I’d like to talk about anger.
The white-hot, stomach-churning, bone searing hot heat of rage that builds from the ground up until you think you might spontaneously combust with it.
Before having my daughter 15 months ago, I wouldn’t have described myself as an ‘angry’ person and I don’t think those close to me would have done either. That’s not to say I haven’t been angry prior to become a mother, more that it wouldn’t have been a defining character trait. Not a regular occurrence for me to want to break things or scream into a pillow until my throat’s hoarse and my lungs are burning.
Maternal rage and anger is a controversial topic, primarily I think because angry women seem to be too. Living in a patriarchal society has resulted in women’s emotions being parcelled up into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’. Sure we can have an angry outburst or two on social media, as long as it’s funny; viral, meme-worthy female fury is acceptable but otherwise, our rage should be restrained.
No, I’d like to talk about the rage that creeps steadily through your veins after you grow and birth a baby. The sort that simmers below your maternal surface, waiting to be unleashed on – yes, your husband/partner – but also on whoever wanders innocently into your blast zone.
My anger manifests itself at bedtime and usually after a back to back run of bad nights, where my daughter has woken every hour and can’t/won’t be resettled by anyone but me. The all-consuming and unconditional love she has for me begins to feel overwhelming and I want to claw my way out of my own skin. It is those evenings, when she’s finally asleep, that I feel ready to commit cold-blooded murder. I am incandescent with fury. And that’s when I know – or have to be gently told by my husband – that I need a break.
I am just a mother, who needs to mother herself.
Because parenting (usually) demands much more of mothers; we are the home our babies return to every night and will keep returning to again and again, and again on their bad days. It is exhausting, back-breaking – and yes, incomparably wonderful – WORK. And if you are a working mother, it is work on top of work.
What I’ve learned in my first year of parenting (in lockdown, during a global pandemic) is that mothers NEED to look after ourselves and to be looked after. Self-care is not an Instagram visual. Time and space to breathe, sit in a quiet space, relax, decompress, and reset are essential to our maternal mental health. For too long I’ve categorized the following as ‘self-care’: putting a wash on, hanging washing out, taking a 10-minute shower (alone), sleeping, washing and drying my hair, eating breakfast/lunch/dinner, making and drinking a hot cup of tea, cleaning, changing the bedsheets, watering the plants.
To be clear, these are not acts of self-care, these are either essential life skills or chores. None of which allow my body and mind to slow down and take the rest they so desperately need to be a good mother to my daughter. It doesn’t have to be a 3 hour spa day, just a 10-minute chance to take some deep breathes without worrying or caring for someone else.
So the reason I wanted to talk about anger is to normalize it. I’m here to tell you that maternal anger and rage is normal. It’s not a meme, nor is it only acceptable when polished and made palatable for everyone else. It is raw and ugly and very very real. It’s also a sign that you’ve reached your limit. I am an expert at dodging my husband’s attempts to look after me and a pro at talking myself out of my own self-care advocacy.
What isn’t normal is not allowing women to experience the full range of human emotions, because that would imply we’re not considered human at all. Of course, all mothers are superhuman but we also have our kryptonite, and that is maternal overwhelm.
Fellow mothers, if you’re reading this: please, become an expert in your limits. Know them, plot them on the map of your mother-self and when you reach them…stop whatever it is you’re doing (safely) and ask for help. And know that you are normal. Rage and anger are normal.
Breathe, reset, repeat when needed. Mothers, it’s time to mother yourself.
If you like this article, check out: https://www.harnessmagazine.com/self-care-for-introverts/