For too long there has been a secret shame about anger and rage in motherhood.
But rage in motherhood is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an isolated or unrelatable experience. Even so, the conversation about feminine rage and anger is tentatively approached for fear of retaliation, misunderstanding, or the stigma that sits so heavily on the shoulders of a mother so full of emotion, with anger being just one.
These explosive reactions can be frightening and knock you off-kilter for the rest of the day, but they are the culmination of the realities of motherhood, the small moments that build to an irreversible crescendo. The fact that anger and rage is often out of character and potentially aimed at those you love and care for the most — usually your children or partner — makes the shame and guilt spiral kick in.
The lack of understanding and falsehoods surrounding maternal anger and rage are plenty with the perpetual misunderstanding that mothers are martyrs, self-sacrificing their needs for the good of the family. Because of this perfect-mother myth, we are led to believe that rage in motherhood is not appropriate, unmotherly and that mothers should be continually patient and loving. But maternal rage does not mean a lack of love.
Conscious parenting coach Yvonne Smyth helps to debunk some of the myths surrounding anger and rage in motherhood.
Myth: Rage is not motherly
The ever patient and good mother myth enhances the misunderstanding of rage in motherhood as she never loses her temper, is always loving and essentially deepens the idea that rage is not motherly.
“For centuries, mothers have been the nurturers in the home,” says Smyth. “This role brings with it expectations of calm and softness and gentleness. And yes, we are all of those things. But it would be foolish to think that just because we are mothers, we ‘shouldn’t’ rage. We are all, irrespective of gender roles and identities, capable of all of the emotions. Rage included. And boy is there a lot to rage about as a mother. Society is not set up to support us in any way. There is no village.
“We are expected to do all of the nurturing at home while also holding down a job. Expected to flit from the feminine role of softness and flow to the masculine world of hustle, achievement and performance with the ease of a butterfly. Or, if we chose to stay home, we are disregarded and downgraded to ‘just a stay-at-home mum’, a non-contributor to the capitalist patriarchy. Indeed, lots to be rageful of.”
A lack of support for mothers is a consistent systemic issue whereby mothers carry the bulk of the mental load of parenthood. Rage is often triggered by the intense overwhelm and invisible labour of caring for children and running a household, let alone supporting themselves through a career and meeting their own physical, mental and spiritual needs.
“Often it’s our children who trigger old wounds and trauma within us which have lain dormant for years and even decades,” adds Smyth. “This triggering, coupled with the often sheer exhaustion, both physical and emotional, of raising children without sufficient support, can lead to rage. The bottom line is that mothers need more support, and we need to destigmatise this need. We need to normalise having open and honest conversations. We need to make sure that mothers don’t feel ashamed for struggling. Or that they are alone in doing so.”
Myth: It’s better to let it all out
It was once believed that venting your anger can help to release that pent-up stress and strain that is bubbling away inside you. While keeping anger bottled up has been thought to lead to negative physical and mental effects such as depression and anxiety, it’s not as simple as screaming into a cushion or pounding the pavement for five miles. If you don’t understand why you are angry or rageful in the first place, punching the cushion a hundred times won’t help. In fact, the more angry you behave, the more angry you may become.
Instead, if you can, walk away from the situation that has triggered the rage and allow yourself to become calm so that you can think clearly about what is happening and why. Ask yourself, what are the physical sensations I am experiencing and what are the emotional responses. When you can find the reason you are rageful, you can look towards finding ways to solve the situation without anger, and responding rather than reacting to the moment if it ever arises again.
At this stage, the anger you may have attempted to let go of by using excessive rage-filled energy can be calmly understood, at which point exercise such as yoga can be beneficial to work through the intense emotions and experience.
Myth: If I ignore it, it will go away and stop
Maternal rage can come as a surprise as the struggles in parenthood come to light. Even if you have never been an angry person, rage and anger can creep up on you throughout the natural frustrations and tedium of raising children. We may will it to go away, or believe it’s a once-off occasion, but repeated moments of rage will not go away if we try to ignore it.
“No emotion that’s simply ignored will just go away,” says Smyth. “It gets pushed down like a beach ball being pushed down into water that eventually springs back up with force. It just gets more gnarly and dark as it gets infused with shame and eats us up from the inside out. It’s important that we mothers have safe, judgment-free people and spaces to express ourselves authentically and fully. That might be a trusted friend or group of friends, or an online community, a coach or therapist.”
Managing maternal rage can often come down to two things: being understood and self-care. Because rage is rarely discussed, you don’t know if your friends are experiencing the same thing. Sharing your experiences with rage will highlight not only the difficulties you are experiencing in motherhood, but also that you are unlikely to be alone in these feelings. Give yourself permission to feel these difficult emotions, recognise your value in the home and the challenges you are facing. And give yourself time and space to rest, reset and meet your needs with self-care.
Rage may be an unwanted and unexpected emotion, however, it is also a guide that directs us towards what we are missing and what we need.