What Is ‘Mom Rage’? How To Manage Anger While Parenting In A Pandemic

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What Is ‘Mom Rage’? How To Manage Anger While Parenting In A Pandemic

Have you heard of "mom rage"?

I still remember when a good friend and trusted colleague told me, "You never know rage until you become a parent and have kids."

This was in my innocent, pre-kid days, and I trusted her on that as I had heard all about mom rage in my office. I did not, however, truly understand what she was talking about until I had my son.

But mom rage is real and even impacts those who work with parents and kids professionally.

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Over the time I’ve been a mom, plus adding in my clinical experience as a parent consultant and child and teen therapist, I’ve realized a few things about what mom rage is and isn’t.

Mom rage is something that happens when you become so overwhelmed with parenting and emotions related to your child’s behavior, that you snap a bit.

You might need to walk away from your child because you feel like you might yell at them. Or, you actually yell at them and lose your cool.

Mom rage is not an excuse to be angry and take things out on your child.

While I always want to destigmatize any parenting struggles we have, I am also a big proponent of parents learning to manage their anger and emotions effectively. By modeling healthy emotional response, we can help our children do the same.

Just because rage is a perfectly understandable emotion for parents doesn't excuse taking that anger out on our children.

Luckily, there are ways we can all cope with the anger and frustrations of parenting more effectively, even during a pandemic. But before you get into anger management, it's important to understand the roots of these feelings first.

In my experience — personally and professionally — there are 3 sources of parenting frustration that leads to "mom rage."

1. Unrealistic expectations of our children.

The expectations we place on ourselves and our children are often so unrealistic, that it would be comical if it didn’t lead us to feel frustrated with ourselves and our kids at times.

We expect them to be happy, compliant, and easy-going pretty much all the time — particularly if we're having a hard time or feel stressed. This is entirely unrealistic, because children are 100 percent going to have their own feelings and reactions to things.

Plus, their feelings are influenced by our own. If we're stressed and struggling, our kids are most likely feel the same way, too.

Children don’t always have the ability to communicate effectively, so they will often either explode or make unrealistic demands. My toddler’s favorite is asking for ice cream in the morning, for example. 

Then, they explode when those demands are not met. While these explosions can be difficult to tolerate as parents, they are an important emotional release for our children.

We also might expect them to be able to do things that they are developmentally not yet capable of. For example, switching attention to us in a second, or cleaning up an entirely destroyed room all by themselves.

It's crucial that we learn to question our expectations of our children and whether or not they are realistic. 

2. Unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

We also have unrealistic expectations of ourselves as parents. Not only are our kids supposed to be happy and easy-going all the time, but it is also somehow our fault and our responsibility to fix things if our kids are not happy.

When our kids are struggling or not engaging in the things we think they should be, we often blame ourselves first. Not only is this setting us up for failure as parents, but it is also setting ourselves up for feeling frustrated.

We also might feel that we need to always be perfect, say things in just the right way, be ever-present and available to our kids, or even that we should always be happy, patient, and fun. This is just not possible, even before we were all home all the time!

Parents are under immense pressure and feel responsible for every element of their child’s development.

While this comes from deep love, it also comes from some level of anxiety about our children and their ability to cope with and succeed in our world. Unfortunately, this anxiety also leads us to try to control things that are out of our control, which also sets us up for failure and frustration.

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3. Poor boundaries.

The other area that most often leads parents to frustration is expecting their children to follow rules and respect boundaries that are loosely and inconsistently set.

I often tell parents that their kids’ job is to challenge their authority and at times to break the rules. This is how they learn the cause and effect of receiving a consequence. This is a critical part of learning, but can be incredibly frustrating for parents.

Going back to my earlier example about my son asking for ice cream at breakfast, it still sometimes surprises me that he continues to do this after I consistently say "no." (Just to clarify, I have never given him ice cream in the morning!)

On a rough day filled with testing limits, it's hard not to feel frustrated when he asks for things he can’t have, and then becomes inconsolable when he can’t have it.

Unfortunately, this is all a part of being a parent. We need to learn how to set more effective boundaries, but also how to have realistic expectations.

During the current pandemic, parents are being placed under an unreasonable amount of additional stress that is building on the pre-existing stress we all felt anyways parenting in our current parenting climate.

The more we can lean into understanding why we feel how we feel and how we can approach these situations differently, the better.

If you find yourself feeling frustrated or in a state of mom rage often, asking yourself these questions might help:

  • Do I have realistic expectations of myself?
  • What am I expecting of my child? Is that realistic?
  • What would realistic expectations look like for us?
  • Do I have enough time alone to allow myself some downtime? How can I create more time for myself?
  • How can I prioritize my needs?
  • What do I need to do to better model managing my emotions for my kids?
  • Am I setting boundaries in a firm, clear, and consistent way?

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Erica Wollerman is a licensed clinical psychologist who has held a passion for helping people since beginning her career in psychology in 2006. If you would like to read more about her work, check out Thrive Therapy Studio.