Andrea Canning of 'Dateline' on the 'happy family chaos' of having 6 kids

NBC News's Andrea Canning talks parenting six kids. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
NBC News's Andrea Canning talks parenting six kids. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.

Dateline NBC enters its 30th season this week, making it the longest running primetime show in NBC history. Since joining Dateline in 2012, Andrea Canning has reported on stories ranging from the R. Kelly sexual misconduct allegations to the Boston Marathon bombing to her 2011 headline-making interview with Charlie Sheen. Before joining NBC News, Canning served as an ABC News correspondent and covered the White House, the Supreme Court and the Iraq War.

While Dateline is often associated with true crime, they’ve tackled newsy and timely topics over the years, including Canning's recent reported on the national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. In her off-camera life, Canning is married to Major Tony Bancroft, a former F-18 fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps, with whom she shares a very large brood. Together, the couple have five daughters and one son.

Yahoo Life caught up with the Canadian-born correspondent to chat about parenting six kids during the pandemic and the luxury of squeezing in time to indulge in reality television.

What’s your approach to parenting?

I like for [my kids] to have their freedom to explore and figure out who they’re going to be — I’m not one of those strict parents. I like that they have seen two working parents; there’s a lot of mom guilt with having a job where you travel, but I try to focus on the positive. They see me as a role model and it’s opened up their eyes to the media world and different stories. I try to be present when I’m here and be as hands-on as I can, but nothing’s ever perfect when you have a job and you have to travel.

A new season of Dateline is dropping this week much to the delight of an oddly loyal fan base. Have any of your kids inherited the news bug? Do any of them want to follow in your footsteps?

They all love using the microphone [laughs] and pretend like they’re reporting. When I was on the TODAY show recently, they all got so excited — they were taking pictures with the TV. Depending on the Dateline episode, I’ll let them watch the first five minutes. My older daughter, who’s 12, can handle an entire Dateline, but the rest of them don’t watch it. I don’t hide the news from them; they’ll ask questions and I’ll tell them whatever they want to know.

Canning has five daughters and one son. (Photo: NBC Universal)
Canning has five daughters and one son. (Photo: NBC Universal)

What was parenting for you like during the pandemic?

It was like Jekyll and Hyde: really good on one side (I wasn’t travelling in the beginning) and the bad side (remote learning, endless homework). Honestly, we just stopped showing up for remote gym class. I was like, OK we’re going to focus on math, reading, science.

What have you learned as a girl mom?

The girls fight a lot — over toys, clothes. They’re so loving but they fight a lot, every day! (laughs) They’re very protective of each other too.

And what have you learned as a (newish) boy mom?

He is so loving but is all boy. We had a lot of pink and dolls and we had no “boy toys” and when he got to the age where he started noticing toys, he wasn't into [what we had]. He’s into cars, trains, trucks, tractors — toys or the real thing. He’s always jumping off chairs, climbing on counters [laughs].

Is there anything that blew your mind about parenting?

The love! I would just stare at my daughter and I’d say my heart would explode. I couldn't believe she was ours. The more you have… [I was surprised by] the chaos. The happy family chaos, the decibel level. And everyone always wants to come over because it’s the “fun house” — people who don't have a big family are drawn to it. As the mom, some days I’m like, I can't take another second of this [laughs]. But when everyone crawls into my bed and we all watch a show together or read, that is happiness for me.

How do you carve out time for yourself?

The only time I have for myself is the very end of the day when everyone’s asleep. I’ll get into bed and watch TV and sadly, it lasts like 20 minutes because I fall asleep. My husband and I try to get out alone, but to be honest, there’s not really a lot of alone time. I’m forced to have it when I’m traveling on a plane or in a hotel — so I do get a break.

Do you use that rare alone time to do something for yourself?

Usually I’m working on a plane, but if the interviews are done and I’m on my way home, my guilty pleasure is downloading Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and watching that on my computer.

Do you have any advice when it comes to dealing with parent shamers?

I don't feel like I experienced a ton of shaming [myself], but I remember announcing on the TODAY show about having [my son] Tripp, saying there would be less pink in the house, and [caught a lot of flak about gender stereotypes]. I thought the comments were silly: Do we have to take everything that seriously? I let it roll off my back; no one is ever going to be perfect.

The all-new 30th season of Dateline airs this Friday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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