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.

Happier Parents, Happier Kids (my contribution to the Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report)

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The report (which is entitled Where Does Canada Stand? The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report) weaves together a tapestry of data to give us a comprehensive and balanced picture of how Canadian children are actually doing (as opposed to how we think they’re doing). The goal of the report (and the underlying Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being, which fuelled it) is to help Canadians understand what growing up is like for kids right now and what we can do to make that experience better.

The report poses some really bold and thought-provoking questions, like what kind of country does Canada want to be when it comes to the well-being of our children? As the authors of the report note in a powerful call to action: “The kids of Canada have one chance to be children. Canada has a chance to be a better country for Canada. Stand with children.”

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I tweeted some highlights from the report earlier this morning and I’ll be continuing to share data from the report via social media in the coming days. The reason is simple: I would like every single Canadian who professes to care about children to pay attention to the contents of this truly visionary report.

I particularly applaud the authors’ willingness to spotlight an uncomfortable truth that we don’t talk about nearly enough: the impact of income and social inequality on the lives of Canadian children. “UNICEF Canada believes that reducing income and social inequality is the greatest challenge and opportunity of our time, with potentially the greatest effects on all aspects of children’s lives in Canada.”

We need to look at the data, search our collective souls, and commit to taking action so that each and every Canadian child has a real opportunity to thrive.

Happier Parents, Happier Kids

by Ann Douglas

One of the key ingredients in the recipe for a happy child is a happy parent. When parents do better, kids do better – and vice versa. And, as for the recipe for a happy parent, the key ingredient in that recipe is good public policy.

Parenting doesn’t happen in a bubble. Parents can’t help but be affected by what’s happening in the world beyond their front door. And when it comes to policy decisions, the impact on parenting can be quite dramatic.

“Happier Parents, Happier Kids” by Ann Douglas appears on page 8 of  Where We Stand: The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report.

“Happier Parents, Happier Kids” by Ann Douglas appears on page 8 of Where We Stand: The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being 2019 Baseline Report.

Research conducted by the Council on Contemporary Families has found, for example, that parental happiness levels increase in the presence of policies that make it less stressful and less costly for parents to juggle the competing demands of work and family. There is, after all, a solid body of research to demonstrate that parents who struggle with high levels of work- life conflict are more likely to be stressed, anxious and depressed. And, what’s more, they’re also likely to be less healthy and more dissatisfied with their relationships with their partners and their kids. When work-life conflict is prolonged or extreme, parents end up being distant, inattentive, less sensitive and less emotionally available to their kids. That, in turn, takes a toll on the happiness of both parents and kids.

It isn’t just happiness that’s at stake. When parents are feeling stressed and overloaded, everything tends to fall apart on the health and wellness front – with the impact even greater if the mother is the parent who is feeling stressed. The good news is that there’s a way to put the brakes on this kind of downward spiral – and to create an upward spiral that allows both parents and kids to thrive.

It starts with family-friendly policies. As it turns out, access to quality, affordable child care is a complete game changer on this front, helping to minimize work- life conflict, encouraging greater gender equity within couple relationships and eliminating the so-called motherhood tax (the fact that mothers are penalized in the workplace for being the ones who typically take the lead on care).

Economic policy that helps to reduce income inequality is equally critical to help relieve the anxiety that so many parents and children experience. As the economic stakes get higher, the pressure on parents and kids gets ever greater, and parents are more likely to decide that harsher and more controlling parenting is the best way to respond to the challenges posed by an uncertain future.

For some parents dealing with trauma and health challenges, child care and other community supports can help them be the parents they want to be.

If we’re actually serious about producing a generation of children who are happier and healthier than their parents, we need public policies that help those children’s parents feel less anxious, less guilty and less overwhelmed. In order to make that happen, we need to shift from treating parenting as a problem that every family needs to solve on its own to choosing instead to embrace it as a collective opportunity to raise up the next generation of citizens together.

As it turns out, that happens to be a winning strategy. Societies that invest in children and their parents by implementing wise and forward-looking public policy also happen to be the societies that reap the greatest dividends on the happiness front. In other words, they’re the best countries in the world to be a parent and to be a kid.


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio.

A Quick Guide to Taming Back-to-School Stress

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Back-to-school season can be an emotional rollercoaster ride for parents and kids alike.

On the one hand, there’s all the excitement and activity that tends to accompany the start of a new school year. (New binders! New running shoes! A new backpack!)

But, at the same time, there can be a feeling of sadness, as parents and kids are forced to acknowledge the fact that summer is really-and-truly winding down. (Goodbye, summer evening marshmallow roasts. Hello, early morning school bus rides….)

What follows are some tips on minimizing the stress of back-to-school season and savouring what’s left of summer — the focus of my most recent weekend parenting column for CBC Radio.

Take solace in the fact that you’re not the only parent who finds back-to-school season stressful

A lot of parents find it to be a challenging time of year — and for good reason. It’s a busy time of year and it’s an expensive time of year. Kids have a habit of growing, so September is often wardrobe replenishment season on top of school supply purchasing season. Add to that the fact that the refrigerator needs to be stocked with the fixings for lunches and snacks and the fact that there can be hefty sign-up fees associated with various extracurricular activities and you can see why many parents begin to feel like they’re running a back-to-school marathon—an endurance marathon that is largely about emptying their wallets.

Resist the temptation to set the bar impossibly high for yourself

At this time of year, there can be a lot of pressure to get things organized. Super-organized, in fact. It can be easy to set the bar impossibly high for yourself—to tell yourself things like, “This will be the year when we finally have our act parenting completely together.” “This will be the year when every single school permission form and library book are returned on time.” “This will be the year when the gym clothes magically hop inside the backpacks each and every gym day.” Yep, it’s the stuff of which back-to-school fantasies are made and it can be a considerable source of back-to-school stress.

Calm yourself; calm your child

Parents have the opportunity to set the emotional tone for the entire family during back-to-school season. If you’re stressed out, your child is likely to pick up on and respond to those feelings. So the best way to keep your child from spinning out of control is to manage your own stress level.

This is something I was talking with Jenny Raspberry about recently. She’s the mother of two school-aged children. And she says that parents actually make back-to-school season harder on themselves if they leave all the preparations to the very last minute. Her best advice? Pace yourself! “Try to do a little bit at a time: Okay, does everybody have a backpack? Great! Okay, we need to make sure that everybody has a lunch bag. Okay. Maybe a couple of days later, you’re making sure that everyone has their water bottle. The more the parents are rushed and stressed, the more the children will pick up on that and act out accordingly.”

And the more likely it is that there will be tears at the bus stop on the first morning of school….

Reach out to your parenting “village” for support

Look for opportunities to share some of the back-to-school workload and to “be the village” for one another’s kids. Maybe you could take turns walking your kids back and forth to school. Maybe you could team up to plan a back-to-school picnic or barbecue (a fun way to take care of dinner during that busy and exhausting first week back at school). You can probably think of countless other ways you could join forces with other families.

Accept the fact that there will be a few back-to-school road bumps

Switching from your family’s summer to school-year routine can be challenging for all concerned. Personally, I have found that things tend to hit rock bottom on the Friday of the first week back to school. At that point, the adrenaline and excitement associated with the start of a new school year has started to wear off and everyone’s starting to feel tired—really tired—and really grumpy, too.

The good news is that you have the opportunity to help dial down that stress, both by accepting that change can be hard and by treating both yourself and your kids with compassion as you ride the rollercoaster that is back to school. It’s hard for them and it’s hard for us, but we can get through this transition together.

Resist the temptation to jam-pack your family’s schedule with a whole bunch of fabulous-sounding extracurricular activities

At this time of year, they all sound fabulous. But it’s important to be realistic about how many extra-curricular activities you and your kids can reasonably handle at one time.

Instead of just telling yourself, “It’s okay. I’ll find a way to make this work,” stop to consider how happy or how exhausted you are likely to feel a month or two from now if you actually try to shoehorn all these different activities into your family’s schedule.

How will “November you” feel about the commitments that “September you” is busy making right now?

Savour what’s left of summer

Yes, another school year is starting, but that doesn’t mean that summer is about to pack up its bags and leave town. If past years are any indication, the good weather should be sticking around for at least a little while longer. But we definitely want to make the most of it, while it’s still here. That means taking full advantage of the evenings and weekends; and heading outdoors as often as you can. It means zeroing in on the things that you and your kids you love most about summer and then figuring out how to continue to enjoy those experiences even after the school year starts again. It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. It’s simply about having fun together and about making a conscious decision to carry “the best of summer” forward into the new school year.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. This fall, she is launching The Village (a six-month online community of support and discovery for parents).

It Takes a Village to Raise a Parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 million calories and counting

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

So where is “the village”?

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

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

On finding or rebuilding “the village”

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Compassion is the Ultimate Parenting Guilt Eraser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can We Talk About Summer Parenting Guilt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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