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.

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.

Don't-Leave-Please-Go.jpg

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

End of School Year Stress.png

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

Be The Village

What does it mean to be “the village”?

What does it mean to be “the village”?

What does it mean to be "the village” — to not just long for connection with other people but to actually show up and build those kinds of relationships and, along the way, create community for yourself and other people?

Here’s what it means to me.

It means investing the time needed to truly get to know another person: to establish intimacy and build trust.

It means looking for opportunities to make life better for that person in some small way, like passing along a message of encouragement on a day when that person’s encouragement stores are running low.

It means being open about my own struggles and my own hunger for community. When I am brave enough to open up about what I want and need, I encourage other people to do the same.

It means daring to make the first move when it comes to establishing a connection with another person. At a community event that I hosted in Fredericton, New Brunswick, last month, participants talked about how much courage it takes to approach someone you don’t know to say, “Hey, do you want to be my friend?” The thing is…most of the people in the room were feeling the exact same thing. They were all afraid to make the first move and they were all desperately craving friendship and community. We concluded that some sort of “speed dating for friends” event was desperately needed to help people make these kinds of connections. (I don’t know about you, but I’d be all over that kind of an event.)

I think we need to talk about this more — why so many people are feeling so lonely and so isolated and what practical things we can do to rebuild "the village" in our communities. This is something I’m going to be talking about all summer long. I hope you’ll follow along and join the conversation, too, by sharing some of your own experiences in not just finding but being the village.

This post was originally published in The Villager, Ann’s free twice-monthly newsletter about building community and finding common ground in a rapidly changing world. You can read back issues of the newsletter here and sign up for a subscription at the same time.

What Makes for a Happy Mom?

Looking for the recipe for a happy (or happier) mom? Ann Douglas has a few thoughts to share on what actually contributes to happiness in mothers.

Looking for the recipe for a happy (or happier) mom? Ann Douglas has a few thoughts to share on what actually contributes to happiness in mothers.

Wondering what actually contributes to happiness in mothers (as opposed to what the all the guilt-inducing messages about motherhood might have you believe)? This is a key theme in my brand new book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, and it is the focus of my parenting column for CBC Radio this weekend. Just in case you aren’t able to tune in, here are a few highlights from some noteworthy research about what does — and doesn’t — make for a happy mom.

What moms love most about motherhood

Believe it or not, motherhood isn't just another word for misery. We moms actually derive a lot of enjoyment from motherhood and, not surprisingly, what we enjoy most about being moms is actually spending time with our kids.

As psychologist S. Katherine Nelson and her co-authors put it in a groundbreaking study entitled In Defense of Parenthood: Children Are Associated with More Joy than Misery, which was published in Psychological Science back in 2013: "Taking care of children provides parents with more happiness, on average, than their other day-to-day activities."

So far from being the source of misery, time spent with our kids is actually the good stuff in most mothers' lives.

What moms love least about being moms

Of course, that kind of begs the question: what is it about motherhood that moms love least?

The research is pretty clear on this point, too. It's all the other stuff: the stuff that gets in the way of these moments of connection with our kids. All the feelings of anxiety, guilt, and being overwhelmed that are pretty much baked into the experience of modern motherhood, in other words.

Parenting isn’t just hard. It’s almost impossibly hard. And for reasons that have little to do with parenting.

Parenting isn’t just hard. It’s almost impossibly hard. And for reasons that have little to do with parenting.

One way to manage those less-than-happy feelings is to rewrite the stories you’re telling yourself about what it means to be a good mother.

This is something I spoke with author and registered psychologist Vanessa Lapointe about recently, while I was researching my CBC Radio parenting column. Here's what she had to say: "The idea of being happy really begins with going kind of deep down within ourselves and beginning to tell ourselves a narrative or a story about our our life about ourselves as mothers, about our children, about our partners, about the world that we live in….that we concoct a story that works for us rather than a story that works against us."

So acknowledge that things are hard and then work at rewriting the script in your head — the one that tries to tell you that you're not a good enough mom.

Of course, a mindset shift isn’t going to be enough to move the happiness dial in a major way for a mom who is feeling really crushed by the demands of work-life imbalance or who is feeling frustrated by the fact that she seems to be shouldering a disproportionate amount of the parenting load.

And, as it turns out, these two factors are really key ingredients in the recipe for maternal unhappiness. So if you’d prefer to whip up a batch of maternal happiness instead, it’s pretty clear what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to switch up the recipe a little.

Reduced work-life conflict = happier moms

Research conducted by the US-based Council on Contemporary Families highlights the fact that parental happiness levels increase in the presence of policy that makes it less stressful and less costly for parents to juggle the competing demands of work and family.

When things aren't working well on that front, mothers in particular tend to experience a lot of guilt. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found, for example, that mothers experience significantly higher levels of "work-interfering-with-family guilt" than fathers do.

The good news is that access to quality affordable childcare is a complete game changer for moms, allowing parents to juggle the competing demands of work and family more easily. It helps to minimize work-life conflict, encourages greater equity in couple relationships, and eliminates the so-called motherhood tax (the fact that mothers are penalized in the workplace in terms of both income and opportunity because they still tend to be the ones in their families who take the lead when it comes to caring for children).

So better family policy that actually reflects the realities of what's happening in Canadian families in 2019 is definitely a key ingredient in the recipe for a happier mom. And it may explain why childcare is showing up on the wish lists of a lot of moms this Mother's Day. I actually spotted a hashtag on Twitter this week that declared #childcarenotchocolates. I don’t know about you, but I loved that so much….

A more realistic job description for the position of “mother” = happier moms

If you've always had a nagging suspicion that being a dad tends to be whole lot more fun than being a mom, well, it turns out that science is on your side. A 2016 study conducted at Cornell University concluded that mothers report "less happiness, more stress, and greater fatigue" during the time they spend with children than fathers do.

The job description for “father” is still a whole lot more forgiving than the job description for “mother.”

The job description for “father” is still a whole lot more forgiving than the job description for “mother.”

At the root of the problem is the fact that the job description for "father" continues to be a whole lot more manageable than the job description for "mother." There are more flexible and more realistic models of what it means to be "a good dad" as compared to "a good mom" — even in 2019. These stubborn gender norms conspire to make life harder for moms and dads alike which, I should add, means any person of any gender who happens to step into either of those prepackaged roles.

How does this play out in real life? Well, for starters, mothers tend to spend more of their time with their kids taking care of the hands-on, hard work of parenting, freeing dads up to enjoy more of the fun stuff.

And really, who wouldn't enjoy the fun stuff of parenting more?

There’s no one-size-fits-all motherhood experience

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all motherhood experience — just as there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all anything. Some moms do have a tougher time than others. Some kids are easier to parent than others. Some stages of motherhood are easier and more enjoyable than others. (Spoiler alert: The preschool years tend to be the motherhood sweet spot.) And some parents are at increased risk of parent burnout (which is more likely to occur when parents have sky-high expectations of themselves).

It’s okay to be a gloriously imperfect mom. In fact, it’s more than okay!

It’s okay to be a gloriously imperfect mom. In fact, it’s more than okay!

So taming your own expectations of what’s realistic and possible for you in your life right now may be the most important ingredient in the recipe for a happier you. And that starts with celebrating the fact that moms don't have to be perfect. It's okay to be a gloriously imperfect mom. In fact, it's more than okay. By giving your child the gift of a gloriously imperfect mother, you're teaching your child something really important: that none of us have to be perfect in order to be worthy of love. And what a gift that message is for any child to receive.

So here’s to ditching the guilt and embracing the joy this Mother's Day.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous bestselling books about parenting and the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Her two most recent books are Happy Parents, Happy Kids and Parenting Through the Storm. A passionate and inspiring speaker, Ann delivers keynote addresses and leads small group workshops at health, education, and parenting conferences across the country.

Related reads:

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.