An excerpt from Ann Douglas’ brand new book, Happy Parents Happy Kids.
Introduction to Happy Parents Happy Kids by Ann Douglas
A funny thing happened on the way to writing this book. I almost ended up not having a book to write!
Okay, the situation wasn’t quite that dire, but it was pretty dire in the early days, as I found myself scrambling to find parents who were willing to be interviewed for a book about being the happiest, healthiest parent possible—and raising the happiest, healthiest kid. Here’s how things played out time and time again during the earliest stages of my book research: I’d approach some parents, tell them about the book, and ask them if they’d be willing to be interviewed. The parents would initially express great enthusiasm for the project, telling me that there was a tremendous need for just such a book, and that, in fact, they couldn’t wait to rush out and pick up a copy for themselves.
And then, boom, the parents would turn down my request for an interview.
It wasn’t that they didn’t want to help, they were quick to explain; it was just that they didn’t feel qualified to help. Yes, they were parents, but it’s not like they were especially good parents. In fact, truth be told, they believed they were pretty much doing it all wrong. They simply didn’t have any business being interviewed for a book about parenting. You understand?
The first few times this happened, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. But then it kept happening. And I started to wonder how it could be that the most educated generation of parents ever was experiencing such a collective crisis in confidence. This was my first clue that things were going to be a little different when it came to writing this book. My gut instincts were telling me that something about parenting had changed. It was the first time in all my years of interviewing parents (twenty years, fifteen books) that I’d ever encountered this kind of resistance and fear.
Oh yeah, fear! That reminds me: I need to tell you about the fear . . .
If you’ve read any of my previous books, you know that the parent stories aren’t just part of the book; they are the book. So, it’s not as if I’m a newbie when it comes to interviewing parents— finding them, recruiting them for interviews, and establishing the kind of trust that allows people to speak frankly and openly about their experiences.
But this time around, something felt different. Parents were much more cautious. Some even seemed to be afraid of the possible consequences of speaking frankly about their experiences. They worried that someone might figure out that they were that mom who expressed resentment and profound disappointment about the way her marriage evolved after baby, or that dad who lamented the impact of parenthood on his career. One parent was so afraid that her identity might be revealed that she pretty much entered the witness protection program, setting up a separate email account and creating a unique online identity for herself for anything even remotely touching upon the book interview process. Yep, her fear ran that deep.
Around the same time that all that was happening, I began to notice a growing trend: a really nasty tendency to name and shame parents—and kids—online. I quickly concluded that most of us mere mortal parents are just one moment of inattention or parenting bad luck away from being forever known as that shamefully awful parent who did such and such a thing, with accompanying photos and video if it happened to be a particularly hellishly unfortunate day. This is not to imply that parents haven’t been on the receiving end of harsh societal judgment since pretty much the beginning of time, and certainly since long before the smartphone ever came along. But because there was no permanent and instantly retrievable record of your least proud moment of parenting, there was always the hope that other people’s memory of the incident would fade over time. Of course, there’s no such luck in the age of Google.
So, I’m not surprised that parents are a little more reluctant to bare their souls in an age of instant judgment and even quicker retribution. Add to this the fact that our expectations of ourselves as parents continue to notch up ever higher, and you’ve got the ingredients for a perfect storm—a perfect tsunami, actually—of parental anxiety, guilt, and feeling over- whelmed. It makes perfect sense, then, that parents today are a bit warier about speaking frankly and openly (at least under their real names) than they were when I first started writing books about parenting twenty years ago. The stakes seem so much higher nowadays—frighteningly so, in fact.
It was this realization that got me thinking: Why is every- thing so high stakes? Does parenting actually have to be this hard? Why is it so hard? Is there something we can do to make it a little easier—to boost our enjoyment of parenting and ditch some of the anxiety, guilt, and feelings of being over- whelmed along the way? This book is my attempt to answer those questions.
How This Book Is Organized and Who This Book Is For
So, now that I’ve told you how the book came about, I suppose I should tell you a bit more about what the book is about and who it is for. For starters, I’ll give you a snapshot of what you’ll find as you begin to make your way through its various parts.
The first few chapters in the book get right down to the nitty-gritty, zeroing in on the reasons why so many of us are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and—of course—guilty. I talk about what’s fuelling our anxiety as parents, and the impact that has on ourselves and our kids; why work-life imbalance is such a huge and growing problem, and why work-life guilt is so pervasive and so misplaced; and how technology is impacting family life in far-reaching ways, and what we can do to turn the situation around (in realistic, non-guilt-inducing ways). Finally, I challenge the prevailing notion that parenting is, by definition, an exercise in misery. Spoiler alert: it isn’t parent- ing that’s making us miserable; it’s all the stuff that gets in the way of parenting.
In the heart of the book, I talk about the all-important role you have to play in making things better for yourself and your kids. Not only are you your kids’ role model (but no pressure, okay?), you also have the ability to set the emotional tone for the family. Yes, it starts with you: how you feel about parenting, how you think about parenting, what strategies you use to man- age your moods, minimize stress, increase your energy level, and safeguard your physical and mental health, and how you encourage your kids to do the same. It’s also about choosing the right parenting strategies—parenting strategies that work for parents and kids as opposed to parents or kids—and nurturing your relationship with your child’s other parent and/or your partner. This section of the book is all about boosting your enjoyment of parenting and becoming the happiest, healthiest family you can be—in other words, getting more of the good stuff and less of the annoying stuff that can just plain wear a person down.
The final chapter recognizes that while it starts with you, it certainly doesn’t end with you. After all, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent. This part of the book is all about tapping into support from that village—or building that village from scratch, if need be. It’s also about imagining a world that would actually make things better for kids and parents, and figuring out what it would take to make that happen. It’s about making the shift from thinking of parenting as a personal problem and embracing the idea that raising up the next generation of citizens is both a hefty responsibility and an exciting opportunity that we should embrace collectively. So, yes, it may start with you, but it can’t end with you, not if we’re going to make things better in a meaningful way—a way that improves the quality of life for every parent and every kid in the village.
As for who this book is for, that part’s easy. It’s for pretty much anyone who’s a parent. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to the world of parenting or if you’re a more seasoned veteran—someone with many years, and possibly even decades, of parenting under your belt. It doesn’t matter if you have a single kid or a houseful of kids; if you’re living on easy street or struggling to get by on an impossibly tight budget; if you feel like you’ve basically got your parenting act together or if you’re totally convinced that you do not. There’s something in this book for you.
The book is peppered with the experiences of all kinds of parents at every conceivable stage of parenting who are grappling with both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. What these parents have in common is their willingness to be incredibly honest about both the joys and the struggles that are parenting, in the hope of making things better for some other mom or dad.
Because this book is based on interviews with Canadian parents, it has a decidedly made-in-Canada flavour and feel. That’s not to say that I don’t dip across the border and around the world to highlight important research and other findings that are relevant to our lives as parents. But I run all that data through a maple syrup–infused filter to ensure its relevance to Canadian parents. I hope you’ll find this perspective valuable and helpful.
Enjoy the book!
Excerpt from Happy Parents Happy Kids by Ann Douglas © 2019. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Ann Douglas on Building Your Online Village (book excerpt published by 49th Shelf).
How Parents and Kids Influence One Another’s Physical Activity Levels (book excerpt published on the Active for Life blog)