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.

The Recipe for a Perfect Childhood Summer

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There are only so many summers of childhood—and they tend to fly by in a flash. One minute, your child is hopping off the school bus on that final day of school, practically intoxicated by the heady sense of freedom and possibility. The next, she's gearing up to head back to school—and wondering where on earth the summer went….  

But here’s the good news: we’re still only a few weeks into the much-anticipated gift that is summer. We still have time to hit the pause button to consider the kinds of memories we want our kids to carry with them from the summer of 2017.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately and I've come up with a recipe of sorts for the perfect childhood summer.

Like all good recipes, the ingredients are simple, readily available, and generic enough to allow for substitutions—and the list of ingredients is short (just three!) 

  • The first is “food”—because you can’t talk about summer without talking about food. 
  • The second is “family and friends”—because that’s the active ingredient in our most powerful summer memories. 
  • And the third is “freedom and fun”—because summer is also a time of year for testing limits, sidestepping everyday routines, and otherwise embarking on new adventures.

Food

When I was thinking back to my own most memorable childhood summers, I was struck by just how many of those memories are somehow anchored in food.  The rich charcoal-y taste of anything cooked on my parents’ 1970s barbecue grill. The crunch of corn on the cob served at late-summer corn roasts: a sure sign that summer was winding down. And, of course, the sticky deliciousness of a marshmallow that’s been allowed to catch on fire for a couple of seconds over a campfire, thereby achieving marshmallow goo nirvana.

This is something that food writer Bee Wilson talks about in her recent book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. She argues that our memories are deeply anchored in food—and that this is especially true when it comes to the foods that we experience in childhood. “You may not be able to remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday, but I bet you can recall the habitual meals of childhood, the breakfast you were given for a weekend treat, and the way bread tasted in your house. These are the memories that still have emotional force years or even decades later,” she writes.

These memories are both anchored to celebrations and tied to ordinary moments—think potato salad at the family reunion versus going berry picking or hitting the farmers’ market as a family. So you definitely want to look for opportunities to build some of these food memories into your kids’ summer.

Family and friends

The great thing about summer is the fact that we tend to have a bit more wriggle room when it comes to scheduling. Most of us take at least a little time off, which allows us to venture a little further afield. It’s the time of year for picnics and barbecues and family reunions: a chance to spend some relaxed and unscheduled time in the company of people we love (and who love us right back). The families we are born into as well as the families we create for ourselves…. 

These kinds of get-togethers give kids the opportunity to reconnect with aunts and uncles and cousins that they might only see once a year—members of an eclectic off-stage cast of characters in the ongoing story that is their life. They are reminded that they belong to something so much bigger than themselves by virtue of their connections to these people. They are rooted. They belong. 

My Grandma Bolton worked really hard to nurture this sense of family. We’d get together to celebrate each of her milestone birthdays and she’d organize sleepovers at her house for various grandchildren, in the hope that at least some of us would go on to become life-long friends. I’m happy to report that she got her wish. My relationship with my cousin Karen is still going strong more than four decades after the first of many grandma-initiated sleepovers. The gift of my cousin’s friendship is her lasting legacy to me.

Freedom and fun

Kids need the opportunity to learn and grow—and summer is the perfect time of year for the unscripted, unstructured play and exploration that fuel self-discovery.

This is something Eileen Kimmett, a Peterborough, Ontario, mother of three school-aged kids thinks about a lot. Her advice to other parents who are wondering how to allow time for the magic of childhood summers to unfold? “Keep it simple. Do schedule field trip days, but don’t overbook or overschedule. It’s okay to stay home and do nothing. I’m certainly learning that this year. You don’t have to go to every event. It’s really, really neat to explore places that you’ve never been to – and you can do it with the kids.”

So, it’s about leaving enough time in your kids’ schedule for them to learn how to create their fun—as opposed to feeling like it’s somehow your job to make the fun happen for them. Because, really, isn’t that what a childhood summer is supposed to be about—being given license to make your own fun? Having the freedom to build your own tree fort and having the time to simply float around on an inner tube, staring up at the clouds while your mind wanders and your cares drift away? 

Instructions

So there you have it: the three key ingredients in the recipe for a perfect childhood summer. And now a few parting thoughts that can double as recipe instructions!

First, don’t make this harder than it has to be. Take advantage of ordinary moments as opposed to feeling like you have to do something hugely complicated or expensive. Less important than what you’re doing is the fact that you’re doing it together—and forging some powerful summertime memories along the way.

Secondly, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have endless time. There are only so many summers of childhood. Don’t let this one pass your kids by. Think about the types of memories you want your children to carry with them from their one-and-only childhood—and then do what you can to help them start making those memories, starting right now. Seize the summer, moms and dads….

How to Savour What's Left of Summer

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Turning the calendar page to August is a poignant reminder that summer won’t last forever. In just a few short weeks, we’ll all be diving into the hurricane that is back to school. So how do you make the most of these final few weeks of summer? How do you fill them with the kinds of memories that you'll want to look back on in months and years to come? Here are a few tips.

Revisit your summer wish list

Remember that list you made (on a piece of paper or maybe even just in your head), back when summer was just a vague and abstract idea: how you came up with a list of all the things you swore you would do this summer? Well, there’s no time like the present to revisit that list and to zero in on the things that matter most. Maybe it’s taking a day trip to an area attraction or planning an out-of-town getaway to visit friends and family members for a weekend. Or maybe it’s simply deciding that you want to spend more time having fun together as a family, here at home. Sometimes the most ordinary events get translated into the most spectacular memories, after all.

Be spontaneous

Find yourself with an unexpected block of time? Seize the moment and do something spontaneous and fun. Toss around a Frisbee. Head to the park. Whip up something delicious and decadent on the backyard grill. It’s amazing what a difference just an hour or two of unanticipated joy can make in your life and your kids’ lives, too. It's a chance to really connect with your kids in a powerful and far-reaching way.

Create time

Are there some tasks you could put off until fall so that you can make the most of summer? The basement will still be there to organize come September or October, but the lakes and rivers won’t be warm enough to swim in anymore. Here’s an idea: think about hitting the pause button on social media, if only for a couple of hours or a day at a time. Social media is great—but it can be all-encompassing. Don’t be afraid to unplug from technology temporarily so that you can plug into other opportunities and experiences instead. Give yourself and your kids the chance to harvest a few more summer memories by making intentional choices about how you’re choosing to use your time.

Savour the moment

When you’re having an amazing time with your kids, pause to really drink in every detail of that moment. Imagine that you’re trying to download this moment into your brain. Don’t be afraid to take a snapshot or two to capture the moment. Reflecting on a photo of this special moment can, after all, help you to relive it down the roadBut don’t allow the act of taking photos to interfere with your enjoyment of the here and now. (Yes, it’s a fine line.) You can squeeze more joy out of each and every moment by learning to anticipate, savour, and then remember that moment. (Do the math: we’re talking three times the fun.)

So there you have it: some practical advice on making the most of these final days of summer. And if you do decide to put one of these tips into action, let me know. I'd love to hear how things worked out for you. 
 

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting, including, most recently Parenting Through the Storm. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio and a mom of four.