The Truth About Mom Rage and How to Tame Your Inner Anger
My first-grader thinks she’s a teenager. The sass. The eye roll-heavy attitude. The elephant foot-stomping. The hands-on-hip defiance. It’s cute, until it’s not. The backtalk and very purposeful button-pushing cease to be charming at 8:45 p.m. when I’m burnt out from a day of parenting and working and cooking and cleaning and all-around adulting—and I’m begging, pleading, yelling(!) for her to just. go. to. bed.
Weekday mornings aren’t all sunshine and rainbows either. She’s exhausted from fighting sleep and I’m in get-it-done mode. With three kids to shove out the door for school and daycare and an overflowing inbox awaiting me, I don’t have the time or patience for foot-dragging and outfit meltdowns and breakfast refusals. Plus, her big brother likes to go out of his way to poke the bear, and my littlest one is most likely melting down about our screen-free morning policy–because she needs Peppa Pig.
Cue my impatience. The mounting frustration. The bubbling inevitability of it all. And the next child to test boundaries is going to get the wrath. Tick-tick-boom—I’m officially a shaking, thrashing, clenching mom-rage cliché.
Not my finest moment. It never is, though. I can’t count how many times I’ve told myself I’ll do better. I’ll find a more effective strategy. I’ll source more patience and remember that I created these tiny people who may or may not be actively trying to push me over the edge.
If this sounds familiar (and please tell me it does, so I don’t feel quite so alone), you may be a mom, and you may have experience with so-called “mom rage.” But why does this anger consume us, and how can we rein in the rage and be the grown-up in a situation where we feel wholly out of control?
Seeing red? Feel like you’re about to explode? Christina Furnival, LPCC, a licensed mental health therapist in California, notes that mom rage is essentially “the adult version of a child’s tantrum.” And the same way a toddler may seem totally unhinged in a moment of blind fury, “a mom completely dysregulates and [her emotions] boil over.” What’s more, she notes that mom rage can manifest in many different ways. It can appear as “irritability, restlessness, fatigue, anger, yelling, feelings of loss of control and aggression.” What’s the common denominator across the board? “It’s almost invariably followed by regret, remorse, guilt and shame,” says Furnival.
Yes, mom rage and mom guilt can go hand-in-hand (imagine that!). Why, though? For starters, moms tend to bear the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities, which means they’re the ones dealing with the more relentless, more mundane, more infuriating challenges that come with the territory. What’s more, Furnival points out that “it’s less socially acceptable for women to express anger than it is for men.” So, really, it’s no wonder that it’s been branded “mom rage,” instead of a more universal “parent rage.”
Regardless of what it’s called, it’s not particularly pleasant to be on the giving or receiving end of this unfiltered fury. Suffice it to say, it can lead to a cycle of bad behavior and negative reactions—on both sides.
Mom rage doesn’t just rear its ugly head at random; you typically feel it coming. But that building sensation is actually a good thing; it can help you learn to identify cues and work on that not-so-great knee-jerk response. Ready to find healthier ways to cope for the sake of yourself, your kiddos and your family dynamic? Read on for expert tips and words of wisdom.
1. Do your own growth work
If you find yourself overreacting again and again, and the circumstances seem somewhat similar on each occasion, it may be time to do a bit of personal reflection. The eye-opening truth is that it could be previous trauma resurfacing. “When the unfinished business from our past is triggered, we lose contact with the executive functioning (or the decision making–part of our brains) and slip into the lower functioning (think fright, flight, freeze) of our limbic system,” says Gertrude Lyons, a professional life coach and founder of Rewrite the Mother Code. She explains that building self-awareness and identifying your anger’s root cause can help bring you back to a more level-headed here and now. “This takes time and intentional effort, but [it’s] well worth it in the long run.”
And if you’re unable to identify the specific trigger that sets you off? Well, that’s okay too. What you can do is label what you’re feeling. Sometimes simply taking a moment to acknowledge an overwhelming emotion can put you in a safe mental place to manage it more effectively.
2. Give yourself a “time-out” break
If you feel like you’re about to lose it on your littles, separate yourself from a potentially volatile situation. Go to a different spot in the house or step outside and get fresh air. Physical space gives you breathing room to de-escalate and decompress. “Taking the time for this reflection and repair will go a long way in building critical thinking and emotional awareness,” says Lyons. Consider this your own personal grown-up calming corner.
3. Give yourself a free pass to tantrum
Heck, even adults need a cathartic release every now and again. Find a private space and let out some anger. “Maybe you hit the couch and yell and scream,” suggests Lyons. Better yet, take up boxing or go for a run. Exerting yourself in a physical but safe way can help you release energy and let go of any toxic feelings (plus, you’ll get a bonus endorphin boost). “Doing this on a regular basis allows everyone to get out pent-up feelings rather than let them build,” says Lyons.
4. Call for a “do-over”
We want our kids to be able to admit when they’re wrong, so lead by example and own up to your mistakes. “Identify that your reaction was out of sync with the [situation],” says Lyons. “Call a ‘do-over,’ and replay the situation in a way that honors your upset feelings and addresses the behavior in a responsible way.” Basically, you can turn your meltdown moment into a learning opportunity—so shut down the self-shaming and grow from the experience.
5. Communicate with your partner
Often, mom rage bubbles over because you’re overworked, overwhelmed or over-stressed. Delegating and sharing responsibilities at home can help prevent this emotional escalation from happening in the first place. “Have continual conversations with your partner about your load so that they can take some of your tasks off of you, hopefully lowering your baseline stress level,” advises Furnival. You’re not an island—and you need to be willing to ask for and accept help.
6. Lower your standards and change your tactics
Sometimes you have to lower expectations—for yourself and your little ones. If you’re trying to uphold a parenting standard that’s actually unrealistic, it’s time to reevaluate and choose to let go, says Lyons. “Make a plan for how you’ll handle yourself differently going forward… Maybe you’ll throw on the TV and take 10, [or] try an opposite behavior, such as whispering and portraying a hyper-calm state.” If that last one sounds like a lofty goal, we hear you. But having a specific tactic in mind ahead of time (like playing the part of a zen mama) can help you find focus in an otherwise frenetic moment. Moreover, you might be surprised at the effect this conscious change has on your child’s behavior—not to mention your own emotional state.
7. Repeat a mantra
Feel your sanity slipping? If you know you’re about to explode on your little people, try taking deep breaths and repeating a mantra. Furnival suggests a simple phrase like “I will let this slide” or “I will be the calm in the chaos.”
8. Seek help when you need it
Remember, you’re not alone. Almost every parent will experience some degree of rage from time to time. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom; it just means you’re human.
That said, Furnival stresses the importance of seeking therapy for perpetual rage or anger that puts you or your kids in danger. While episodes of mom rage can happen to anyone, it’s also sometimes a sign of an underlying postpartum mental health disorder. Finding a therapist to talk to—perhaps one focused in the maternal space—can help you take back control.
Parenting will test you. Your patience will be tried, and your frustration tolerance will be met (often). Occasional episodes of mom rage may be an inevitable part of the journey, but a hearty dose of perspective can help get you through the more challenging days.
About the experts:
Christina Furnival, LPCC, is a licensed mental health therapist and parenting blogger in California. She has also authored several social-emotional learning children’s books She earned her master of science in professional counseling degree from David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Gertrude Lyons is a professional life coach and lead faculty member and director of family programs for The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential in Chicago, Illinois. She is also the founder of Rewriting The Mother Code.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.