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.

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.

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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

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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!

#happyparentshappykids #ittakesavillage #bethevillage #endofschoolyearstress #parentencouragement #parentingauthor #parentingbooks

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.