a parent and who can reassure you that everything that you’re feeling is perfectly normal (although it may feel anything but). My friend Bonnie was that person for me. She did an amazing job of validating my feelings: my sadness about the fact that my child was leaving home and my pride in them for being ready to take this step and my fear that they might walk away and never look back (that they might forget that they’d ever had a mom!) and my deep-seated worry that I might officially be becoming obsolete.

Understand why you’re feeling all the feelings

The summer between high school and college or university is a time of relationship transition; and change is always hard. We humans love our ruts! So, as a parent, you’re trying to make sense of the fact that your relationship with your teenager is about to change in all kinds of unknown ways. That’s scary, especially given that you’re invested the better part of two decades into this particular relationship. How could it not feel high stakes when there’s just so much at stake!

I remember how restless I was feeling and how restless my teenager was feeling: it was like we were caught in an emotional holding pattern for an entire summer, caught between a familiar past and an unknown future. I had so many questions. What would my relationship with this teenager be like once we packed up their stuff and drove them off to college or university? And what would my life be like? This was as much a turning point for me as it was for them.

I also remember feeling like the clock was ticking down: that I only had a few precious weeks left to finish the job of preparing my teen for life in the outside world. Had I had all the important talks with him? Was there something important that I still needed to teach her? It felt like this was my last chance to tie up all the loose ends of parenting!

Of course, looking back, I now understand that I was putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on myself — and often needless pressure. I didn’t need to help my teen to cram for some final exam called life. I’d been helping her to do the necessary prep work all along! And it wasn’t as if I was about to be fired from the job of “mom.” I’d just be switching to more of a consulting role. I’d be on-call instead of working full-time.

Remind yourself that this is an emotionally challenging time for your teen as well

Your teen is no doubt wondering about what lies ahead: what it’s actually like to head off to college and university. Is it non-stop fun, like Instagram would have you believe, or is it actually a scary amount of work? And what will it be like to be a very small fish – say a teeny tiny minnow – as opposed to a big fish in the much smaller pond that was high school?

And of course, there’s the whole issue of separation. Your teen is likely feeling a lot of anxiety about separating: about being away from you and from their circle of friends. Contrary to popular belief, separation anxiety isn’t just a thing for babies and toddlers. It is very much a teen thing, too.

Don't-Leave-Please-Go.jpg

This is something I was speaking with Sara Dimerman about recently. She’s a psychologist in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and the author of a brand book – Don’t Leave, Please Go – that takes a deep dive into all of these issues. She noted that it’s not just a matter of teens struggling to let go of their family. They’re also struggling to let go of their friends. “It’s totally normal for your teenager to be going through this process of separating not just from you as a family, but also from their friends,” she explained. She pointed out that this can be really tough, particularly when the friendship roots run deep. Bottom line? Saying goodbye to a group of close knit friends who are about to scatter to the four winds can be emotionally wrenching for a teen.

If you can remind yourself that parenting is ultimately about empathy (recognizing that it’s hard to be the parent and that it’s hard to be the kid), you’ll find it easier to respond to your teen’s desire to spend the maximum amount of time with her friends (and the minimum amount of time with family) with kindness, not hurt or frustration.

Recognize that this transition isn’t just a mom thing

It can be really tough on dads, too. And, what makes it even tougher for dads is the fact that dads have a harder time tapping into support than moms. A 2015 Pew Research study found, for example, that moms were nearly twice as likely to have received support on a parenting issue from their online networks in the previous thirty days as compared to dads. And this continues to be the case in 2019.

Dimerman told me that it’s really important to look for opportunities for dads to work through some of the emotions that they may be feeling during this summer of transition. She recommends that dads dive into the practical preparations for the impending move and that the entire family, including siblings, be involved in the process of saying goodbye. After all, this pending separation will have a huge impact on the entire family, so it makes sense to work through the experience as a family.

Remind yourself that this is a beginning, not an end

CBC Radio parenting columnist Ann Douglas on the emotional challenges of parenting a teenager who is getting ready to head off to college or university.

CBC Radio parenting columnist Ann Douglas on the emotional challenges of parenting a teenager who is getting ready to head off to college or university.

If you talk to other parents who have weathered this transition with their kids and who have come out the other side, you’ll find that, in most cases, the relationship between parent and child continues to be strong. It’s just strong in a different way.

These parents will also tell you that, in the majority of cases, the anticipation of the separation ends up being far worse than the actual separation. You’re basically spending an entire summer dreading the removal of the world’s biggest emotional bandaid: a bandaid that’s roughly the size and shape of your child! Once that bandaid has been yanked off and you’ve had a chance to settle into your new normal, you may be shocked to discover just how happy you feel. There’s a solid body of research to indicate that the happiest stage of parenthood for mothers in particular is the young adult stage. You still have a loving connection to your child, but with a whole lot more sleep and a whole lot less laundry! And while it may feel like the end of the world (at least until you’ve lived through it), it’s actually an exciting new beginning: a brand new chapter in the relationship story that you will continue to write with your child.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids — a guide to thriving alongside your kids at all stages of parenting. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. This blog post is based on her most recent parenting column.

End of School Year Stress

End of School Year Stress.png

Feeling overwhelmed by the long list of things that you need to take care of between now and the last day of school? You’re certainly in good company. A lot of other parents are feeling swept up by the tsunami that is end of school. It’s not just you.

The secret to surviving this busy and stressful time of year is to try to dial down your stress level a little: to shift from “completely stressed out” to “just a little calmer,” if you can swing it.

The payoff of doing this is pretty obvious. Stress is contagious. You’ll have a hard time soothing and calming your kid if you’re a walking, talking stress ball yourself.

Then, once you’ve calmed yourself down, you’re ready to help your child calm down, as well. Sometimes we get so swept up in our own feelings of overwhelm that we forget that this is a challenging time of year for our kids, too.

This is where you have the opportunity to make a huge difference as a parent: by helping your child to acknowledge and manage those feelings. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: calm is the ultimate parenting superpower.

It’s important to recognize that what works best for you in managing stress might not work best for your child—and vice versa. We’re all wired a little differently, even if we happen to be members of the very same family.

And, of course, all the stress management techniques in the world aren’t going to do you or your child an iota of good if your calendar is overflowing with obligations. So spend a few minutes doing some end-of-school-year calendar triage. Look for opportunities to pare down your list of obligations. Even scratching a couple of items off your calendar or your to do list can trigger a huge sense of relief.

Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself in order to give yourself the gift of a little more breathing room.

  • Are there some non-urgent commitments that I could postpone for another week, until the worst of the end-of-school-year crunch is behind me?

  • Are there certain tasks I could delegate to other people?

  • Is there a way I could join forces with another parent and divvy up some of the extra work that is pretty much baked into the month of June? After all, they’re dealing with these end-of-school-year stresses, too. Maybe there’s a way to pool your resources (with the key commodity that you’re pooling, of course, being time).

Here’s to surviving the final stretch of the parental endurance marathon that is June.

I’m cheering for you!

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