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.

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).

Back-to-School Parenting: That White Space on Your Calendar? It's Called Breathing Room

That white space on your calendar? It's called breathing room -- and it's good for you and your kids.

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Back-to-school season also happens to be extra-curricular activity sign-up season: that time of year when it is tempting to sign your kids (and yourself!) up for every conceivable activity. Everything sounds so exciting and so much fun. And it is -- as long as it doesn't tip your family into complete overload mode. 

Last year at this time, I shared some strategies for resisting the temptation to fill each and every square of your family's calendar with all kinds of fabulous activities.

This year, I'm going to build on that earlier post by talking about the benefits of leaving a little white space on your calendar -- of allowing your child to experience a healthy amount of boredom.

The upside of boredom

In our culture, we tend to think of boredom as a bad thing -- as something to be avoided at all costs. But what if it isn't actually something to be feared and dreaded? What if it's actually more like a gift? 

As it turns out, there are at least three significant benefits to allowing our kids -- and ourselves -- to be bored, at least according to the growing body of research on the science of boredom. 

1. Boredom encourages creativity

This happens because being bored is such a deeply uncomfortable feeling for us humans. Our brains will do pretty much anything to avoid it. You've no doubt experienced this in your own life. Perhaps you were stuck in a meeting room, waiting for someone else to arrive: someone who was running really, really late. As the minutes kept ticking away, you grew increasingly restless, and, out of utter, sheer desperation, you looked for a way to entertain yourself. Suddenly your eyes hit upon a stash of office supplies. And, before you knew it, you were making a chain out of paper clips or a patchwork quilt out of sticky notes. Anything to relieve the boredom! 

It's not just you, by the way, who finds boredom incredibly uncomfortable. One group of people who were participating in a scientific study about boredom actually voluntarily subjected themselves to electric shocks as a means of relieving those very same feelings! It was either sit there and do nothing or give yourself an electric shock. They opted for the electric shock!

The challenge for most of us these days is to actually allow ourselves to sit with these feelings of boredom and to encourage our kids to do the same. If we reach for our cell phones as a way to relieve those feelings of boredom, we miss out on the opportunities to exercise the creative parts of our brain. Likewise, if we rush in too soon to solve the so-called "problem" of boredom for our kids, we rob them of these opportunities, too. 

This is something I was speaking with Christine Hennebury about recently for a recent CBC Radio parenting column. She's a creativity coach and mother of two and a firm believer in the benefits of boredom. Here's what she had to say: "Teaching our kids to be okay with the discomfort of being bored can help us to gain a little mental real estate for ourselves -- and I think it's good problem-solving practice for them. The more problems they solve on their own -- including the problem of being bored and the ability to get comfortable with that uncertainty of 'What do I do next?' -- the fewer problems that we will have to solve for them." 

So you get a break.

The kids get to work on their problem-solving skills.

It's pretty much the ultimate win-win!

2. Being bored can reconnect you with your sense of purpose.

When you're bored, your mind starts to wander in a good way that encourages broader and more expansive thinking. Suddenly, you're able to see the broader perspective, the so-called big picture, as opposed to narrowly fixating on the minutiae of daily living. You're able to connect the dots between past, present, and future, something that allows you to derive a greater sense of meaning and purpose from your life. You know who you are, where you've been, and where you're headed. Your life actually starts to feel like it makes sense!

3. Being bored can make you a kinder person.

This is one of the more fascinating findings I stumbled across while pouring through the research on boredom while writing my forthcoming book. Spending time in a state of boredom actually encourages altruism, empathy, and acts of kindness. Researchers think that this is the direct result of the very thing we were just talking about: the fact that being bored encourages us to engage in deeper and more expansive thinking -- the kind of deeper thinking that allows us to become the best and wisest version of ourselves. We're no longer living our lives on autopilot, in a state of perpetual distraction. Instead, we have the opportunity to reflect on what matters most to us in life, like our relationships with other people. And that, in turn, encourages us to come up with creative ways of nurturing those relationships. We're so much happier and healthier as a result.

Helping kids to get comfortable with being bored

So now that we've talked about the benefits of boredom, let's talk about what it takes to help kids to become comfortable with the feeling of being bored and to figure out how to solve the problem of boredom for themselves. 

As parents, we can help them to understand that boredom is actually a good thing, not something to be feared or avoided at all costs. They need to know that the restless feeling we experience when we're really, really bored is designed to spur us to action. It's like an error message from your brain telling your body, "Hey! We've got to do something differently here!" The challenge is to figure out what that "different" might be. Maybe it means switching from a boring task (like mindlessly surfing the Internet) to a more interesting task (like doing art or solving a puzzle). And sometimes it means finding a way to make a boring task less boring (perhaps listening to some music while you're unloading the dishwasher).

And, of course, this is a skill we can practice in our own lives as well -- because being a grownup can be pretty boring at times, too. Think about it. Folding laundry is never going to rank up there as one of life's top ten most thrilling experiences. Ditto for washing dishes or, if you're a parent, listening to a six year old rhyme off an endless stream of "knock, knock" jokes. 

When boredom becomes a problem

Of course, as with anything else in life, you can get too much of a good thing -- even when that "good thing" means being bored. Extreme amounts of boredom can trigger unhealthy or even risky behaviours. Not only is boredom associated with mindless eating: it's also linked to substance abuse, bad driving, risky sex, problem gambling, and even political extremism. And it has been linked to poor grades, increased dropout rates, and difficulty managing impulses. 

That last bit brings to mind the time when two of my boys decided to relieve their feelings of boredom by playing with the can of spray paint they found in the next door neighbour's garage. As they discovered, curiosity may be the cure for boredom, but it can also get you into a lot of trouble. Or, as boredom researcher Andreas Elipidorou likes to put it: "The interesting isn't always beneficial." (Fortunately, the neighbours were pretty understanding.)

So you definitely don't want your kids to be bored 24/7. Extra-curricular activities can be a godsend -- in moderation.

It's about finding that sweet spot between total boredom and total overload.

That's where the magic happens as a family. 
 

Want to learn more about getting to that happier, healthier place? Subscribe to Ann's brand new newsletters: Ann-o-gramSelf-Care Buddy, and The Villager.

Want to get the scoop on Ann's forthcoming book -- Happy Parents, Happy Kids -- when it hits the bookstore shelves early next year? You can sign up for Ann's book announcement newsletter here.

Back-to-School Parenting: How Self-Compassion Eases Back-to-School Anxiety for Parents + Kids

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The kids are getting ready to head back to school. It's an exciting time of year, but it can also be a stressful time of year for parents and kids alike. If you're looking for a way to ease the pressure and dial down the anxiety that you and your child may be feeling, you may want to tap into the far-reaching benefits of practicing self-compassion.

What is self-compassion?

Not quite sure what I'm talking about when I refer to self-compassion? Here's a quick crash course. 

Self-compassion is compassion directed toward the self. It's about being at least as kind to yourself as you are to other people, as opposed to being harsher, more critical, or less kind.

Self-compassion is deeply rooted in a feeling of connectedness to other people. It encourages you to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that everyone goes through times of struggle. It's not just you. 

Self-compassion is action-oriented. It's about wanting good things to happen for yourself and being willing to take action to make those good things happen. For most of us, that means learning how to be comfortable with uncomfortable emotions, as opposed to feeling like we need to run away from those feelings. As psychotherapist Jennifer Brighton explained when I interviewed her for my recent CBC Radio parenting column on self-compassion, "The essence of being self-compassionate always comes down to, 'I am suffering and I'm willing to see that -- and now how do I get through this?'" So self-compassion is about really listening to yourself when you're having a bad day, just as you would really listen to a friend who was struggling. And then it's simply a matter of allowing that "conversation" with yourself to guide you in deciding what action you should take to make things better.  

How is self-compassion different from self-esteem?

Self-compassion is rooted in feelings of self-acceptance whereas self-esteem is much more dependent on achievement. You feel great about yourself when you're achieving all kinds of fabulous things  and terrible about yourself when you're not.

People whose self-worth is tied to self-esteem tend to crave a lot of external validation. They need other people to tell them that they're worthwhile human beings as opposed to finding those feelings of worthiness within themselves.

Self-esteem is also related to feelings of competition. You're constantly striving to be the best -- and you're not afraid to do so at the expense of other people, if that's the price you have to pay to get ahead. This can leave you feeling separate from other people (because you see those other people as potential competitors as opposed to potential friends) and it can even promote unkind or even bullying behaviours. 

So, as you can see, self-compassion and self-esteem are as different as night and day, both in terms of how they leave you feeling about yourself and how they encourage you to treat other people. 

How can kids benefit from learning about self-compassion?

Teaching kids about self-compassion can help to counter deep-rooted cultural messages that encourage perfectionism and fuel feelings of anxiety. This is important because there's growing evidence that perfectionism is on the rise. A recent study of over 41,000 Canadian, American, and British college students concluded that, "Recent generations of young people are more demanding of themselves, perceive that others are more demanding of them, and are more demanding of others." That's pretty much the recipe for great personal unhappiness, poor mental health, and poor relationships with others. 

As parents, we need to seize the opportunity to help our kids find a happier, healthier path through life -- a path that includes teaching kids about self-compassion.

Here's why.

First of all, self-compassion encourages emotional stability. Your child doesn't have to repeatedly demonstrate her worthiness by constantly chasing after achievement after achievement. She understands that she is lovable and worthy just by virtue of being herself. Teaching your child about self-compassion means giving your child the precious gift of self-acceptance.

Secondly, self-compassion encourages resilience. Your child is better able to bounce back from life's road bumps. Instead of beating himself up when he fails a math test, he is able to acknowledge what's happened and come up with strategies for dealing with the underlying problem (like maybe getting some extra help from his math teacher). And because he's able to make the shift into action mode, he's less likely to find himself stuck in a downward spiral of negative emotions -- emotions that might otherwise interfere with his efforts resolve the problem of that failed math test. 

Finally, self-compassion encourages learning and growth. Your child isn't afraid to take chances or to try new things because his feelings of self-worth aren't narrowly anchored in any single achievement. Who cares if he tries that new thing and falls flat on his face? He's still a 100% worthy and lovable human being and he knows it.

How can parents benefit from practicing self-compassion?

Self-compassion changes the entire landscape of parenting. It makes everything so much less stressful. 

For starters, it makes parenting easier. Parenting is hard enough without having a self-critical voice in your head constantly telling you that "you're doing it all wrong." Self-compassion helps to silence that voice.

Self-compassion also helps you to become a kinder and a more effective parent. You find it easier to acknowledge and accept your child's struggles and shortcomings, just as you've learned to accept your own. Instead of asking yourself to be perfect and insisting that your child be perfect, too, you recognize that you're both doing the best that you can with the skills and abilities that you have right now -- and that you can build on those skills and abilities over time. It's about learning and growing together. 

How to teach your kids (and yourself!) about self-compassion

The best way to teach kids about self-compassion is by modelling this skill for them. Our kids are always paying attention to what we do and what we say -- so let your child catch you being kind to yourself the next time you forget an appointment, misplace your car keys, or spill a cup of coffee on the couch. 

It's also helpful to talk about self-compassion as a family. When you're watching a movie together, highlight situations where characters are treating themselves with extreme kindness or extreme unkindness. Talk about what motivates these types of behaviour and what the real-life fallout can be of being perpetually mean to yourself.

If you have a child who is extremely self-critical, help your child to change the channel in her brain from self-criticism to self-compassion. The next time you catch her saying unkind things about herself, encourage her to think about what she would say to a friend who was dealing with the very same situation. Then encourage her to say those same kinds of things to herself. 

At first, practicing self-compassion may feel awkward and unnatural — and you might even find yourself getting a little discouraged. What you don’t want to do is to beat yourself up for not getting this self-compassion thing right — or at least not right away. It takes practice to master any new skill, and self-compassion is no exception. the first step is to simply pay attention to the voice in your head — to notice how often that voice is critical as opposed to kind. Then, when you catch yourself saying something harsh or judgmental to yourself, challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself questions like, “Is that really true? Am I actually the world’s worst klutz, just because I spilled a drink on the couch?” and “Would I say something that harsh and judgmental to a coworker or my best friend, if they were the one who spilled the drink on the couch?” (Hopefully, the answer is no!)

If you can remind yourself of the far-reaching benefits to both yourself and your child of mastering this skill together, you’ll be more motivated to keep trying to treat yourselves (and one another) with greater compassion.

You’ll want to do the hard but life-affirming work of journeying to that happier, healthier place as a family. 
 

Want to learn more about getting to that happier, healthier place? Subscribe to Ann's brand new newsletters: Ann-o-gram, Self-Care Buddy, and The Villager.

Want to get the scoop on Ann's forthcoming book -- Happy Parents, Happy Kids -- when it hits the bookstore shelves early next year? You can sign up for Ann's book announcement newsletter here.

What Moms Really Want for Mother's Day

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What do moms really want for Mother’s Day? Flowers, candy, breakfast in bed, a homemade card? Perhaps — or maybe that mom on your list has something else in mind.

Here's what's on my Mother's Day wish list this year -- and what's also making the list of a lot of other moms I know....

Sleep

I know this one's hard to wrap, but it's guaranteed to be a hit, if only because it's in such chronically short supply.

One study found, in fact, that each time you add an additional child to your family, you increase your odds of not getting at least 6 hours of sleep each night by an astounding 50 percent. (Pretty mind-boggling, I know.) 

Sleep deprivation tends to be more of a problem for mothers than for fathers -- and not just because mothers still tend to take the lead on middle-of-the-night parenting. Women are more likely to have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep than men, with roughly 35 percent of women as compared to 25 percent of men reporting sleep problems. And there may be an additional factor at play as well (although the jury’s still out on this one): UK neuroscientist Jim Horne has argued that women need more sleep than men (about 20 minutes extra each day) because their brains spend more time multitasking, which means their need for recovery time is greater. 

Time with our kids

We sometimes overlook this simple yet all-important fact: that what moms actually love most about motherhood is simply spending time with their kids…. Because here’s the thing: far from being the source of misery, the time spent with our kids is actually the stuff we love most about parenting. It’s the other stuff (the laundry, the grocery shopping, the endless to do list of life) that drags moms down and reduces their enjoyment of motherhood. 

This is something I was speaking with Toronto mother Karen Leiva about recently. I asked her how she was planning to spend Mother’s Day and she told me how much she was looking forward to simply spending time with her son Nicolas, who is two-and-a-half year: "I guess what I really want to do is to have a day where we can kind of slow down: turn off the phones, turn off the computer, turn off the TV and get outside and play and spend some fun time together." 

It's all about hitting the pause button on everyday life and making room for the fun!

A little less guilt

The job description for “mother” tends to be pretty guilt inducing. Consider the kind of messages moms receive from these two so-called inspirational quotes about motherhood.

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” – Jacqueline Kennedy 

So your entire sense of self-worth as a person should be wrapped up in the experience of being someone’s mom? That puts a lot of pressure on moms, to say nothing of their kids.

“A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” - Tenneva Jordan

So motherhood is all about self-sacrifice? What if you’re a mom who happens to really love pie? Do you always have to do without the pie?!!!

Feeling less guilty is all about getting real about motherhood—being willing to talk about the challenges as well as the joys. The more we’re willing to do that, the more we ease the pressure on ourselves—and the easier we make it for other mothers to ease up on themselves, too. 

It’s the Mother’s Day gift you give to other mothers, in other words.

 

A "get out of parenting jail free" card

Every mom would appreciate being given a “get out of (parenting) jail free” card that could be applied to her next parenting faux pas. Because it’s not a case of whether you’re going to make a mistake as a mom. It’s simply a matter of when. And when it happens, you can simply use that “get out of  (parenting) jail free” card to forgive yourself and move on.

Being a mom means experiencing many guilt-inducing moments. And as the mother of four children, I have many. One memory that really stands out is the time I sent my four-year-old son to school on a non-school day. These were the days of every-other-day kindergarten and there’d been some sort of disruption to the schedule—a school holiday or something like that. I sent Erik to school as per usual and then midday through the day, it suddenly dawned on me that this wasn’t actually a school day for him. I rushed to the school only to discover that the teacher hadn’t actually noticed the error at all. (Yes, that made me feel a lot better.) “I noticed he kept looking at me with a really quizzical expression,” the teacher told me. “I guess he was trying to figure out why the teacher was the same, the classroom was the same, but the kids in the class were all different kids. He was trying to puzzle that out.” So, yeah, that experience was more than a little humbling. I definitely could have used a “get out of (parenting) jail free” card that day!

 

A chance to reflect on what it means to be a mom

When you become a mom, you become a member of “the motherhood club.” You feel this strong sense of connection to every other mother you pass on the street and all the other mothers of the world. 

This is something Karen Leiva thinks about a lot. For the past six years, she’s been volunteering to raise funds for children in an orphanage in Uganda. The dollars she raises help to make it possible for the children in that orphanage to pursue post-secondary education. So far, she’s managed to raise enough funds to put ten kids through school. 

She told me that, on Mother’s Day, she’ll be thinking about the fact that 80% of the children in that orphanage ended up being there because their mothers died in childbirth. She’ll be thinking about global health inequities and how not having access to adequate healthcare has a huge impact on the lives of mothers and babies in other parts of the world: “We have so many opportunities in Canada. I think sometimes we take it for granted because it’s always there. We can expect that we’re going to go to the hospital or we’re going to stay home with a midwife and deliver our baby in a healthy way -- but that’s not the reality around the world.” 

So, if you think about it, Mother’s Day is the perfect day to reflect on your motherhood club membership: to feel buoyed by that sense of connection and to allow it to inspire you to do your part to make the world a better place for other mothers and their children. 

Not just in your neighbourhood, but around the world. 

And not just on Mother’s Day. 

This blog post is based on my May 2018 parenting column for CBC Radio. If you'd like to listen to the actual column, you actually have three options to choose from. Happy Mother's Day!

What moms want on Mother's Day, in numbers (Fresh Air)

Sleep, reflect, love: what moms really want for Mother's Day (All in a Weekend Montreal)

The gift she really wants for Mother's Day (Daybreak Alberta)

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including, most recently, Parenting Through the Storm. She is also the creator of The Mother of All Books series and the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. 

Are You at Risk of Parent Burnout?

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A recent study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology reported that as many as one in eight parents may be struggling with burnout. They feel exhausted. They feel like they’re doing a bad job as parents. And they feel increasingly disconnected from their kids. It’s a worrisome place to find yourself when you’re a parent, but it’s possible to turn the situation around. Here's what you need to know.

There's a difference between feeling frazzled and experiencing full-fledged parent burnout.

When we talk about parent burnout, we're not talking about garden-variety tiredness or feeling a little frustrated or overwhelmed from time to time. That’s kind of par for the course, when you’re a parent.  

What we’re talking about here is something much more pronounced and prolonged.

You don't just have the occasional bad day, when you're struggling with parent burnout. Every day feels like a bad day.

You always feel exhausted.

You always feel like you’re doing a bad job: that nothing you do or try is making a difference for your child.

You increasingly feel like you're parenting on auto-pilot as opposed to making conscious and deliberate decisions about your parenting

And as you become more discouraged and more cynical, you start to feel emotionally disconnected from your child. 

The more passionate you are about parenting, the greater your risk of experiencing parent burnout.

Parent burnout isn't something that happens to "bad parents." It's something that happens to really committed parents. It’s those parents who are most passionate about parenting and who hold themselves up to the very highest standards who are most vulnerable to experiencing parent burnout.

This makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. If parenting is the most important thing in the world to you and things aren’t going well (or at least as well as you had hoped they would, back when you were merely dreaming about what it would be like to be a parent!), you can start to experience some of the symptoms of parent burnout (feeling exhausted, ineffective, and emotionally distant from your child, for example).

Of course, that’s not the only factor at play here. Having a child who requires a great deal of parenting time and attention for whatever reason can increase the risk of parent burnout. It could be that you're raising a child who has an extra-challenging temperament or who is dealing with a lot of physical or mental health challenges, for example.

Your own resources (or lack thereof) also factor in. A parent who is facing a lot of financial pressure and who doesn’t have a lot of social support is more likely to experience symptoms of burnout than a parent who isn't grappling with money worries and/or feeling isolated and alone.

Interesting enough, one thing the researchers didn’t uncover was any sort of gender gap when it comes to parent burnout. Parent burnout is an equal-opportunity experience! It doesn’t care if you’re a mom or a dad….

There are things you can do to avoid or manage parent burnout.

And now the good news. The situation isn't hopeless. There are things you can do to turn the situation around. The most important thing is to ensure that your expectations of yourself are realistic. We’re living in an era of sky-high expectations for parents: both the expectations that society sets for us and the expectations that we set for ourselves. Not only are we supposed to be ever-loving and ever-patient: we’re supposed to protect our children from every conceivable danger and ensure that they benefit from every conceivable advantage as well. (Or at least that’s how the job description of parenting seems to read some days.)  So reducing your risk of burnout (or reducing it, if it's starting to kick in) is all about wrangling your definition of “good parent” into something a little more manageable: something that allows you to be less than perfect; that gives you at least some time off for good behaviour; and that recognizes that you can’t be all things to all people at all times.

This is something I talked to Claire Kerr-Zlobin about recently. She's a Toronto-area mother of two school-aged children and the founder of the parent mental health charity Life With A Baby. She told me that setting limits for herself (as opposed to continuously pushing herself to her limits and beyond) allows her to be more productive and to feel less scattered and stressed: "I’m not feeling like I’m being pulled in like a million places all at once. I’m actually getting things done versus just like spinning around and not really completing any one thing," she said.

She told me that what helps her to stay on track is her realization that her kids are paying close attention to everything she does. If she finds herself straying too far in the direction of overwork or consistently neglecting self-care, she forces herself to hit the reset button by reminding herself that she's teaching her kids important lessons about what it means to be an adult: “I don’t necessarily want my kids to feel like seeing mommy completely exhausted is the norm.” 

It may not be easy, but it’s worth it—hitting that reset button in your own life. And if you’re looking for allies to help spur you on—other parents who are trying to model healthier patterns for their kids—you’ll find them all around you. Because here’s the thing: every parent struggles with this. No one ever feels completely on top of their parenting game—or at least no parent I’ve ever met! So don’t be afraid to wave the white flag and ask for help—or to extend a helping hand to another parent who is struggling. After all, we’re all in this together, moms and dads.

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