The white heat of mama anger

Good mamas are supposed to be nice, gentle, calm, loving, quiet…. so goes the myth.

Bad mothers are angry, violent….

We aspire to be gentle parents. Peaceful parents. Natural parents. So we should know better, do better…right? 


Some scenes from this week…My child keeps pulling out my hair by standing on it repeatedly, the “baby” pressing the delete key on my computer with glee shrieks of delight, the three year old kicking her baby sister in the face on purpose, sitting on her, stamping on her, strangling her, having a half hour long tantrum because her toast was cut the wrong way, he hates school and doesn’t want to put his clothes on and we’re already twenty minutes late, she draws on the wall knowing she’s not allowed, he calls his sister stupid idiot and stinky yoni, she wakes up the baby on purpose, screams “I’m not going to sleep” for an hour or more every night. Every request I make, every meal I produce is met with screams and whines and complaints…

Day after day after day…

These days would challenge the combined sainthood of the Dalai Lama, The Pope, Mother Theresa… (are you just a little suspicious that they cultivate such spiritual calm – none have been parents!)

Parenting shows up your yuckiest sides. The sides that, in any other circumstances you can deny. That until you are up to your eyes in exhaustion, frustration and pain, you do deny…

You see, I’m afraid I don’t subscribe to the belief that children are born as perfect little angels who should be allowed to express everyone of their god given emotions, whereas all MY adult emotions are bad, wrong and to be supressed. I am supposed to jump with joy when my daughter expresses her anger. But I have to bottle mine. According to these philosophies I have to be kind and gentle and understanding – despite being screamed at whinged at, pulled and kicked and bitten, and constantly demanded of on very little sleep.
Sorry – no can do… no will do … it’s not right, normal or fair…

I respect I am bigger and scarier.
I respect I am stronger.
I respect that they are still little and learning.
I respect that I need to teach them how to handle their emotions and positive ways of dealing with conflict.
I respect that I will not hurt them in uncontrolled anger or for premeditiated punishment.
I was smacked as a child and don’t agree with it.

And yet…

There are times when I have been nice, I have been firm, I have distracted and explained, cajoled and negotiated, shown other ways forward, in gentleness, kindness, giving the benefit of the doubt for tiredness, hunger, age…. I have taken deep breaths and tried to remove myself from the situation, but the child is beating on the door or hanging onto my leg…. and actually, you know what….

Somewhere, surely there is a place for my expression of physical and vocal frustration, of tit for tat in physical language, look, pinching hurts – demo- so that’s why we don’t do it. A firm shaking hold – “I feel “this” cross right now. Do you understand me?” So that they can see that actually I am not a door mat, a slave, a kicking post. I am a human with feelings, just like them.

At this moment very little differentiates me from the mama bear who swats her baby away in frustration – her swat is not meant to damage or injure and nor is mine. It is a warning shot, a physical boundary being drawn. This far and no further, little one, it says. No means no. I said no, I said no again and again, and I mean NO! Now back off….

Periyachi – fierce Hindu goddess mother

So when my child screams and screams at me and I have exhausted all other options, I scream back. The pure scream from my belly. The scream of frustration. And it feels better. It changes the tone, for us all.

You can keep your pillow pummeling and deep breathing – at this point I need instant physical relief. It is not just my children who have this need. Or this right.

Why is mama anger not OK? And dada anger for that matter? We are scared of it. We are scared of strangers judging us or reporting us to social services. We see stories on the news of hideous child abuse and it puts the fear of our own anger in us. Could that be me? Could someone think that might be me?

The feeling of anger and overwhelm is scary. Parenting books tell us to be calm and patient. These are written by people away from the coal face of parenting, sitting at quiet desks, at professional remove from the simmer cauldron of emotions that real-life parenting brings. Self-help books tell us to express our anger. But not HOW to do this when we are parents.

Anger is a primal emotion – it comes from the reptilian, primitive brain – the part of the brain that does not work with language – so trying to tell our children calmly that we are experiencing anger is both unreal and unrealistic.

I think we must, as parents, show our children what anger really is, how it looks, and how it can burn, though not too deep – the scars of the white heat of anger last a lifetime. I still remember my mother’s anger. The physical pain, the terror of this unknown storm, the unpredictability.

And now I am the mother storm. I dig my fingernails in, my voice rises to a screech, the tears of frustration rain down, my lightning temper flashes… and then the storm abates. We make our peace, the sun breaks through. We are all still here. Survivors. None of us blameless, all a little shaken.

We live to fight another day.

A couple of other great links on mama anger on the blogosphere this week
Apron Stringz: Mama Rage
Code Name Mama: Forgetting Connection

And some of my own…
I am your mama bear
Happy Candles
Dealing with Overwhelm

Is the silencing of mama anger a feminist issue?