• Dying to Be a Good Mother—Mighty Parenting 222 with Heather Chauvin

  • dying to be a good mother

    Here’s a little fun fact: nobody knows what they’re doing when they’re holding that first child and thinking, oh my god, I’m a parent. There’s no universal parenting manual, and it’s easy to spiral into guilt thinking you’re screwing up all the time. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t help. Heather Chauvin, author of Dying to Be a Good Mother, joins Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler in discussing how to deal with guilt and shame, and how to keep them from preventing you from giving your kids the best life that you can.

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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    How do you expect a child to listen to you when you don’t listen to yourself?

    High Points From Our Conversation on Dying to Be a Good Mother:

    Quote on dying to be a good mother

    Guilt is misunderstood. Like fear, it can be all-consuming, but where people can be, I’m scared, but I’m acting anyway, guilt often comes with shame attached. And where guilt manifests as, I’m doing something wrong, shame manifests as I am wrong. And how do you push past that kind of emotion?

    When you attach guilt to parenting at the core of all of it, it’s basically, if I do this, I’m a bad parent. If I do this, I’m a bad mother or I’m a bad caregiver.

    In our culture (and in others) women are defined by their nurturing tendencies. Being the caregiver is embedded in our identity. It’s very easy to feel guilt and shame for not doing everything culture says we “should be doing” as a parent. 

    As she shares in her book, Dying to Be a Good Mother, when Heather was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer nine years ago, she was already carrying a lot of guilt regarding her (theoretically) culturally insufficient parenting—she started out as a teen mom on government assistance. After the diagnosis, she threw everything she had into parenting, bending her entire existence towards her children.

    Heather periodically pulled back to create some space for herself with meditation or work, but then her guilt would subconsciously take over and yank her back into the headspace of needing to be with her children at all times.

    Dealing with guilt is difficult, because it can sit on you almost like a coat of armor, and when you take that off, you’re left with vulnerability. And that’s scary. Heather discovered that vulnerability and had to deal with that uncomfortable feeling, that feeling of asking, How would I act and what would my day look like if I wasn’t being led by guilt?

    How would your life appear if you could attend to your own needs, desires and responsibilities while still attending to your child’s needs and desires, without sacrificing your basic necessities? Guilt in parenting often leads us to sacrificing our own well-being for that of our child’s. And while that is something we are going to have to do occasionally, it should not be our daily default.

    Life is full of sacrifices of varying sizes—sacrificing an hour at the park for an hour fixing your car. A day hanging out with friends for a day catching up on work. But when you sacrifice too much, then you become angry and resentful. You become malnourished and exhausted, and some part of you—physically, mentally, spiritually—dies. You project that anger and resentment onto your family: the ones you’re sacrificing so much for.

    You need to focus on the bigger picture. How do you want to feel in your life? How do you want to feel in your relationships? How do you make sure that when you tell yourself you’re sacrificing for the greater good of others, that in the future you’re not going to be angry, resentful and depleted? Because if you are, that’s not a sacrifice—that’s an abandonment of self. 

    Heather elaborates on this further in her book Dying to Be a Good Mother, but the short of it is, when you’re living in a state of thriving and creative abundance, you have more reserves to use when an area of your life demands more from you.

    Excessive sacrifice is abandonment: you’re abandoning your body and mental/emotional well-being. You don’t listen when your body tells you something has to give. You convince yourself your basic needs don’t matter. That is not sustainable, and the first step is caring more about yourself than about other people.

    It’s not selfish to prioritize your health and well-being first so you can then see to others’ health and well-being.

    People are like, I don’t feel seen, I don’t feel heard, I don’t feel respected by my partner/children/coworkers. First, is that true? Or are you mirroring how you feel about yourself in their behavior towards you? Second, do you know what self-respect looks like? What seeing yourself looks like?

    How do I get my child to listen/pay attention/respect me? Are you listening/paying attention to/respecting yourself? How do you expect your child to listen to you when you don’t listen to yourself?

    Listening to yourself and others is emotional intelligence, where the human connection lies. And this connection is the game-changer in relationships. When Heather struggled with her children she looked for help, but it wasn’t until she realized she had to take ownership of herself and her emotions that her relationships started improving. With her 17-year-old (further described in Dying to Be a Good Mother), mutual respect only developed once she started respecting herself.

    Self-respect completely shifted how Heather communicated with her kids—how she handled their behavior, how she handled empowering them instead of disciplining them. There’s still natural consequences for their actions, but (remember this!) she’s not here to shame her children and make them feel like they’re bad people for being human. That’s another place where guilt plays a huge role in families.

    Guilt and shame can seep into parenting, where it becomes manipulation rather than parenting, using the carrot and the stick to get the results we want instead of hard work and honest communication. We have to let go of the illusion of who our children will become, and let go of the guilt attached to those expectations for our children and ourselves.

    There’s this perception (misconception) that there’s one right way to do things. And when we don’t do things that way, then we fail; we feel guilty for failing, and then we overreach and feel guilty for feeling guilty. It’s a vicious cycle, and we need to break it’s tarting with being kind to ourselves: we’re all human, and we all make mistakes.

    If we can learn to teach our children to understand who they are in the world—rather than putting this pressure on them, that they need to get a certain education or become a certain person to please us, where what we’re really doing is trying to live out who we wanted to be through them— then we get to co-create with our children, rather than making them vessels for our fantasies.

    Kids pick up on our emotions and that impacts their responses to us. So when guilt comes around again in your life, own it. Analyze it, make it your responsibility, and don’t expect others to change their behavior to mitigate it for you. Don’t expect no guilt in the future, but don’t let it run your life either.

    Nobody’s perfect because we’re all human and we all make mistakes, parent or child. The point is every human has life lessons and it doesn’t matter how much we try to manipulate our child’s human experience—they have this spiritual journey that they have to go on as well. And guilt is when you just look at it for what it is and ask yourself, why am I doing this? Take the pressure off yourself and your kid: tell them they’re perfect as they are.

    Run towards your guilt, not away:

    1. Write down all the things you feel guilty about.
    2. Know you feel guilty because there’s a growth opportunity (or maybe a story to change).
    3. Choose which thing you want to work on, notice it, make a conscious habit and watch how you can prove your guilt wrong.
    4. When you start to prove it wrong, it doesn’t have so much power over you. When it doesn’t have power, it doesn’t come. It doesn’t dictate your behavior because the next time you feel it, you’re like, ah, I remember how you tried to trick me last time.
    5. Then you can override your guilt.

    Once we start paying attention and asking those questions (Is this true? Is that true?) then we can ask ourselves, What is this feeling that I’m after? To get to that feeling, then, we have to honor what our mind, body and spirit are asking of us. As a bonus, our kids will see that we’re caring for ourselves first and hopefully start mirroring us in their own lives. 


    Dying to Be a Good Mother: How I Dropped the Guilt and Took Control of My Parenting and My Life by Heather Chauvin

    Loving What Is by Byron Katy

    Forgiveness – Letting go of parenting guilt and shame | Clifford Edwards | Episode 5

    Build a Support System that Makes Parenting Your Teen Easier | Janice Case | Episode 9

    Am I Parenting Right | Dr Steven Fonso | Episode 110

    Our Guest Heather Chauvin:

    Heather Chauvin talks about dying to be a good mother

    Heather Chauvin is a leadership coach who helps ambitious, overwhelmed women conquer their fears and become leaders at work and home.

    Drawing from her professional experience as a social worker and her life experience raising three boys, Heather created a signature approach to help her clients create and enjoy sustainability, profitability and ease in business and life.

    She is the host of the Mom Is In Control Podcast where she reveals her most vulnerable truths about womanhood, marriage, parenting, living through stage 4 cancer and running a successful business without burning out. She released her first book, Dying To Be A Good Mother in 2021. 

    When Heather isn’t busy driving her boys to hockey practice, you can find her curled up on the couch next to her husband, planning their next family adventure.

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit http://heatherchauvin.com/.

    Our Sponsor: 

    Inward Bound Mindfulness Education — Mindfulness courses and retreats for teens and adults 

    iBme offers online and in-person retreats, mindfulness courses, and weekly meditations tailored for various communities of teens and young adults (and even parents!) Visit iBme.com/mightyparenting  to learn more and register for programs, including in-person summer retreats.