It’s 3am, an exhausted, sleep deprived mother stands over the crib of her screaming infant, the baby’s cries have been non-stop for hours. She’s tried everything. Everything. She doesn’t know what else to do. She snaps.
“Just go the f*#k to sleep!!!” she screams at her tiny, defenseless baby.
A moment later, realising what she’s just done, she slumps to the floor sobbing. Ashamed of herself, scared of what she’s become.
Who is it you empathise with more in this situation – the tiny baby, whose only crime was simply being a dependent infant? Or the mother at the end of her tether?
The answer to that question is likely to hinge on whether you’ve ever been that mother. Whether you’ve ever found yourself so completely overwhelmed, so completely under-resourced, so entirely depleted and so unwillingly consumed with rage, that you no longer feel in control of anything anymore. Least of all your tiny baby. Or your emotions.
I’ve heard it said that you don’t truly experience unconditional love until you become a mother. The same could also be said for this other of life’s most intense emotions: Anger. Rage. Fury.
Personally, I never experienced true rage until I had my own children. Certainly I got my knickers in a twist over many a situation – and I experienced anger – at myself, my parents, my partners, my family. But rage against your peers, or your elders is rarely seen as a source of shame. In fact, at those times, our anger is easily justifiable, the teenager raging against the impossibly strict rules of her parents, a grown woman crying hot tears of anger over a partner who cheated on her, an employee venting to a colleague about an incompetent boss. That kind of anger is understood and openly discussed – and in many cases welcomed – anger is good – it provokes you to fight back, to stand up for your rights, or to advocate for someone less fortunate than you. We can support, or at least understand, when a person’s anger is directed at someone who slighted, deceived, hurt or manipulated them.
But what happens when the source and target of your rage is a tiny infant, or a toddler, or any child? A tiny human whose only crime is simply crying too much, or refusing to sleep, or smearing finger paint over a wall, or losing their school hat for the 18th time this week?
How many mothers do you think would feel comfortable telling another person that they quite literally screamed at their baby, or stormed out of the room on their toddler, slamming the door behind them, or threw their child’s favourite toy in the bin, because they wanted to punish them so badly. It’s a difficult truth to face. And when it happens it generally brings with it mountains of shame, self-judgement and self-hatred. The women I’ve spoken to who have experienced these intermittent episodes of rage don’t intend to behave this way. When I’ve had women explain it to me they tell me of how they “just snapped”, and how petrified they are of something similar happening again. These are not mothers who are systematically abusing their children. These are wonderful, caring mothers who wholeheartedly love their children, would do anything for them. But they’re just not coping. They snap, and then they berate themselves for being a terrible mother, because “how could any mother treat their child that way?”, they believe they’re all alone in their rage, and wonder how it is that they became so unhinged. If this is how a woman sees herself after an episode of motherhood-triggered rage, just imagine what they believe others are thinking of them.
Is it any wonder they won’t admit publicly to this silent rage they’re feeling?
But if this is you. If you’re an ‘Angry Mother’, I want you to know this:
It is okay to feel angry at your child.
Anger is simply an emotion, albeit an incredibly intense one. But emotions are never inherently “good” or “bad” – not even those emotions commonly acknowledged to be negative – anger, jealousy, shame, resentment. We are entitled to feel and experience the broad spectrum of our emotions. We can’t really expect motherhood to bring us only joy and wonder. Anger is going to be inevitable at times. We’re only human.
But it’s what we do, how we act, in response to those feelings of anger that makes the difference.
Being angry is okay. Taking your anger out on your child (or any other person really) is not. That distinction is important.
So no, it’s not really okay to scream at your child, or to hit them, or to lock them away because you’re angry with them. I’m certainly not advocating for that. But what I’m saying is that these things can and do happen – to the best of us – but if we find ourselves in that situation, what we need to do is seek support to lessen the chances of it happening again, not hide away from it due to shame and fear.
It’s okay to admit to yourself how much anger you’re experiencing as a result of motherhood. In fact, acknowledging your emotions is the first step in dealing with them. Being conscious and mindful of your anger is one of your greatest protections against not letting that anger manifest into aggressive, hurtful and potentially dangerous behaviour.
What we need is a more open discourse on the emotion of anger in motherhood. Because it’s there – hidden away behind closed doors and walls of shame, fear and self-loathing. Why is it happening? Now, today, in our western society where women and mothers have even more freedom and rights than ever before? That’s an enormous question, and perhaps one for another blog post. But my focus for today’s post is to help women understand what’s happening inside their brain and body during these rage moments – so that they might be able to prevent them from happening again.
Anger is multi-faceted, and it’s origins are often misunderstood. The good news is that “lashing out” when angry isn’t an inevitability. To avoid it, it helps to have a better understanding of what’s behind a moment of rage filled behaviour.
There’s several factors at play when it comes to why we get angry:
1) The trigger. This is generally what we blame our rage on – that driver cut me off, my husband forgot to buy milk, my boss made me work late, my baby won’t stop crying. But the trigger is rarely enough to create a rage response in itself. If it were, we’d all be flying off the handle at any and every slight against us. This isn’t how the majority of us behave on a regular basis.
2) Our pre-existing personalities. We all know people who are more prone to rage than others, who are more laid back, more highly strung, more glass is half full, or more “the world is out to get me” – often these personality traits are set while we’re quite young, and are influenced by the events, environments and relationships we experience as infants and children. (Which is not to say they are fixed, but personalities are deeply ingrained and not easily changed).
3) Our emotional and physical state at the time of the trigger. Our response to triggers will change depending on these factors. So we’re potentially more likely to act on our anger if we’re tired, sick, stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, scared, anxious or sleep deprived (sound familiar? Hello Motherhood!) These factors can turn even small incidents into huge explosions.
4) The breadth of skills we have to deal with unpleasant emotions and feelings. Our generation didn’t get taught this stuff. We never had mindfulness lessons or yoga classes at school – it’s great to see this happening more and more in schools today. But for those of us born before the turn of the century, unless you’ve studied a health profession, or undertaken formal counselling or therapy, it’s unlikely you were ever given explicit information about how your emotions work – about how they can impact your behaviour. Emotions just were. Some people had more trouble with them. That’s about all we knew. But we now know there’s so much we can do to better address our anger, so that it doesn’t take control of us.
So what can you do? How can you better manage anger?
1) Improve your awareness of your anger. Be more mindful of times when your anger appears, and start to make connections between your emotions, your thoughts and the physical feelings in your body. Awareness is the first step.
2) Do what you can to make positive steps on a daily basis. Check out this article from the American Psychological Society for “Strategies to Keep Anger at Bay”. Finding stress management, self care and relaxation strategies that work for you is also a helpful option, such as learning how to start a mindfulness practice.
3) Seek support. Be open and honest with someone you trust about your anger experiences and concerns, perhaps your partner, or an understanding friend or family member. If you feel like you need further support a counsellor, Occupational Therapist or psychologist can help provide you with strategies to support yourself.
Remember – managing your anger better is an entirely achievable goal. Even though it may seem overwhelming and especially traumatic when you’re in the grip of “mother-anger” it’s crucial to seek support – for your own sake, and that of your children, your family, and your relationships and connection with each other.
Until next time,
It’s 10.30pm. I was going to bed half an hour ago. I was just rinsing my toothbrush and was a mere 15 feet from my pillow when I heard the cries. My eldest. Almost five years old and struggling with growing pains. Poor Poppet. That’s what happens when you’re more than 90th percentile for height and growing like a weed.
So I’ve grab my trusty tube of arnica cream and am sitting on her bed, rubbing ointment into her legs. Some nights this is all she needs – a couple of minutes of attention and a squidge of cream. Other nights however, the pain is just too much, nothing works and we end up on the couch, binge-watching Doc McStuffins on Netflix until she eventually passes out from exhaustion.*
Tonight, while I’m sitting there, massaging her teeny little calves, my eyes wander to the ribbon on her wall. The Grand Champion ribbon she won at the country show last year – for her ‘expert floral design skills’.
My daughter – grand champion.
She is so proud of this ribbon. Together with her second cousins and her Gran they spent ages preparing their exhibits for the show last year – she was so excited to find out she was the winner. That ribbon hasn’t left the wall above her bed for the past 10 months.
But as I looked at it tonight, I wondered – where’s my ribbon?
Sure my four year old gets a ribbon for putting together a posey of flowers. But where’s my goddamn ribbon for everything I do?
In my almost five years of motherhood I’ve never been awarded a ribbon for my mothering. No ribbon for managing to avoid an epidural during childbirth. No ribbon for keeping up breastfeeding for eight and 11 months respectively. No ribbon for successfully travelling 3000km by car with a two year old and a newborn when we relocated across the country. No ribbon for getting them to eat boiled carrots. No ribbon for producing strong, brave girls who didn’t even cry when they last got their immunisations. No ribbon for rehabbing my pelvic floor so I’m not dependent upon Depends.
No, not once have I ever been given a ribbon for my motherhood skills. But tonight. I feel like I deserve one. Here I am – it’s nearly 11pm now, and I really should be in bed. I’ve got the flu and have been laid up on the couch for the best part of three days. All I want is to go to bed. Because I’m exhausted, and I also know being out of bed this late isn’t going to help me recover – in fact, being kept awake by my daughters too often over the past week is probably a big part of the reason I got sick in the first place. Yet here I am, watching Doc McStuffins waiting for my five year old’s pain to subside, because I’m a Mum, and that’s what Mum’s do. (* Tonight turned out to be one of those nights – at least Doc McStuffins is a better role model than Barbie.)
So yeah, dammit. Tonight – I want a ribbon. Maybe it’s because I’m sick – and everything always seems so much harder when you’re sick, motherhood being no exception. Or maybe it’s the echinacea supplements talking, but I’m desperate for a bit of validation. I want just a little bit of acknowledgement for EVERYTHING that I do. And not just me – I want every Mum to get a ribbon. Because we deserve one – and we never, ever get one. Unless you get voted Barnado’s Mother of the Year – that’s a pretty big ribbon, but even that’s only given out once every year.
Motherhood is the most relentless, all encompassing task you might ever do. There’s so many variables, and you can rarely predict what you’re going to be doing or feeling day in, day out. And we’re all just expected to get on with it. To do it well and without complaint – no matter what you have planned, or how sick you are. No acknowledgement – for any of it.
I think that’s been the hardest part about motherhood for me. Such a lack of acknowledgement. I spent my first several working years within a Commonwealth Government agency. Annual performance reviews, key performance indicators and 360 degree feedback were built into my work ethic straight out of uni. I’ve grown accustomed to validation and feedback, and so yeah, I actually sometimes ‘need’ the “you’re doing a good job, keep up the great work” pat on the back that comes with getting a four-star or above review.
Here is where the chorus of lines such as “a job well done is it’s own reward” start in my head.
“Motherhood is it’s own reward”.
“Their little smiles make it all worthwhile.”
Yeah, yeah, whatever, not tonight. I’m not buying that line tonight.
Because stuff that. Because I’m not even sure I’m doing a good job most of the time. Should I have given her that Panadol? Did I let her stay up too late? Was she actually just playing me for that last half an hour after her leg pain seemingly settled – so she could get a couple of extra McStuffins’ in? I don’t know. For the most part, I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what I’m doing with the Mum stuff. There’s no KPI’s here for me. There’s no five point rating scale. There’s no one paragraph summary outlining my strengths and weaknesses. So I actually have no idea what I’m doing. I’m flying blind and it completely bewilders me most of the time.
But I’m doing my best. The only way I know how.
And tonight, for that, I want a ribbon.
As of today I’m officially on holidays for a week. I know, super exciting. About six weeks ago I realised what a ridiculously busy June I had scheduled, so I decided I’d take a full week off from all of my clients and contracts this week. And now it’s finally here! Whoop!
Considering I haven’t ever taken a proper break from from all aspects of my business in the 20 months I’ve been running it, I definitely felt it was time to do so. To be honest, the past 10 months or so have actually been quite challenging for me in terms of finding balance, and my own wellbeing has seriously suffered. But that’s another post for another day. For now, let’s just say, I needed a break!
So back to my week of holidays.
It’s interesting really. I’m not going anywhere, so for me, it actually feels like it’s not a ‘real’ holiday. To me a holiday necessitates lounging by a resort pool with a fruity cocktail. But finances wouldn’t allow that this week, and hubby has to work, so we really couldn’t even go anywhere local for the week. So it has been really challenging for me, leading into this week. I’m home, I’m 10 minutes from the Pilates studio where I work. I’m no more than 10 metres from my laptop at any time in this house. Can I really take a “holiday” at home? Should I?
Even up until Thursday I was driving into the clinic thinking to myself, “Oh I guess I could just take an hour each day to respond to emails, phone calls and Facebook…” Really, Sarah? Come on!
I remember a time, way back when I was working in a government desk job I hated, when a colleague actually did ring me on my holidays to ask me some inane question about work. You wouldn’t believe how stroppy I got and how much I silently seethed to myself while answering their stupid question. “Seriously, couldn’t they figure this out for themselves, I’m on leave dammit!”
Fast forward to now, a ‘mere’ 14 years later – and I can barely let go of my laptop!
Maybe it’s a sign of the times? We’re all so much more accessible now, emails on our smartphones, Facebook on our iPad. We have 24 hour access to everything and everyone, and somehow that translates to the thought that we should be available 24 hours ourselves.
Or maybe it’s because I run my own business now? No longer are those questions inane and something someone else should and could figure out. In my business, I’m it. Sole trader. Just me. Alone. Solo. If I don’t do the work, answer the calls, return to emails, no-one will. So yeah, that definitely makes it harder to be on leave.
But be on leave I must. Because I do need a break, and I do need some extra time with my girls and my hubby. Something that was reinforced to me even more on Friday.
Like so many South Australians I was shocked to wake on Friday morning to the news of Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh being murdered, allegedly by his son, overnight. As a dedicated Crows fan since their inaugural season, it’s something that hit home, as it has for footy fans all across the nation. Even though I didn’t know Phil at all, and he’d only been with our club for a short time, I was surprised by how much this death impacted me.
But more than his high profile role as the Crows coach, I think it was the nature of the death that stopped me in my tracks. A son killing his own father? It seems so incomprehensible.
I was chatting to my brother about it later that day, and we both spoke of how shocking it was, to which my brother said, “But I suppose this kind of thing happens every day, we just don’t hear about it unless it happens to someone in the spotlight.” And it’s true. People die at the hands of loved ones every single day. The tally of domestic violence victims who have lost their life is now up to 49 in Australia – 49 – thats almost two women each week so far this year. It’s horrific and tragic, and all those terrible adjectives we so desperately wish never to use.
I think there’s something about intra-family violence that strikes at our very core. Because our home, with our family, is the one place we should all be able to feel unconditionally safe. We should never have to be afraid of our son, our husband, our father, our mother, our sister. These people are supposed to protect us. Not harm us. So when we hear of it happening, it’s simply unfathomable, and it makes us hold our own family a little tighter.
Which brings me back to Friday. After running a bunch of errands that morning, choking back tears each time I heard the Phil Walsh updates on the radio news, something happened.
I was driving past the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, where there’s a big playground we’ve never been to, but which we always say looks amazing, and that we “should go there some day”, when my big Possum from the back seat said “Mum, there’s that playground, can we go there today?”
Any other day I might have said no. We’d already been out all morning. Moochie was due for her sleep. It was a bit chilly. There were plenty of chores to do at home.
But none of that mattered. Not that day. So I checked my mirrors and pulled across three lanes to make the turn into the playground. And of course, the girls had a blast. This playground truly was amazing. So much to explore, and so much fun to be had. And for some reason, I decided to try out the slow motion camera on my phone, which I’d never used before.
And what I captured truly made me think, and was the final reminder I needed that I truly did need to take a break.
Check out this video.
And this one.
You might have noticed that I rarely share images of my children, and I do that purposely, because I want to protect their privacy. But I just had to share this.
Do you see it. Do you see the joy? The excitement? The happiness in those carefree faces.
Those original clips were about three seconds each. It’s easy to miss all of that in three seconds.
I’ll share this too. When we slowed down enough to visit the Zoo yesterday, we were lucky enough to find prism rainbows covering my little Possum’s face. More slow motion joy.
It was while watching these slow motion clips that I realised – I don’t slow down often enough to appreciate these teeny moments of pure happiness. I used to. Back in the first couple of years of motherhood. Back in my maternity leave days (which I honestly miss so much!) I had all the time in the world with my girls and I made the most of it. We were always out for walks, going to the park, meeting friends for babycinos, visiting the petting farm, splashing in the pool at the resort near where we lived. It was truly a blessed time. Even when I was working part time after my first bubba was born – my spare time was my own. Once I got home from work, that was it, my time was my own – our own.
But now, it’s different. For better or worse, I don’t know yet. I wouldn’t give up the opportunity to run my own business for anything. Because I love what I do, and I know it’s going to pay dividends in years to come in regard to work-life balance. But I also know I need to find that better balance right now too. For my own health and for my relationship with my daughters. Because as a small business owner there’s a very real possibility of becoming completely consumed with your business and having it permeate all areas of your life. And that’s not healthy on any level.
With all the events of this past weekend, the main message I’ve received is that I really do need to live life in slow motion sometimes. I need to slow down, appreciate where I am and who I’m with, and not be running a million miles an hour into something else all the time.
So that’s why I’m on leave this week. I’ll be off Facebook and off email, I’ll be hanging with my girls at the park and ordering babycinos at the cafe. I may even get myself a hot stone massage. Now that’s my kind of slow motion.
See you next week!
Hi there Busy Mama!
I’ve got something special for you on the blog today. Remember ages ago when I told you about the book The Parent Manifesto by psychologist and parenting expert Jodie Benveniste? I blogged about it here in case you want to check it out.
Well a few weeks ago I was super-excited to be able to record a Skype interview with the completely awesome Jodie, which I’ve used as a bonus goodie for my Busy Woman’s Stress Makeover program.
Jodie Benveniste of www.parentwellbeing.com
However, I had such a great time interviewing Jodie, and she provided such great information, that I really wanted to share it with all of you. So that’s what I’m doing!
In the interview we talk about why this women’s stress epidemic has become such a huge problem, particularly for mothers, and how we can help free ourselves from stress by creating our own parenting style, in line with our own values.
It’s such a great interview – despite the interruption midway through from my curious daughter – please excuse that, but that’s what happens when you work from home!
Head over here to watch the video and enjoy.
Also, don’t forget to head over to Jodie’s website, www.parentwellbeing.com where she has a great blog and links to all of her e-courses and parenting books.
Plus, if you love TED Talks as much as I do, check out Jodie’s TEDx talk here.
Until next time,
(ps. I’m not affiliated with Jodie in any way, so I don’t make money from sending you to her site – I just think her work is really powerful, and too great not to share. xx)
Oh, and don’t forget, you can still sign up for my Busy Woman’s Stress Makeover program for just $89. Check it out here.
Do you have days when those little munchkins seem to push EVERY. SINGLE. BUTTON? Yep. Me too.
The thing is, it’s not always them. Sometimes, it’s us.
Here’s my guest post over on the Mum Central website where I outline the five questions to ask yourself when the kids are driving you bonkers!!