Recently, a mother and blogger got publicly shamed for telling her kids they were being “annoying.” Making a negative observation about your kids is small beer compared with what’s termed “mommy rage,” aka losing it with your kids. It’s a real thing, and you shouldn’t feel alone in it.
Parents, and mothers in particular, are under stress like never before. Whether you’re working full time or staying at home, the pressure to be a perfect parent is immense and unrealistic. If you compare yourself to crunchy Insta moms, lost in a sea of maternal serenity, the suppression of tension and everyday frustrations is a recipe for an explosion.
Mommy Rage is Intense
A recent first-person account by writer Minna Dubin in the Parenting section of the New York Times masterfully recounted how uncontrollable rages can feel.
“When I get mad like this around my three-year-old son, I have to say to myself, like a mantra, ‘Don’t touch him, don’t touch him, don’t touch him,'” she wrote in the article. “Touching him with this rage coursing through me only ends in my shame, and my son’s shock, and what else I do not know; only time will reveal that.”
Still, she continued, “I have never hit him, but the line between “hitting” and “not hitting” is porous. In this “not hitting” gray area there are soft arms squeezed too tight, a red superhero cape (Velcro-clasped around his neck) forcefully yanked off, a child picked up and thrown into his crib. For me, it is better not to touch at all.
Dubin observed, “Only a few years ago, I remember judging a mother on the bus for smacking her child. Now I have only empathy for her. Mother rage can change you, providing access to parts of yourself you didn’t even know you had.”
Are you judging now? Don’t be so quick: there’s a difference between wanting to commit violence and actually doing so; women experiencing mommy rage aren’t child abusers, although they do need help.
“Rage is when the anger becomes uncontrollable,” Jen Reddish, a registered master therapeutic counselor in Calgary told Today’s Parent. “The anger has overpowered you. You tell yourself you’re not going to slam the door, yell at your kid, or tell your spouse to f*ck off, but when it happens, you can’t stop it.”
One mom, Jill (not her real name), tells Parentology she’s struggled with mommy rage and has often succumbed.
“Once, I was so mad that I slammed a pocket door so hard it stuck,” Jill says. “My husband later asked me, ‘how did this happen?’ I told him that she just wouldn’t nap. He just looked at me and shook his head.”
Jill has few answers as to her coping mechanisms. “I don’t know,” she admits, “Sometimes I just have to wait until [my husband] gets home so I can take a break.”
An element of mommy rage is unreasonable expectations of what motherhood and parenting are going to be like. Our society presents it as peaceful, idyllic, and “natural,” thus anything deviating from that experience must be “unnatural.”
Then again, there’s really nothing natural about arguing with your toddler for 30 minutes about the importance of pants, or chasing a tired, cranky kid through Trader Joe’s after they manage to escape the cart. These are stressful situations, made worse by the denial that they happen at all.
A Polite Term for Mommy Rage: Depleted Mother Syndrome
The site Therapy Beyond the Couch defines Depleted Mother Syndrome (DMS) as a classic pattern of overload.
“In a nutshell, Depleted Mother Syndrome (DMS) occurs when demands on the mother increase and her resources decrease. As a result, the mother’s emotional sensitivity to both internal, and external triggers gets heightened,” the site noted.
DMS is exacerbated by all the circumstances of parenting babies and little kids: sleep deprivation, poor diet, no exercise, no alone time, isolation, and inadequate self-care. Of course, trying to correct these things puts the onus on the already depleted parent; trying to schedule self-care can just become one more stressor.
Get Help, and Recognize Your Rage Triggers
Rage isn’t just plucked out of thin air, or stems from one annoying event, but is built upon, situation on top of incident, until the final “trigger” causes the rage to emote. Being with a small child, with their constant demands and seemingly irrational preferences, not to mention their outsized reactions, is the perfect rage lab for a mother.
“According to University of Alabama psychologist, Dolf Zillmann, anger is often triggered by a perceived threat to one’s self-esteem or dignity. This trigger releases a cocktail of chemicals and hormones that not only prepares one for immediate action, but also stimulate the body and mind to an excited state of “readiness” lasting hours after a threat is detected,” Dubin says.
So how do you, as the mom experiencing bouts of “mommy rage,” avoid these triggers? Today’s Parent has some suggestions.
“If you can safely leave—if your kids are old enough, or if another safe adult is around, for example—then that’s a good option. If not, as simple as it sounds, try to breathe.”
The other advice? Avoid isolation. You are not alone. The majority of parents experience rage in one way or another, because parenting is an insanely demanding job. In what other “profession” would you be on call or at work 24/7, with no breaks, no benefits, and in a management position with employees not bound by institutional rules of conduct?
Therapy Beyond the Couch offers this list for moms hitting the mommy rage wall. There are warning signs here for overload, and self-care tips to keep in mind. And, if these don’t work, locking yourself in the bathroom for an adult “time out” can go a long way.
- One of the negative consequences of urban sprawl is isolation. We live far from family and friends, and we are less connected with our community.
- The relationship with our significant other becomes more stressed, cold and distanced. Statistically, couples with children have 8 times more arguments than couples without children.
- Mothers have very little self-time to re-charge through rest or doing fun activities.
- Many mothers have few opportunities for exercise – to release stress and keep the body strong.
- Mothers’ diet is often rushed and unbalanced – grabbing whatever they can, and as quickly as possible.
- Sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances (interrupted REM sleep) have long-lasting and detrimental effects on the mother including depression, weakened immune system and high blood pressure.