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.

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.

The Mother of All Toddler Books, The Mother of All Toddler Workshops, and more!

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Sometimes I get so busy blogging about all things parenting that I forget to tell you about all the exciting things that have been happening behind the scenes.

I haven’t done a very good job of telling you, for example, that there’s a brand new edition of The Mother of All Toddler Books on the bookstore shelves — a massively revamped edition that takes into account the most important things we’ve learned about toddler development over the past 15 years, when the first edition of the book was published. Of course, what hasn’t changed is the book’s fiercely Canadian perspective: the fact that it incorporates recommendations from Canadian health authorities and includes the voices and stories of Canadian parents. It’s still very much a “mother of all” book, in other words.

Deeply rooted in the latest research about what allows young children to thrive and packed with practical strategies and fresh ideas, this kind and supportive book feels like a conversation with a good friend.
— Cathy Kerr, early childhood professional

Anyway, now that there’s a brand new edition of The Mother of All Toddler Books to share with the world (or at least in the tiny little corner of the world that is Canada), I’m going to be doing a fair bit of speaking about toddlers in the coming weeks.

Comprehensive, easy to read, this guide is packed full of great advice for parents trying to navigate the turbulent toddler years.
— Michael Dickinson, MD, past president of the Canadian Paediatric Society

This weekend (October 13 and 14), I’ll be at The Baby Show in Toronto, hosting two rounds of Toddler Trivia — a fun, interactive game featuring the most exciting prize imaginable. (No, it’s not a car! It’s a signed copy of The Mother of All Toddler Books!) Anyway, you can join in the fun on Saturday or Sunday afternoon at 1 pm. I hope to see you there.

On October 23, I’m joining forces with Hello, Baby! (a doula service and childbirth education company in Peterborough, Ontario) to offer “The Mother of All Toddler Workshops.” The fee for this workshop includes a signed copy of the book and the chance to participate in an intimate, small-group workshop. I hope you’ll join me and/or spread the word to family members or friends living in the Peterborough area.

On November 12, I’ll be giving a delivering “The Mother of All Toddler Workshops” to members of the Life With A Baby community in Thornhill, Ontario. The workshop is free for members and open to non-members for a nominal fee, but pre-registration is required.

I think that’s all the news on the toddler front. In the weeks ahead, I’ll be sharing news about my forthcoming book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, which will hit the bookstore shelves in February. I’ll also be speaking at a number of parenting events and health conferences and I’ll be continuing to publish issues of my three brand new newsletters. (Go ahead. Make my day. Sign up for one or more of those newsletters….)

You're Invited to the Parenting Through the Storm Book Club (it's free and it's online)

Ann Douglas is hosting a Parenting Through the Storm Book Club for four weeks starting November 12. It's free and it's online. 

Ann Douglas is hosting a Parenting Through the Storm Book Club for four weeks starting November 12. It's free and it's online. 

Ever wish you could participate in a book club from the comfort of your own couch, with a mug of your favourite steamy beverage in hand? Now you can!

I'm joining forces with VoicED Radio to host a four-week online book club focusing on Parenting Through the Storm (my guide to parenting a child who is struggling with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge).

Each Sunday night at 8 pm ET, I'll be zeroing on one of the key themes discussed in the book and inviting a special guest to chat with me. Here's a sneak preview of who I've invited and what we'll be talking about. 

I hope you'll plan to tune in to the discussion (you can listen in via this link) and to participate in the Twitter discussion as well.

And, just to be clear, this is a 100% guilt-free book club. You don't have to read the book in order to be involved. (Because what parent needs more guilt in their life, right?) 

UPDATE: Missed an episode of the book club? You can replay all four episodes here.

How to Start a Parenting Book Club

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Looking for a way to strike up friendships with the other parents you bump into in the hallway at your child's school -- or that great group of parents you like to hang out with online?

Why not consider starting your own parenting book club?

It's a fun and easy way to spark discussions about all things parenting and to build relationships other parents. (If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child's parent. Starting a parenting book club is a powerful way to create and nurture that village.)

Here's what you need to know to get started....

Step One: Decide whether you want to meet face-to-face or online.

Naturally, there are pros and cons to going either route. Face-to-face conversations offer more opportunities for small talk -- casual chitchat that tends to break the ice and that can help to establish trust. But scheduling face-to-face anything can be a major challenge, as you know. There will always be another activity (or ten) competing for people's time. And while online discussion groups are the clear winner when it comes to scheduling (parents can dive in and out of discussions at the time that's work best for them), you're unlikely to have their sole, undivided attention. There's always a Facebook or Twitter notification ready to lure them away from whatever your book club is talking about -- or they may overlook your book club discussions entirely if they're having a particularly busy newsfeed day. 

And then there's the issue of deciding where to meet (at your child's school? at the local library? in someone's home) or where to host your online discussions (in a private Facebook group? in some other online space?). Your goals in either situation -- whether you're meeting face-to-face or online -- are (1) to safeguard the confidentiality of member discussions and (2) to make being involved blissfully simple and hassle-free. (Don't ask parents to drive across town or to download obscure third-party software in order to participate in your book club or they simply won't bother.) 

Step Two: Invite other parents and ask them to help you spread the word.

Send out an email or text message to other parents you know, letting them know that you have a parenting book club in the works. Or share your invitation via social media, so that other parents can help you spread the word. If you're hosting your parenting book club at your child's school or the local branch of your public library, maybe the school or library would be willing to help publicize your book club via their newsletter or website, too. 

You'll find that parents are more likely to want to be involved if you're upfront about your plans and expectations, so be sure to include details about how often you'll be meeting, when and where you'll be meeting, and how many books you expect them to tackle in any given year.

Pro tip: Parents are among the most time-stressed people on the planet, so you may find you get more uptake if you're only asking parents to read a chapter or two -- as opposed to an entire book -- each month. Anything more than that may feel overwhelming and discourage parents from becoming involved.

Step Three: Promise to deliver a guilt-free book club experience to your book club members. 

Parents don't need any additional things to feel guilty about. They've got plenty already. So don't beat them up for missing a meeting or not having time to do the readings or for having to dash out the door mid-meeting to deal with a kid-related emergency. Hey, life happens....

And speaking of sidestepping stress, you'll also want to prevent any inadvertent book club drama. This means be explicit about the need for confidentiality. Discussions about parenting inevitably get personal, so book club members need to know that the stories they share with other book club members won't become fodder for the gossip mill. What happens in book club should stay in book club, in other words....

Step Four: Keep it simple.

Focus on what matters most: the actual parenting discussions. Sure, it's great to have delicious, eye-catching snacks -- even snacks that tie into the book's theme. But it can be stressful to find yourself scrambling to put together an Instagram-worthy contribution at 1:00 am the night before.

So keep it simple on the snack front. And, while you're at it, look for other ways to minimize the work associated with hosting a parenting book club. For example, choose books that already have existing book club discussion guides. That will save you the work of coming up with a list of discussion questions on your own. (Not quite sure what a book club discussion guide is or what it has to offer? Check out the book club guide for my book Parenting Through the Storm as an example.)

And, speaking of simple yet powerful ways to ramp up your book club discussions, consider inviting the author of the book you're discussing to join in the conversation (in person or via Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangout). It's something that most authors are thrilled to do, time and geography permitting. And even if they can't join your discussions in real time, odds are they'd be happy to send along a video greeting or other book club message instead. (I, for one, am thrilled when book clubs make the ask because it gives me the chance to connect with readers of my books -- the whole reason I became an author in the first place.)

There's also an added benefit to making contact with the author: if your book club is big enough and you're purchasing large quantities of the author's book, you may qualify for a bulk purchase discount. (That discount tends to kick in at around the 20 copy mark, depending on the book's publisher.) 

So there you have it: a quick guide to launching your own parenting book club. Have some advice to pass along to other parents, based on your own book club experiences? Please share it via the comments section below. (Thanks!)


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including, most recently, Parenting Through the Storm. She loves to connect with parents via parenting book clubs and other face-to-face and online events

Reading Guide: Parenting Through the Storm

A few months ago, I was approached by a school that was interested in choosing Parenting Through the Storm as a selection for their school's parenting book club.

Needless to say, I loved the idea; and the school's email got me thinking about what I could do to support their efforts. In addition to offering to visit their school (either virtually or in person, depending on logistics!), I also offered to create a reading guide for Parenting Through the Storm.

The result is the reading guide that I have just uploaded to the website.

If you take a moment to download a copy, you'll see that it is a hefty guide (11 pages!) containing

  • a series of discussion questions tied into the major issues touched upon in the book (both overview questions that apply to the book as a whole and questions that relate to specific chapters)
  • spinoff social-emotional learning activities for parents to try at home
  • a series of illustrations and quotes that highlight some of the key points I hope every reader will take away from the book and the resulting book club discussion.

Note: It doesn't matter whether you're reading the Canadian edition of the book or the US and International edition of the book. Either way, this reading guide is for you. 

And if you do decide to choose Parenting Through the Storm as a selection for your parenting book club or other reading group, please drop me a line to let me know. I'd love to hear how things go and I'd welcome your suggestions on how to improve the guide.