Help! How do I stop being an angry mum?
Feelings of anger and rage are common amongst mums but it’s still a taboo topic to discuss.
Even with the open conversations that occur on social media, anger and rage are rarely shared due to the entrenched ideas of mothers as nurturers and idealist notions of selflessness.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not good for mums to be raging – it activates a stress response in both mum and her children and is modeling inappropriate behaviour for her kids but it’s not helpful to mums who are struggling with anger, rage and then often feelings of shame, if we don’t acknowledge the struggle.
“I feel so ashamed that I’m an angry mum”
Anger takes most mums by surprise because, more often than not, they weren’t angry before they had kids. So it is upsetting to be confronted with feeling a loss of control when it comes to anger (which then becomes rage), especially towards those they love the most.
Where does mum anger and rage come from?
Much of the anger that mums experience boils down to a difference between their expectations and reality.
The transition to motherhood for modern mums is hard. They often have a thriving career prior to having children where they experience the satisfaction of mastering skills and being in control of their own schedule, only to have all of that change when a little one with their own temperament and changing needs comes along. Strict schedules and perfectionism have no place in motherhood.
In the digital age we live in mums are exposed to a wider range of opinions and ideas, and in western society are frequently lacking a ‘village’ to support them in this transition, resulting in overwhelm and too often, physical exhaustion.
When mums put their own needs aside or lack the support to meet their needs, difficult emotions become even more challenging and the smallest trigger can incite rage.
Rage triggers in mums can be things that have happened that have nothing to do with their child, for example, being in a flight or fight stress state due to an argument with their partner. Or it may be that their child’s behaviour is bringing up issues from mum’s own childhood.
Furthermore, pervasive parenting beliefs of the past that endorse punishment, may have mums feeling that they must act on their child’s behaviour immediately, particularly in public places, to let onlookers know that their child isn’t “getting away with it.”
But screaming, crying and storming off due to anger and rage are not the type of behaviours mums want to show their kids. Because a parent who can’t regulate their own behaviour when experiencing big emotions is going to struggle to teach their child to deal with theirs.
And the truth is that discipline is best delivered calmly and rationally. This quote by Viktor Frankl sums it up so well “between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
So, if this resonates with you, what can you do to stop being an angry mum?
Change takes time but it is possible.
1. Get Curious and keep a journal.
Let’s reframe anger. Anger is a recognised human emotion that everyone experiences at some stage. Rage is anger that we no longer have control over. If we can recognise that anger is normal and approach it with curiosity, we can look at keeping our behaviours in check and be less likely to progress to rage.
Journaling and writing down our triggers can help us to find patterns. Journaling also enables us to process our emotions and thoughts by releasing them onto the page. For example, if your preschooler refusing to go to bed at night triggers you, explore this further.
You may realise that you react because you feel that you have no control and you fear that if they don’t listen now, they won’t listen when they are a teenager. Recognising what is triggering your response will help you to take the next step of implementing skills to drop the emotional struggle.
2. “Drop anchor.”
Mindfulness is a technique that we can use to help drop the struggle with difficult thoughts and feelings.
The mindfulness exercise of “dropping anchor” can be helpful. Imagine your emotions are like a storm. A ship in the harbour needs to drop anchor when a storm blows in so it doesn’t get blown away, so do we during an emotional storm.
So during your emotional storm imagine yourself dropping an anchor. Push your feet into the floor, push your fingers into each other, straighten your spine and notice your body around your emotions. Control your actions. You’ll notice that your emotions are still there but your attention is no longer solely on them.
Dropping anchor is about being present and regaining control, it’s not a distraction technique.
So in summary, you can do this in three steps. 1) Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, 2) come into your body, 3) engage in what you’re doing.
3. Take some deep breaths.
It sounds simplistic but deep breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which slows our heart rate and drops blood pressure. Triangle breathing is an effective technique that you can try – count to three while breathing in, hold your breath for three seconds and then breathe out for three seconds.
4. Self-care: what do you need to reduce your triggers?
Most of us associate self-care with massages and bubble baths but really it is so much more. The first two points in this list are examples of a deeper level of self care. But let’s look at what we can do to support our nervous system.
Getting enough rest and making time for exercises and healthy meals are some of the obvious, although not always easy, actions that we can take. Using a weekly planner to book in these activities (and a babysitter or support from your partner) is one way to ensure you make time for them.
If feelings of overwhelm and frustration are triggers for you, consider limiting your daily to-do list. Reduce your children’s activities, say no to catch ups and play dates if you need to, in short prioritise to make your days manageable or if this isn’t possible consider outsourcing certain tasks like cleaning, food shopping or ironing.
Work out what needs are being unmet for you to be feeling angry or exhausted and plan to satisfy that need.
4. Consider professional help
If you feel that you are unable to get on top of your triggers or your response to difficult thoughts and feelings, you may consider professional help. Change can happen, you just need to take that step of getting support if you need it.
Ultimately, we need to get curious about anger and rage and what it is telling us about our own needs so that we can address it. There is no shame in seeking help.
If you’re looking for a supportive online community head to my group Natural Mama Club where you can ask questions and access a range of free health and parenting resources.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is of a general nature and should not be considered a replacement for individualised therapy under the care of a professional who is aware of your unique situation. If you are experiencing or concerned about family and domestic violence please contact the 24hr Australian family and domestic violence counselling service on 1800 737 732.