Episode 38: Parenting Teenagers and Coordinating the GFHS with Angela Annis

We are so excited to finally bring you an episode with Angela Annis, Study Coordinator for the Guelph Family Health Study. In this episode Angela shares a bit about what it’s like to be involved in a large scale study, and then we dive into a conversation all about what it’s like to be a parent to teenagers. Tune in to hear what Angela thinks parents of young kids have to look forward to, how parents might go easier on themselves, and much more!

Episode Transcript: 

Lisa Tang  0:05 

Hello and welcome to the Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast hosted by the Guelph Family Health Study.

Sabrina Douglas  0:11 

If you’re interested in the most recent research and helpful tips for a healthy, balanced living for you and your family, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, we will bring you topics that are important to your growing family, and guests who will share their expertise and experience with you.

Lisa Tang  0:27 

Our quick tips will help your family build healthy habits for a happy home. Hello, and welcome back to The Healthy Habits. Happy homes Podcast. I’m Lisa Tang.

Sabrina Douglas  0:43 

And I’m Sabrina Douglas. And this week, we’re really excited to welcome Angela Annis on the podcast. Angela has been the Study Coordinator for the Guelph Family Health Study since its inception in 2014. We’ve been wanting to have Angela on the show for a while but wanted to make sure we had a fun topic in mind. So, today we’ll chat a bit about what it means to be study coordinator for the GFHS. And then we’ll also chat with Angela about being a parent of teenagers. So, thanks for joining us on the podcast, Angela!

Angela Annis  1:11 

Thanks for having me.

Sabrina Douglas  1:13 

All right, can we start off with you telling us a bit about yourself?

Angela Annis  1:16 

Well, as you mentioned, in my work life, I’m the Study Coordinator at the Guelph Family Health Study, and I have been since the study started in 2014. In that role, I work with a team of staff and students who are collecting data from the families that are participating in our study, and also managing all of that data that we collect. At home, I’m a mom of two girls. Emily is 19, and Ella is 17. And I’m married to my husband, John. And we have been married for almost 23 years. But together, just over 30, believe it or not. We met in high school. [laugh]

Sabrina Douglas  1:59 

So awesome. Thanks for sharing and telling us a bit about yourself and your work and your family. So, we’re curious, with your role with the GFHS, how has it changed because of COVID-19?

Angela Annis  2:12 

Yeah, well, I think the biggest change is that the whole team is working from home right now. And that’s forced us to look at things differently and to do our research differently. So, instead of having families come to campus for their health assessment visits, we’re now asking parents to measure their own children at home, and they’re doing an amazing job. But, what that means for us is that I have very little interaction with the families right now. So, I think that the biggest difference for me is that I’m working more independently, and certainly not seeing the families and their kids as much their research assistant, Maddie. The research assistant, Maddie has the most interaction with the families right now as she contacts them to set up a time when we can drop off their collection kits and get them set up to do everything we’re asking them to do at home.

Sabrina Douglas  3:05 

So Maddie has been on the podcast before. She talked all about staying active as a family at home during quarantine. Do you know, from Maddie or from your experience with the families, if they’re excited to come back to campus? Do they like doing the measurements at home? How’s that going?

Angela Annis  3:24 

That’s a good question. I’m not sure we’ve asked the families this yet. So, I don’t know the answer from their perspective. From our perspective, I’m looking forward to welcoming the families back to campus; it’s one of the favourite parts of my job is to see the families, and especially the kids in person. But, having said that, there could be a part of the study that’s a little simpler for the families when they’re able to measure their own children at home. It means that we deliver everything to them and they don’t have to pack everyone up and get to campus on a busy weekend or evening. So, it will be interesting to follow up with them and see how they feel once our restrictions are lifted, and we can start to reimagine what research back on campus will be like.

Sabrina Douglas  4:12 

Yeah, for sure. And aside from welcoming the families back on campus, is there something else that you’re looking forward to post-pandemic, either professionally or personally?

Angela Annis  4:22 

Well, professionally, I not only enjoy working so closely with the families in the study, but I love working with the students who are part of our team, as well. So, I really miss interacting with all the student researchers as part of their research, as part of their projects, but also just on a personal level, as well. And then from a personal perspective, I guess, something I’m looking forward to is just hugs… hugging my family and friends and, I guess, not having so many rules.

Sabrina Douglas  4:54 

Yeah, yeah, me, too. And, this episode, we’re recording this in June but it will come out probably in the fall. So hopefully some of that will come true by then.

Angela Annis  5:03 

Yes, yes.

Sabrina Douglas  5:04 

Other than coming on the Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast, what has been the favourite part of working with the Guelph Family Health Study?

Angela Annis  5:13 

Oh, you anticipated my answer? Well, I already kind of alluded to it. I think my favourite part of the job is working with the kids. My children, as you heard are a bit older now, so being able to see, you know, younger children and interact with them, it just makes me smile. They have a way of, I don’t know, making you live in the moment. And, I just, I really enjoy my time with them.

Sabrina Douglas  5:39 

Yeah. And, before we dive into more questions about being a mom and being a mom of teenagers, can you tell us what one of your biggest learnings from working with the Guelph Family Health Study is?

Angela Annis  5:52 

Yeah, I’m actually glad you sent this to me ahead of time, because it took me some time to really think about, like, my biggest learning. And, as I pondered the question, I was thinking, my answer isn’t really anything overly scientific, or something that we’ve learned from analyzing all the data we’re collecting, but, what I’ve really learned, and what I’ve come to appreciate is that parents are awesome. And, I think that I just look at all these busy, young families, and they’re joining our study, they’re answering our surveys, they’re coming to campus, and, they’re already busy, but they’re adding this into their already-busy lives, to help us with our research, to give back to science, so, to support this community, and I just feel, like, the families are really, like, sharing their children and sharing their families with us.

Lisa Tang  6:44 

That’s so great. Thank you, Angela, so much for sharing all of that with us. I’m gonna ask you, I’m kind of I’m curious about mom life. I’m going to ask you some questions around mom life. Now, you mentioned that your kids are teenagers — you’re not in my position, you know, where you’re wiping butts and tying shoes — so, I’m wondering, if there are things that you wish you would have known, like, when you were, kind of, in my stage, or some of the stage of some of the parents may be listening, where your kids were a bit younger? When, you know, when you look back and reflect on that?

Angela Annis  7:13 

Yeah, this is a great question. Um, I think what it boils down to, for me, is I wish I could have known back then how important modelling things were for my children. And that might sound like a science-y word, but, I felt, as a parent or a mom of younger children, and I was a stay-at-home mom for a long time, that it was my job to teach my children all these things — you know, whether it’s, you know, how to eat healthy foods, or how to tie their shoes, or how to treat other people- and then, as I get older, and as I watched them grow, and as I learned more, I realized that just being, you know, just doing all of these things in front of my children, just having them with me watching me, is how they’re learning. It’s not so much on me to teach them as it is just to show them how to do these things. And they pick that up more than I ever realized. You’re really teaching your kids by your own actions. And, I think one, example that I have was, I always like to lead with kindness — and I think that’s, sort of, a family value that John and I like to have with our girls — and we have tried to, to model that, that’s how we treat other people, always. And, I see that in my children, as they get older. I hear it in the way they speak to other people, I can see our family values being reflected back to me in them. So, I think I wish I’d known there’s not so much pressure to teach them everything on the list, but just trust that by being yourself, you’re modelling, you know, what they need to know or what they need to learn or how you want them to be in the world.

Lisa Tang  9:07 

Thanks, Angela. That’s really, really helpful to hear. Because, it is — you do feel a bit of pressure as a mom to, like, go down that checklist, as you mentioned, you know.

Angela Annis  9:17 

Yeah, and it’s not even just about, like, eating, or, you know, “Here’s all the healthy things to eat,” or “here’s how you keep your body active.” It’s even, like, “I’m going to take time to take care of myself.” So, for self-care, like, so “I’m gonna take some time at night to read a book,” “I’m going to take some time to do yoga,” and they know that’s mom’s time for taking care of herself. And, I can see that my girls have also picked up some of those habits, as well.

Yeah, yeah. And, as a mom of young kids, it’s hard to find time to, kind of, go down that checklist, but, kind of, hearing, it’s  kind of, your day to day actions, and modelling that is really helpful.

Yeah. And I didn’t know it was called modelling back then. But, in retrospect, I realized, “Oh, well, just from them tagging along with me every day, and listening to me and watching me, they’re actually learning so much.”

Lisa Tang  10:14 

On the flip side of things, so, I’m wondering, looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Angela Annis  10:21 

Maybe little things, here and there. But, I think one of the bigger things that comes to mind is — as I mentioned, I was a stay-at-home mom for quite a long time, for 12 years after Emily, my first daughter was born — and, in that role as a stay-at-home mom, I felt like it was my job to, sort of, take care of the home and take care of the kids and, sort of, do everything for my family, because I wasn’t working. And, that was my job. And then, as my kids got a bit older, I realized, well, maybe I’m actually not doing them any favours by doing everything for them, or, a lot for them. So, I think if I would have done anything differently, I think I would have maybe tried to give them a bit more responsibility or independence when they were younger, and then hold them to it. So, I’m thinking of an example like emptying the dishwasher, or unpacking your lunch dishes. You know, oftentimes, I just, I did that for them. And, I wish that I, sort of, held them to their jobs and their responsibilities, a little bit more. Obviously, this has changed as they’ve grown. And, we’ve kind of grown into this, but, there are still days that I struggle with getting someone to empty the dishwasher, even when they’re both teenagers now.

Lisa Tang  11:42 

For sure, actually, that kind of makes me laugh a little bit, because I have just recently made up the rule: make your bed, at some point during the day. Doesn’t have to be in the morning, but you got to try. And, sometimes I look at that bed, and I think, “Just gonna be easier if I just do it.” [laughter]  Yet, you’re right, that takes some time, like not only doing, like, kind of creating the responsibility, but sticking to it. And, I think that’s, or at least my biggest challenge is sticking to it. Because it would just be faster if I did it. But, it’s important for them.

Angela Annis  12:11 

Yeah. And I think when I was, like, home all day, I just felt like, “Oh, they’ve been at school. I’ll just unload their dishes today.” But, then that turns into two days, and that turns into a week. And all of a sudden, we don’t have the role that you unload your own dishes anymore. So, I just wish I’d been a little firmer in that when they were younger. It actually makes me think: so Emily, my daughter — my oldest daughter is in university, and she just finished her first year — and she’s going to be living in a house next year with five other girls. And so, all of a sudden, it dawned on me not, long ago, “Oh, I wonder if I’ve taught her how to clean a toilet.” So, I was, like, “Emily, before the end of August, make sure I teach you how to clean a toilet.” Like, maybe I could have done that before she was 19. Or maybe I have, but I just really want to make sure that she knows how to clean a toilet before she’s out on her own.

Lisa Tang  13:07 

Yeah, well, there is YouTube now. Right? At some point, she’ll look in that toilet and go, “Man, somebody’s got to clean this.” [laughter] Well, thanks, Angela for sharing that for sure. Now I’m wondering for somebody like me, and all those moms of younger children, what advice would you give to parents or caregivers today who are raising young children? What would be some key advice that you would share?

Angela Annis  13:32 

I made a little list, and these are just things I wish I remembered more when my kids were younger, or I wish I had someone reminding me about when my kids were younger. So, the first one, I called it “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” And I think to me this is about all those days and weeks and months we spent toilet training our young children, or we try to get them to sleep through the night, or we’re trying to teach them to read and we’re working on practicing, and every day we’re, you know, we’re reading and working so hard. And I think if you take a step back, you realize, certainly as your kids are older, and you look back and you realize, well, that’s going to happen, you know. I’m not saying like to stop doing what you’re doing. But, like everyone’s going to start to sleep through the night at some point. Everyone’s going to become toilet trained at some point. Everyone’s going to learn to read. So, instead of putting so much pressure on myself, you know, in the moment, it’s just, I guess, to be a bit more patient with those things. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The second one I wrote down was “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” And, I think this was a big one for me because, again, being at home, being a stay-at-home mom, I felt like that was my job and how could I possibly not get everything done in all those hours I had at home and how could I possibly need help. But, that’s not what it’s all about, you know. So, I think I learned to, sort of, let my guard down a little bit and actually realize that asking for my husband to help me or asking for a girlfriend to help out, or a parent, it really wasn’t a sign of weakness, but it was actually a sign of strength. And it was really being aware that I needed a helping hand that week or that day, and then having, sort of, the courage, which sounds maybe bigger than it is, but just having the courage to ask for help. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The third one is that,”Kids are pretty resilient.” And, we have learned this over the years, that kids, in our experience, can really handle the ups and downs of life, you know, knowing they’re supported at home, but that they really do bounce back. We’ve seen that this year with all the challenges our kids have had around COVID, and the pandemic, and there’s been disappointments, and sadness. And then, you know, they bounce back. And, they are more resilient sometimes than I realize. And, one example from our family is that, you know, we’ve had some loss of close members of our family, over the years, and my kids were quite young when their first grandma passed away. And, I thought, how could they ever get over this? How could they ever bounce back from something like this, but with love and support and talking it through and tears, you know, we all moved through that grief together. So, they were actually more resilient. And, I think, as hard as that was, it actually helped them build strength and build resilience. And so, it’s just a reminder for me that kids are pretty resilient. The  fourth one is “Trust your instinct.” I think that you know your child better than anyone else, as a parent, whether you’re a mom or a dad, and what you sense they need is probably what they need. And, it’s helped me as a mom, take care of my children. And it’s helped me also advocate for my children — whether it’s with health care, or in the school system — it’s just really trusting my gut-instinct to know that I know, sort of, what’s best, what’s best for them. So trust your instinct. And the last one that I wrote down was “No one is doing it perfectly.” And, I think that all parents are just all doing the best we can every day. And, I see this every day with the families that are participating in our study. I see this with my friends, and other family members. And, I know that we’re all juggling work and home and a pandemic, and so many things. And, that I think, no one’s doing it perfectly. But boy, are we ever all doing the best we can.

Lisa Tang  18:14 

That’s really, really good advice. And, and I love all of it. And I think it’s the really important things to hear, but also remind ourselves of, I think, which is — and remind ourselves of when we’re kind of having a low day, I think, too. So, really helpful. Thank you for sharing all of that.

Angela Annis  18:36 

You’re welcome. And I wanted to preface that, and I forgot, by saying that I am not a parenting expert, but this is lived experience, folks. This is years and years of trial and error and observation. And, that’s what it boiled down to for me.

Lisa Tang  18:52 

Yeah, well, I appreciate you sharing your lived experience with us.

Angela Annis  18:56 

You’re welcome.

Lisa Tang  18:58 

So, now I’m going to ask you about, kind of, what we have to look forward to. So, I love this age, like, my kids are, as you know, kind of, between the six and 10 age range, and I do love this age so much because I see so much of their personalities, kind of, coming out. I mean, my kids are funny, like, actually making me laugh, which, just oh, they sometimes they just put me in stitches. Of course, I have days where it’s not so funny. [laughter] Some days that are easier than others. Absolutely. And, I’ve seen such a difference between, obviously, when I first took them home from the hospital. And every year, I enjoy every stage differently for different reasons. And, I’m wondering, what do parents of children around my age or younger have to look forward to as their kids, kind of, get into the teenage years that you don’t really experience when kids are little?

Angela Annis  19:59 

Yeah, I think that’s a great question and you bring up something that I felt a lot when my kids were younger, and that was just this feeling of, “oh, I don’t want them to get older, I don’t want them to grow up, I want to freeze them as an infant or as a toddler, or, you know, even in elementary school age,” but what I’ve realized is that every agent stage is fun and exciting and different. And, a few things that parents have to look forward to, as their kids get older, for me, is a couple of examples are: just the capacity they have to show thanks, and gratitude to us as parents. They’re always thanking us for help. They’re thanking us for making them dinner, thank you for driving me around. You know, these are things sometimes you don’t hear when your kids are little, and it kind of feels like a thankless job. But now, they really are able to recognize what it takes to run a family from, you know, a time and energy perspective, but also even from a financial perspective, and they’re really able to share that appreciation with us. So, that  actually feels really good when they when they give that back. Another thing I really enjoy now that the girls are older is just the conversations that we’re able to have. I mean, it starts, Lisa, when the kids are your age, right, and they’re going to school, and they’re learning new things and it’s fun to talk about that with them. But, as they get older and become teenagers, they have their own opinions about things like politics and world issues. And, we spend so much time talking with our girls about their perspective on things. And, I really feel like John and I have an opportunity to learn from them. So, they’re really teaching us so much, which is a little different from when they were younger. It’s really amazing, and again, it starts when they’re younger, but at this age, when they’re, sort of, late high school and just beyond, to watch the girls grow into independent thinkers. And, really, they have their own likes and dislikes and passions and dreams. And, it’s just not necessarily what I ever expected, or could have predicted. So, it’s really neat to see how that’s unfolding. One example is my oldest daughter, Emily, when she started school, she loves school, and she did well at school, and she reminded me very much of me when I was a little girl. So I just assumed that she would, you know, love to take science and love to take math and go on to be a scientist like me, and, you know, about late Grade 8, or into Grades 9 and 10, she finally had to, sort of, sit me down and say, like, “Mommy, I’m really sorry, but I don’t love science.” I was like “Emily, like, I didn’t mean to put that on you. I don’t want you to do science, because I like science. I want you to find what you love. And do that, for sure, do that”. So anyway, it’s just been interesting to see that, you know, her passion isn’t mine necessarily. And, she would much rather learn a new language or write an essay, then do a lab report or scientific research. So, it’s been really interesting to watch that develop. And I mean, related to that is watching them really become the person that they’re going to be as an adult, like, my girls are essentially young adults now. And, so, it’s really just interesting to see, you know, who they’re going to be, who they’re meant to be. It made me think of something, that you really have to trust that you’ve given them all the tools that they need to make their own choices and follow their own path. So, that’s where I am now is, just, I think I’ve set them up for success. And, I do remember this quote. And, it might sound a little cheesy, but it’s something that I remember, and maybe it makes me feel a little better about my girls getting older. But, it’s something about, when you’re a parent, the two gifts that you can give to your children are roots and wings. So, roots so that they know their home and they always want to come back, and wings so that they can fly and experience their own life. So, makes me emotional. But, I think that’s where I am right now. [laughter]

Lisa Tang  24:37 

Do you feel like the time went by fast, because when Marino turned nine I remember thinking, like, he’s halfway to post secondary or being done high school and he was just nine, I just brought him home. You know, and I feel the same way now that Matteo just turned eight, like, you know, just, it really does go by fast, doesn’t it?

Angela Annis  24:57 

Yeah, it’s the blink of an eye, and so many people say that when they tell you that, but, it honestly feels like the blink of an eye. John and I are now faced with the fact that in a year from now, potentially both of our girls could be away at school, and we will have an empty nest. And, we honestly, like you said, Lisa, just feel like we just brought them home from the hospital. Like, I just registered them for kindergarten, like, we just had Grade 8 graduation. And now, and now this… and it’s just, it’s so fast.

Lisa Tang  25:31 

So fast. Yeah. My favourite quotes actually, is “The days are short,” or, sorry, “The days are long, but the years are short.” I didn’t understand that before, you know, a few years go by and, like, really, like, some days are really long. But, the years overall are just so short.

Angela Annis  25:54 

Yeah, I agree. Well said.

Lisa Tang  25:57 

Well, yeah. Whoever said that was a genius. And so, I guess my last parenting question for you is, kind of a pandemic-related question, I guess, is there something that your family started doing during the pandemic that you want to continue doing post-pandemic?

Angela Annis  26:17 

Yeah, um, it’s nothing really earth-shattering, I don’t think, but what we’ve been doing at our home, is we’ve been playing a lot more board games than we used to. I feel like we went through a phase of board games when the girls were younger, and we hadn’t really done that a lot lately, but the pandemic has brought out the Scrabble board. And, also the puzzles. We have done a lot of puzzles as a family over the last year and a bit. So, I hope we can continue doing that. That’s fun things to do together as a family. We’ve also did something really fun. My younger daughter, Ella, started this last year in May when, sort of, the pandemic was really just starting, and we were trying to entertain ourselves, and she said, “You know, Mommy, I think that everyone should have a pandemic birthday.” So, for one, every weekend in May, one person in our family got to have a pandemic birthday. And they got a small gift, and they got to choose what we had for dinner, and they got to pick dessert. So, that was something so fun. Like, just to have a day that was kind of like your birthday, but not really your birthday, and you got a present. So, I don’t know we did it again this May since we’re all still dealing with this. We’ve each had two pandemic birthdays now. So, I don’t know, if that’s something fun that maybe we can keep it up one way or another.

Sabrina Douglas  27:40 

I love that. I want to pandemic birthday. All right, before we close off, we’ve been asking a lot of our guests a fun ending question. So, Angela, do you have a funniest or best memory from working with the Guelph Family Health Study?

Angela Annis  27:56 

I couldn’t think of my funniest Sabrina. I wish that I had a book to write down all the funny things that have happened over the years, because working with kids under the age of six almost inherently means that something funny is going to happen every day. But, I didn’t choose my funniest. I chose my best memory of working with the Guelph Family Health Study, and, that would have to be our fifth birthday party, which was in the summer of 2019. And, it was a really nice day we rented a pavilion in the park, here in Guelph, and we invited all the families who are participating in our study, and we have really fun events set up for the kids to be active and do crafts, and we also had an ice-cream truck. And I just can’t believe that our directors, David and Jes, agreed to have an ice-cream truck for the Guelph Family Health Study birthday party. But, it was so fun. It was so memorable. It was a really great day for our team, because I felt like all of our staff and students really came together to support me and to support each other to pull that day off. It felt like a true celebration of all of the work we had done up to that point and a celebration of a five-year milestone. And, it was also really, just, nice to see all the families in our study just relaxing and enjoying themselves. Not because we were measuring them or needed them to fill out a survey but just a time where we could sort of relax and have fun together. That has to be my best memory.

Sabrina Douglas  29:32 

That was definitely one of my best memories, as well. Hopefully, we can have an ice-cream truck again for our eighth birthday party next year.

Angela Annis  29:40 

Okay. I’ll start planning it.

Sabrina Douglas  29:42 

Great. Thank you so much, Angela, for joining us on the Healthy Habits Happy Homes podcast. It was really fun hearing about your perspective, being a mom.  I have to, as cohost of this podcast, I have to resist the urge to furiously write notes as a non-parent hoping to be a parent one day. So, I really appreciate your perspective. And, you also said something, you said that you like to lead with kindness with your girls, and you certainly do that at work. So, we just we really appreciate your positivity and your kindness and your support. So, thanks again for coming on the podcast. I think our listeners will really enjoy this episode.

Angela Annis  30:15

Well, thank you very much for inviting me. And I have to say, Lisa, it is so fun to watch you with your children and re-experience that stage of life with your kids. And, Sabrina, I cannot wait for you to become a parent. I have been looking forward to that day for a very long time.

Lisa Tang  30: 25

And I’m looking forward to that, too, Sabrina

Angela Annis. 30:30

No pressure

Sabrina Douglas  30:35

[laughter] Ok.