If you think you’re “crazy” because you’re going through bouts of rage as a new mom, think again. Being a mom today is tough, and many, many moms are experiencing rage from the overwhelm, anxiety, and depression they face while trying to manage life and parenthood.
Being a new mom in the U.S. today is inherently chaotic. Plucked from our modern lives, women swiftly find themselves managing a role society places ample pressure upon yet treats as practically invisible. Layer on top of this the isolation of our two-year-and-counting pandemic, and it’s no wonder many mothers are experiencing “mom rage.” This increasingly well-known phenomenon is described as intense anger related to parenting, often due to overwhelming demands of the role on top of a parent’s other responsibilities and needs. The outbursts one has or feels tempted to have, often feel very out-of-character and surprising to them. Often, mom rage is not actually an anger problem but an anxiety problem. It can feel very anxiety-provoking to care for children with limited or no supports, which is often the result of loved ones who would help not living close enough to do so. (Check out this PsychCentral article I was quoted in about mom rage.) Many clients who confess to experiencing mom rage express worry that something is really wrong with them. The truth is they are experiencing a reaction to very difficult circumstances embedded in modern motherhood during the pandemic.
Primed for Rage
Many mothers today receive the message that they are essentially supposed to perform magic—create a well-researched, baby-centric home environment with all the fancy new baby products. Unfortunately, most parents don’t have the tools to do it. Financial stressors, including lack of paid maternity leave, limited supports, and the emotional and physical challenges of caring for a newborn make this impossible. You go from spending your time with friends and enjoying hobbies to using all of your time to care for your baby, a human requiring at least half a dozen, if not a dozen feedings a day, whose only mode of communication is crying, and whose very wellbeing hinges on copious amounts of one-on-one time.
These emotional, internal, and logistical demands often take a toll. Postpartum anxiety impacts 17 percent of new moms yet goes woefully underdiagnosed. And yet, amid the myriad of diagnosable and undiagnosable emotional upsets new parents experience, they often receive the message that it is unacceptable to speak of them. The expectation is that parenthood is a serenely beautiful time, replete with joyful, if not calm moments of bonding. The reality is very different, filled with crying, spit-up, dirty diapers, and endless bottle washing or pumping, often on little to no sleep.
So if you are feeling guilt or shame at your imperfection, or whiplash of being suddenly shackled to a dozen new domestic demands, and if the stress of all that you are managing turns at times into rage, remember that you are not alone.
Jennifer Garner Can Relate
Even seemingly calm, cool, and collected celebrities have come forward to express their mom rage. In an interview with Seth Meyers about Peppermint, a movie in which she stars as a vengeful mother, Jennifer Garner admitted that she could relate to the character, offering that she has had some unforgiving behavior as a mother at times. The movie “plays on every bit of mom rage you’ve ever had, like, when your child is put in the back of a class and you feel they should be in the front…” she said. If Garner gets upset at her child being in the back of the class, you can bet that she gets upset at the more unsavory household situations that inevitably occur.
Groups of Mothers Gather to Scream it Out
Mothers gathering to scream up at the sky to release their emotions is definitely an indication that mom rage is a common experience. In January of this year, about 20 mothers in Boston gathered together one night. They screamed to release the “years of pain and rage” they had been carrying after two years of pandemic-related mothering stress. And this is not the only gathering of its kind. A mother’s need to scream is, in fact, so well recognized that The New York Times has a primal scream hotline, “available to mothers who want to yell, laugh, cry or vent for a solid minute”. Not all mothers who attended the Boston scream-fest knew of this hotline, but groups across Massachusetts have asked the organizer of this gathering, yoga teacher Sarah Harmon, to lead more of them. Those who attended the gatherings reported a sense of catharsis and a chance to finally let go.
Cultural Expectations Impact Moms Across Time and Space
In an age filled with online instruction from mom blogs and Instagram influencers, it may even seem as though there is no excuse for making mistakes. For example, the best sleep advice out there would be impossible to follow if one tried to follow every single rule. You’re not supposed to co-sleep. And yet you are supposed to get ample skin-on-skin time. You’re supposed to allow your baby to fall asleep on top of you every now and then, but when you do, make sure not to fall asleep, even though you probably didn’t sleep at all the night before. Impossible? Exactly. And while it may feel like the information age is to blame, the problem of expecting perfection from moms is not new. On these blogs and in these Facebook Mommy groups, the message is still the same as it’s been for centuries: moms must be perfect. They must do everything in their power, at every turn, to create the perfect first month of life, the perfect first birthday party, the perfect first Christmas, etc….
While some of society’s expectations of being the perfect mom have relaxed, moms are still coping with internalized expectations of perfection. Whether it’s having the healthiest dinner on the table every night or constantly entertaining your child at the expense of taking care of yourself or your home, our minds can nag at us to try to do it all. It takes diligence and mindfulness to resist playing into these messages. For moms who value diligence, it may feel counter-intuitive to use that diligence for non-doing. But if we keep using it to do, do, do, we’ll drive ourselves into exhaustion and rage.
If you feel overwhelmed and not sure how to manage your feelings of anxiety and rage, Serenity Solutions’ therapists can guide you in learning ways to cope with your feelings and your everyday responsibilities in a way that feels good for you. Call us at (267) 317-8817 or click here to schedule your free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss how we can help you let go of the perfection expectations and rage.