We Should Be Normalizing Mom Rage

Mom rage is real. It's about time we normalize it and adopt practices—both individual and societal—that will help us navigate our anger in ways that are healthier for us and for our kids.

Photo: Getty Images/ Cravetiger

I have a teenager and a toddler, both of whom are my world. I have a successful career and I am blessed with a good life, a phenomenal family, and fabulous friends. I even have the parenting podcast, Parenting for the Future. Yet, when my kids won't listen; when they are in danger and refuse to heed my warnings; when I spend hours cleaning up after them, only for them to come home and, in five minutes flat, make the house look like a hurricane came through; when I have begged them for the thousandth time to stop bickering, I feel rage.

I don't always act on it. I try to take a breath. I count to 10 or sometimes 50. I walk away. I clench my fists and scream silently. I hide in my bathroom until my heart rate slows. But sometimes I explode. My explosions are verbal, but for some moms they are physical. Those explosions hurt our children and they hurt us.

Netflix's new psychological drama, The Lost Daughter, has brought attention to this mom rage by showing a mother who is so challenged by parenting while pursuing her own quest for fulfillment that she ends up leaving her young children for some time, almost to protect them and herself from acting out on the anger fueled by this perpetual conflict. As Sheila O'Malley notes in her review of the movie, "She wants to be free, she is sick of responsibilities, sick of all of it." The movie, she later writes, "accepts ugliness, giving it space to express itself, allowing it to exist without careening back into safe territory." And yet, it is clear she loves her daughters deeply. So, while some may judge her actions, expecting her to be long-suffering at all times and never prone to anger, the truth is that we can love our kids and still feel rage about how unrelenting motherhood can sometimes feel.

Put simply: mom rage is real. Mom rage is common and it's really more important than ever to normalize it.

What Is Mom Rage?

While there's no clinical definition for mom rage, experts say it describes the uncontrollable anger mothers can experience that leads to verbal and/or physical explosions. Up to 21 percent of women experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD), of which postpartum rage can be a symptom. As our children age, however, mom rage can be a way mothers express unattended stress, worry, isolation, sadness, or fear.

Why Does Mom Rage Happen?

Mom rage seldom comes out of nowhere and burnout is often to blame. Burnout is defined as the physical and mental exhaustion stemming from parenting duties, according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology. Why are moms so burned out? Experts and research point to a few main culprits.

Lack of self-care

With as many as 78 percent of women in one study admitting they put their family's health before their own (and this was before the pandemic!), too many moms are not getting the sleep, nutrition, exercise, relaxation, or fun that are foundational for a healthy, balanced life—one that will allow them to manage their stress and anger before it turns to rage.

Little support and unrealistic expectations

Mom rage can be a response to insufficient support from family and society, and the unrealistic expectations both place on moms. Statistics consistently show moms often take on more of the parenting load than dads.

In her 2020 New York Times article, "The Rage Mothers Don't Talk About," Minna Dubin, who reports on motherhood and identity, describes it best: "Mothers are supposed to be martyr-like in our patience. We are not supposed to want to hit our kids or to tear out our hair. We hide these urges, because we are afraid to be labeled 'bad moms.' We feel the need to qualify our frustration with 'I love my child to the moon and back, but….' As if mother rage equals a lack of love. As if rage has never shared a border with love. Fearing judgment, we say nothing. The rage festers and we are left under a pile of loneliness and debilitating shame."

A raging pandemic

This unrelenting, unpredictable pandemic continues to place even more demands on mothers. Stress and fear, lack of support, job loss, and social isolation are intensifying insecurity, exhaustion, and uncertainty. It is not surprising, therefore, that mom rage is universally on the rise.

Why Do We Really Need to Talk About Mom Rage?

If we fail to talk about mom rage, fail to it normalize it and acknowledge its universality, we will be stymied in our efforts to manage it and we will keep carrying its guilt and shame. Worse, we will continue to risk the well-being of our children, who can suffer lasting and significant damage from being at the receiving end of our rage.

It can lead to verbal eruptions or what scientists call parental verbal aggression (PVA). Studies have shown that PVA can alter a child's brain structure and increase their risk of mood and anxiety disorders. PVA alone, as separate and distinct from physical punishment, contributes to lowering children's self-esteem and school achievements, and teens who are on the receiving end of PVA are more likely to also suffer from depression or have behavioral problems.

Mom rage can also lead to physical violence, including spanking, and research has shown that can have lasting negative effects on children that reach into every corner of their adult lives, including lower IQ, stormier relationships, and a higher likelihood of substance abuse.

"Talking honestly about how angry moms sometimes feel reduces the shame that often accompanies the experience of having intensely negative feelings. Getting shame out of the way clears space to consider how to better support mothers so that they don't express their rage in ways that will leave them, and their kids, feeling terrible," says Lisa Damour, Ph.D., a mom and clinical psychologist.

The Bottom Line

If we want our children to find their unique voices and thrive in the world they will inherit, we owe it to them to normalize mom rage, make it visible, and adopt practices—both individual and especially societal—that will help us navigate our anger in ways that are healthier for us and for our children.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles