Seeing Red

“It’s time to go to sleep. Goodnight sweetie. I love you” I say for the twentieth time. I say it through a clenched jaw and with tightened fists.I can feel my skin start to boil with rage. We have been to the bathroom at least ten times with no success. He tells me there are spiders in the ceiling vents - validated that fear and got creative with some so-called spider spray. He needs me to sing him our song again. He wants me to lay by him and rub his back. His animals aren’t in the right place. His sock came off. His blanket is twisted. He needs water. There is reason after reason why he will not stay in his d*mn bed! I begin to no longer see my sweet innocent toddler. I see a monster who is taking advantage of me and purposefully making me angry (of course this isn’t true, but this is what I see when I’m about to reach my threshold). It is now 7:45pm and bedtime was 7:00pm. And as much as I love and adore my child, I count down the minutes until bedtime because I have nearly reached red several times (or maybe I already have by that point) and I need some me time. But bedtime always seems to be the worst. So eventually, I cannot contain it anymore and my body is taken over by something else. I rage. I scream and curse at my poor sweet child that if he doesn’t go to sleep then…fill in the blank. Or maybe worse, I grab him by the arms harder than I ever would if I had control over my own body and slam him onto the bed. This is rage. This is mom rage. This is a very real thing. That sweet child is now terrified and shaken, so of course he stays in bed. And I am left with only guilt and shame unable to look in the mirror, devastated and shocked by my capability of being so awful to this adorable, innocent, little human. But I, too, am only human.

I hear examples like the one above more often than many moms would want to admit, but it is such a real struggle that we need to talk about it more openly. Silence only sparks more shame and we have enough of that already.

When we enter into motherhood, there are preconceived notions about what our life will look like. We read all the books and blogs about what to expect. The highlight reel of parenthood is blasted all over social media. We listen to all the podcasts and follow all the “experts” who claim to have the answers to sleep, eating, discipline, potty training, etc. etc. etc. We plan to have the best dressed, best behaved, picture perfect family whose lives are made up of love, hugs, smiles, and all things sunshine and rainbows. What we do not plan for is the lack of alone time, the loss of self, the unprovoked and seemingly absurd tantrums over who buckled the booster seat, the physical fight to put on those trendy clothes, and the overwhelming sense of not knowing what the hell to do just about every moment of everyday. The emotional and mental load is quite literally unbearable, but we bear it anyways. Enter rage.

Rage is very different from anger in that it is uncontrollable. We reach a state of rage when we have exceeded our emotional, mental, and physical threshold. Mom rage is so real and so common, but can be eliminated. It is important for us, as mothers, to work hard on ourselves to eliminate rage (not anger, but rage) both for us and for our children.

1. KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS - we all have different triggers. Catalysts that ignite emotional responses in us. The smell of cinnamon creates a warm feeling in me making me think of the holidays. Excessive noise triggers a feeling of anxiety. Yelling may trigger fear. Get to know your triggers. Siblings being physically aggressive. Backtalk or disrespect. Power struggles. Being ungrateful. These are all examples of possible triggers that I commonly hear. Often we are able to cope with experiencing these triggers at least once and sometimes a few times a day (on a good day). But know when you are encroaching on that threshold, so that you can remove yourself to get out your frustration or tap in your partner for support.

Sometimes identifying our triggers can be difficult. Often they have nothing to do with what is actually going on around us and more to do with how we are feeling. We may be struggling with grief, sadness, anger over something that occurred days ago or weeks ago. Journaling can be a good way to identify those triggers. Writing down when we feel angry so we can jump in and take care of ourselves before we see red. Therapy can also be a good tool to use to gain insight and develop this awareness.

2. Self-care. Self-care. Self-care - I could preach about self-care all day long. The benefits of being what society might call selfish. We need to be selfish to be selfless. The more we tend to our own emotional, mental, and physical needs, the more equipped we are at helping our children tend to theirs. We are teaching them through modeling what that looks like and how to say yes to ourselves and that saying no to others is an okay thing to do.

3. Prioritize sleep and exercise - none of us function at our best when we are going on little to no sleep. Our tempers are shorter. Our cognitive functioning is decreased. Sleep is crucial. If you still have a little one who requires nighttime attention, lean on your support and request a night off of baby duty so you can get some uninterrupted sleep. Exercise is also crucial. It does not matter the intensity. It could be a mere walk around the neighborhood. But physical exercise allows us to move the frustration out of our bodies which in turn gives us a higher threshold when coping with triggers.

What to do when rage hits?

Remove yourself. Leave the room if it is safe to do so. It is better to leave than to scare your child. If you have an infant, place your baby safely in their crib and leave the room for a minute. If leaving is not an option, test out different things that break you out of that rage. Deep, belly breaths can be tremendously helpful. It signals to your body and brain that you are not in an emergency thus helping you calm down. Some experts recommend grasping your hands as tightly as possible behind your back so that you will not physically grab your child in a fit of rage. Maybe you have to bite your tongue to not verbally lash out. There are effective ways to begin the decline out of a rageful state, but it takes a little experimenting because it is different for each person. In the meantime, do whatever it takes to do the least amount of harm (physically and emotionally) to your child and to the relationship that you have with them. When all is said and done, always talk about what happened and end with love, a hug, a kiss, and an “I’m so sorry.”

If you struggle with mom rage and you feel like you are at risk of hurting yourself or your child, please reach out to your local crisis hotline. Henrico County (804)727-8484 or go to the Postpartum Support Virginia website There is treatment and help available.