For Anna S. in Chicago, the past year of pandemic parenting has meant a resurgence of something she thought she had settled long ago: mom rage. In the early years of motherhood, Anna, who has a 5-year-old daughter, was irritable, short-tempered, and frustrated all the time.
“I really struggled with anger issues when my daughter was a toddler,” she said. “I’d snap and yell, and by the end of the day, we’d both be in tears. I felt so off and uncomfortable.” In the years since, Anna has found ways, namely therapy and meditation, to take the edge off her temper. But with the recent upheaval to daily life, she confessed she’s been backsliding.
Emilia Mense Caby, a trauma-informed mindfulness and resilience educator and parent coach, explained there’s nothing out of the ordinary about Anna’s situation.
“All moms have experienced moments of pure unadulterated rage. Rage at their children. Rage at their spouses. Rage at the world that leaves them overwhelmed and entirely depleted,” she said. “Healthy moms experience rage, and it does not mean there is something wrong [or that] anyone is in danger.”
All moms have experienced moments of pure unadulterated rage. Rage at their children. Rage at their spouses. Rage at the world that leaves them overwhelmed and entirely depleted.
But while we can acknowledge that a fiery temper is par for the parenting course (from time-to-time), we can also look for solutions for simmering that internal flame. After all, who wants to spend their days yelling at their little ones? To help us regain our sense of calm, we reached out to parenting and mental health experts for simple and practical tips for navigating the moments when our emotions get the best of us.
Know What You’re Up Against
“Parent rage is generally an indicator that the parent is not feeling heard or supported or is burnt out,” said Julia M. Chamberlain, a licensed mental health counselor. “Due to our individualist society, many moms report feeling like they have less support than previous generations.” The mental load of motherhood combined with work, financial pressure, and the isolation of pandemic parenting means many moms are volcanoes waiting to erupt. Knowing what’s beneath the surface of your anger—all these pressures at play—is half the battle.
Chamberlain also noted that rage may be a symptom of postpartum depression and that bringing up your feelings with your health care provider is always a good first step.
Commit to Change
Dr. Fran Walsh, a family and relationship psychotherapist, coined the phrase “explosive parents” for those who unleash a “wall of rage” that takes everyone around them by surprise. “A single incident of angry conflict… is forgivable and reparable. After all, no one is perfect,” she said. “The real damage is done by repetition of experience, over and over and over again. This is especially true when the child cannot anticipate triggers for the parent’s rage.” This situation, Dr. Walsh explained, puts kids in a constant state of apprehension, always anticipating the next outburst.
A single incident of angry conflict… is forgivable and reparable. After all, no one is perfect.
Once you’ve committed to changing your habits, Dr. Walsh reminded parents everywhere to be kind to themselves. “Know this is a process and not a quick fix. Be sure to hold onto your motivation to raise happy, healthy, disciplined, and loving children,” she said.
Recognize Your Limits
When I find myself irritable beyond belief, I enact a very serious rule I keep with myself: I don’t allow myself to lay even a finger on my children. I never want a moment of anger to transform beyond my control, so when I’m too triggered to think straight, I don’t help my kids get dressed, wash their hands, or steer them physically out the door. Mense Caby reassured me that “scary thoughts” happen throughout parenthood, but when they come paired with a desire to hurt someone—whether it’s yourself, your spouse, or your child—it’s time to seek professional help.
“Seeking the help of a therapist does not make a parent weak,” she said. “It makes them incredibly strong.” She explained that a therapist can help struggling parents work through their emotions and find the right coping strategies.
Dr. Walsh also suggested parents commit to speaking respectfully to their children and to each other. “Refrain from verbal putdowns, berating, or spewing hostilities,” she said, noting that both verbal and physical abuse are inexcusable reactions from parents and should be reported appropriately.
Address Anger in the Moment
When you’re confronted with feelings of rage, deal with them right away. It’s the build-up that is the most unsettling part for kids, said Dr. Walsh. Mense Caby added, “When we experience intense emotions, our brains are ruled by our emotional center, and we do not have the ability to think rationally or problem solve.” The bottom line? Don’t muscle through angry moments. Step away, acknowledge your feelings, and work to ground yourself with deep belly breathing.
“Our breath has a direct line of communication to our brain,” said Mense Caby. “When we slow our breathing, we tell our brain that we are safe and we do not need our fight or flight freeze response to protect us.”
Find Your Method
Every parent will have a different method that helps bring them closer to calmness, but Mense Caby suggests mindfulness and meditation to start. “[These tactics] are amazing tools to reconnect you with your brain and body so that when overwhelming feelings present themselves, you have the emotional regulation skills needed to stay calm and parent rationally,” she said.
A Word from Us
Battling big emotions while parenting is totally understandable. We have all been in the throes of an angry outburst or two when our kids won’t sleep or when they throw tantrums of their own. Sometimes the solution lies in asking for help. After all, there’s no shame in acknowledging that parenthood is a team sport. The bottom line here is that while mom rage happens to the best of us, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get our emotions under control—for ourselves and for the little ones we love.