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?

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  1. Patrick

    I hate to admit it, but I remember seeing something on Dr. Phil years ago (maybe even pre-parent time) when he was explaining to someone about the ‘Guilt-Rage cycle’. It helped me see something that I have a habit of doing and I’ve thought about it often ever since.

    We can be too scared of anger – I certainly am. I find it hard to accept it in myself and find it hard to imagine that it will be accepted by others. It feels like an unhealthy relationship with a powerful part of me and I think it would be better for me and all around me that I learn to accept those less becoming parts rather than deny that they exist.

    Anger is such an honest, raw, vulnerable, powerful state and we all know how destructive it can be. Like everyone, I get totally overwhelmed by the frustration of dealing with multiple tired, stubborn, awkward kiddies at times and I do sometimes end up unedifyingly shouting and grabbing. I try to give them a warning that it’s coming (I remember the cold, wet shock of a parent snapping seemingly out of the blue), I don’t express it as spite or contempt and I don’t hurt them. And although it might sound very corny, I do bring it up later ‘We were very cross with each other weren’t we? (smile and laugh) I still think you’re very lovely you know.’ And I do try to laugh with them at the things we both said and did when we were cross. I think it’s crucial not to take it too seriously.

    I have no desire to crush them, physically dominate them or steal from them the things that make them strong, but I do need them to know sometimes that a line has been crossed and Daddy is now really really effing pissed off! In a way (and I don’t mean in the heat of the moment), I hope this possibly makes them stronger, more comfortable and hopefully more adept at expressing their own rage and frustration. I’ll have to ask them about this when they become parents one day 🙂

  2. little macaroon.
    little macaroon.09-08-2011

    Someone in a hindu temple once explained to me one of the statues – a gruesome and bloodthirsty woman, eyes wide in fury, horrifically disembowelling someone with her bared teeth (no, stick with me here!). They told me that this legend illustrated the most benevolent of all mother figures. Sadly, I forget her name, but she’s considered the Mother Mary equivalent. The moral of the legend was that there is no love as powerful as a mother’s love, and woe betide anyone who invokes her pure, boiling wrath, as she will do whatever it takes to protect her children – even disembowelling with her own teeth.

    Anger is a part of being a parent; we need to know how it feels, we need to know when it’s appropriate, and I believe we need to practise it within safe boundaries now and again. So that when push comes to shove, and someone puts our children at risk, we can do what it takes. And we need to teach these skills to our children.

    My latest blogpost touches on this topic also.

  3. little macaroon.
    little macaroon.09-08-2011

    Thanks for your supportive comment on my page, DreamingAloud.

    re the story above, I found out her name! She’s the terrifying Periyachi (wiki it), said to punish women who do and say things to hurt others, and punish men who exploit women by trampling them under her feet. She is also regarded as a protector of children. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but the Hindus here feel that she is the ultimate symbol of maternal love.
    The picture on the wiki page is exactly the statue that I was talking about!

    Don’t know if you’re interested, but I think she’s facinating, and think of her whenever I feel that my daughter needs to be defended!

  4. Dreamingaloudnet

    Hey little macaroon – am going to go and dig that image off the net and pop it with this blog post – thank you! Love finding out about myths and figures form other cultures.