Mother to Mother: A Personal Review of Heather Chauvin’s Call to Action for Moms to Start Putting Themselves First
In the wake of what I’d like to call ‘Midlife Renaissance’, I called upon every tool in my emotional intelligence tool-belt. Still, I found myself floundering; until, I found Dying to Be a Good Mother.
My ‘rebirth’ may have come about because of burnout and exhaustion, but I won’t allow myself the phrase “Midlife Crisis”.
As a teacher and solo parent with liquid emotional boundaries, I’ve always struggled with permitting myself the space I need to recharge. I go through cycles of high productivity that lapse with spurts of burnout which result in me on the couch binge-watching Netflix and eating ice cream, knowing that I need to do the dishes, but having little energy to do more than think about it.
I’m surviving pandemic teaching and parenting when March rolls in. In March, I decide this is no way to live. At this point, a little ‘self-care’ won’t heal and fix my life.
Consequently, I search for change: the thoughts of looking for some personal development, learning something new, and embarking on a new path bring me joy and optimism. From this search, I realise, what better way to explore than through Online Book Clubs. I could participate at home, in my space, in my time, in my control.
And then, I am presented with the title, Dying to be a Good Mother. In these six words, Heather Chauvin calls out the parts of me that I’ve hoped no one ever noticed.
I want to crawl into bed. And never open that book.
Questioning why the universe would send me a title that picks at the rawest parts of my fragile ego, I pause. I take a moment. A mindful moment.
I know I need to pause and prepare in order to mindfully face what will be difficult, but ultimately will help me heal.
15 years ago, I would not have had the emotional intelligence to pause. Now, I know the difference between resistance, fear in the face of pain, and actual fear, in the face of danger.
If I want a change in my life, then I will have to change my reaction: Resistance over Fear.
I’ve been here before.
I’m no stranger to Cognitive Behavior Therapy’s ABC’s. First, we experience “A”, an activating event which leads to a response. We respond not to emotions and feelings that arise; instead we respond to “B”, beliefs. Our, often, irrational beliefs, motivate our feelings and actions which are considered “C”, consequences. Without awareness, we stop there, but when we are aware and mindful of our irrational beliefs, we can consider our feelings and actions and dispute them “D”. When we accept our disputation, then we can act to create a new effect, “E”. (Selva).
That book is my “A” activating event in the CBT ABC’s (Selva). Dying to Be a Good Mother- I’m triggered.
Dying to be a Good Mother – At the very core of every worry; every anxiety ridden playdate; every note from daycare or school; every frustration at the dinner table; every moment of ‘Mom Guilt’, is a desire for reassurance: Am. I. A. Good? Mother.
But this worry, anxiety, guilt; they are rooted in my “B”, ‘irrational beliefs’ (Selva). That book has not triggered my anxiety. Rather, it triggers my internalised belief, that I need to do everything in power possible to make my children’s lives as easy and happy as can be even if it destroys me— that belief– and the exhaustion over that belief, overcomes me.
Against every fear and desire to avoid— I look at Heather Chauvin’s cover- her picture perfectly placed for the binding to cut her in half. I recognise this woman; not because I know Heather, but because I’m tired of seeing that half woman in the mirror. I accept what I know to be true. I am scared of that book because I need that book.
The woman in my reflection is not the woman I yearn to be. When I look in the mirror, I want to see a whole, happy, confident person. Instead, the half woman, mentally and emotionally overloaded, looks back at me.
I am presented with a choice.
I can remain here at “C” in this consequence. I can choose to continue surviving as my half self.
I can move forward and dispute this consequence, “D” (Selva).
You are in control. You are capable of change. You deserve to live a full and happy life.
I must face what is scary and do the work to rebuild. I’m the only one who can. Pause.
-Deep Belly Breath-
I glance at the half woman. I mindfully acknowledge her.
I turn the cover.
And yes- even the introduction awakens the most vulnerable parts of my psyche.
Contrary to my expectation; however, my resistance fades.
What I find is comfort.
Chauvin’s voice give words to my deep seeded feelings about motherhood— My children bring me purpose, bring me joy, bring me a reason; but my children also amplify my anxiety and my worry and my need to bury myself in “helping others” in order to avoid my own unmet needs and desires.
I keep re-reading the same sentence.
“…it was easier to avoid the one person I was terrified of rescuing- myself.”
-Heather Chauvin, Dying to Be a Good Mother
I yearn to edit ‘rescuing’ to ‘rebuilding’; ‘rescuing’- such a vulnerable, helpless word.
My old friend, Resistance speaking.
I acknowledge Resistance.
If I wanted it all, I needed to do it all.
Then, I allow myself to reflect. I allow myself to see that I’ve consistently drowned myself in work- trying to be that positive force in each student’s life. I will be the biggest advocate, shoulder to lean on, loudest applauder, support beam, fuel forward, or whoever, whatever a student needs.
I’ve drowned myself in motherhood- with two naturally curious and active children- we hit the floor running in the morning until we practice calming our minds and bodies at night.
Taking moments for ‘self-care’ here and there aren’t enough to repair what I, myself, have kept broken.
I don’t just believe, I know; if I want it all, I need to do it all. But of course, irrational beliefs often speak as truth.
And when my life turned upside down and then, the world turned upside down in 2020, I continued to do it all. Or, at least I believed I did.
Surviving is not living.
Really, I just tuned out anything unrelated to my daily tasks– surviving day to day by doing– is not living. The consequence of my irrational beliefs (Selva).
When Heather Chauvin talks about her experience with avoiding her own health. She put her physical needs aside because of the limiting belief that she just didn’t have time— until facing stage four cancer–.
I recognise how that could happen.
The first half of Chauvin’s work reminds me to look at what is really driving my attitude in daily life. To eliminate the belief that in order to have it all, I need to do it all. Perfectly. Right now.
The second half of her work provides insight, strategies, and validation to make it happen.
I need to take the time and space to evaluate my feelings and desires. .
Task-master no more.
When I’m the ‘task-master’ scattered legos, spilled milk, ‘experiments’ gone wrong- are not evidence of curiosity and developing independence. These are merely obstacles in checking off my ‘to-do’ list.
With the help of this book, I’m already recovering from ‘task-mastery’ by managing my energy instead. I’m able to recenter and truly ENJOY the precious learning moments with my children. Seeing my children happy does make me smile, but also, my children are happiest when I’m genuinely happy.
To be the whole person in the mirror, I need to do the work. I actively dispute my irrational beliefs and more and more there are new effects. Every day that I take action against my irrational beliefs, I feel less exhausted. (Selva)
Dying to Be a Good Mother comes to me in the middle of a major burnout- “I can’t do this anymore. Something needs to change” part of my life.
Teaching during the pandemic with children at home sometimes felt impossible. But, I believed I was making it work. If that meant grading essays at 3am or rewriting lessons for increased engagement during bath time, I did what I ‘needed’ to do.
Teaching during the pandemic became impossible when I couldn’t physically be home with my children and be at a school building at the same time.
Despite the nagging voice of self-doubt, I’m changing how I spend my time. I’m changing how I prioritize my energy. Change continues to be terrifying- even after making big decisions and big successes.
So, I initially believed that book would be crushing, instead, that book validates the scariest parts of choosing to change. Chauvin reminds all of us that we can have the life we dream about. AND We are not alone.
Reading Heather Chauvin’s story and hearing her sage advice allows me to not just “try” something new, but to EMBRACE this moment in my life and LISTEN to my body, my mind, my intuition in recreating my every day. I am worthy of leading a fulfilling life.
Per usual, persisting in the face of resistance leads to “E” effective new beliefs (Selva).
I am so very thankful that I paused, I took a moment to be mindful of and emotionally aware, and I found courage to open that book.
My journey is just beginning. But the more glimpses I get of a whole woman in my reflection, I know it’s worth the work.
It’s Your Turn
I’m not the only mom who feels exhausted, guilty, and resentful about what my life became. You aren’t either.
Recognize those “ABC’s” and allow yourself to persist to “D and E” (Selva).
I’m saying goodbye to burnout. I’m not ‘practicing self care’, I’m living it. Dying to Be a Good Mother brings invaluable comfort and confidence to my life. Now, I just want to share that comfort and confidence with others.
Heather Chauvin’s work is now available on hiitide. The Online Book Club breaks down Dying to Be a Good Mother into 14 min lessons over 28 days. You might feel like you don’t have time to ‘read a book’, but you can take 14 minutes, 1% of your day to begin building the life you want.
Heather Chauvin is a TEDx speaker, Host of “Mom is in Control” podcast, Leadership Coach, and now, Memoirist with her new book, Dying to Be a Good Mom.
John Selva is a Bc.S Psychologist, Behavioral Neuroscience Researcher, Writer for positivepsychology.com, and scientific editor for academic papers written by non-native English speakers.