Anyone else feel like they’re constantly losing their temper? You’re not alone. Parenthood, of course, has always been the ultimate test of patience. Even without a global pandemic, kids from toddlers to teens push buttons that set moms and dads off like they never could have imagined before becoming parents. Particularly as moms have taken on more responsibility at home during COVID—and in the process, face isolation and a loss of sense of self—anger can go from a once a week reaction to bad behavior, to a daily or even hourly occurrence after any minor irritation.
We spoke to Greenwich Moms contributor Reon Baird-Feldman, PhD, about why she’s seeing more moms dealing with anger management in her practice than ever before, why it’s normal (and you can skip the mom guilt over it), and how to help yourself gain control of your emotions again.
We hear from so many moms that they don’t have a big temper, but motherhood has made them angry all.the.time. Why is motherhood, well, so maddening?
Motherhood changes the dynamic and focus of your life, and impacts you physically, emotionally, socially and financially. Anger is often rooted in anxiety or fear. Taking good care of children is no small effort. Most moms feel that the brunt of it falls on their shoulders. Let’s be honest, too, though…children can be irritating! It takes decades for human brains to mature. The prefrontal cortex, which controls impulse, isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s. This means that children can and often act irrational and impulsively. They don’t behave logically which can be maddening (especially when trying to keep them safe).
Can you describe what you’re seeing in your practice?
At the start of the pandemic and probably until the majority of schools began offering full-time, in-person learning and extracurricular activities opened up, there was a hardship on Moms and patience was difficult to grasp! The pandemic really exposed gender inequality, especially for working moms. Whether you are a mom in a 6 bedroom house, one bedroom apartment, entrepreneur, married, single, front line worker or stay-at-home mom, there was a shift in dynamics which manifested as anger, guilt, a feeling of unfairness and burn out. There’s also the aspect of fear. The world changed! All of a sudden, there’s no longer a basic runny nose or cold…it’s 7-10 days of quarantine for everyone in the household with multiple tests, heightened anxiety, more mess and sleepless nights.
That makes sense—how else has the COVID period, aside from health concerns, been an anger trigger for so many mothers?
Where do I start? The COVID period came with the intensity of politics, racial divisions, and senseless death, day after day, after day. The COVID period also exposed just how undervalued mothers are without much perceived urgency to alleviate our tasks and burdens. Pre-COVID, we had most of the pieces of our puzzle within eye sight. We may have had to rearrange the pieces given a sick child, late work day or early release days. Pre-COVID, there was back-up (i.e., relative, babysitter, neighbor, extracurricular activity). COVID initially took those options away. We were told not to see anyone outside of those in our homes. We didn’t want to risk getting a relative sick. Now, with children back in school, despite the use of masks and safety precautions, children are still at an increased risk of infection which can gravely affect an older or vulnerable relative, or babysitter. We have had to second guess many of the social activities we enroll our children in and participate in ourselves. We also grapple with who to trust regarding vaccinations and precautions. There is still a heavy weight on us. The uncertainty of it all gives rise to anxiety which can manifest in anger.
What do you tell mothers who are angry all the time and worrying that they are emotionally scarring their children?
No one is perfect! Anger is a natural emotion but managing it and making sure that it is appropriate is key! Chronic anger, though, is unhealthy. There needs to be an outlet (i.e., exercise, therapy), otherwise the entire family structure will suffer. One of the 5 principles in my daughters’ school is “Let go and move on.” There is tremendous pressure on us to be perfect. We are not perfect! Communicate and collaborate with your children…”I’m starting to get angry…this is not fun for any one…how can we avoid this from happening again?” Don’t forget the discipline part though. Children need guidance. Explain that you’re there to not only love and provide food, fun and toys, but to guide them to better behaviors! Also, I encourage moms to focus on your strengths. Instead of feeling guilty, remind yourself that most of the time, you are a caring, loving, patient, kind, funny mother.
What should you do if you lose your temper in front of your kids?
Children are always watching. If you lose it, you lose it! Address it and allow your children to see how you manage it so that they can also learn how to manage their own emotions. Take a deep breath then acknowledge it! Explain it! Let them know that they may not like you being angry and that you also don’t like being angry or to lose your temper. Find a way to work together so that everyone can be happier. Make it a teaching moment!
Love that advice. You mentioned therapy and exercise as important steps to managing anxiety and thus anger. What are some other concrete ways to be a calmer parent?
- Be kinder to yourself! Give yourself some grace – that same grace the you might offer to a friend!
- Vent with like-minded friends.
- Adjust your expectations.
- Identify and apply ways to recharge (i.e., Monday meditation, “me time”, sleep, massage, Mom’s Night Out, yoga).
- Find a therapist or a mom group.
Great suggestions. What about in the moment, when you find yourself losing it?
Breathe!!!!! Walk away, find a room that you can be alone in for a few minutes, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then think, “Is this really worth getting so upset about?” Tomorrow will surely bring something else.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Yes! Whatever you’re going through in motherhood, know that you are not alone. Motherhood is a roller coaster of emotions! It is a journey! You are literally going through it, meaning, most challenges are temporary. It is also an awesome opportunity! Don’t be afraid to laugh during the tough times and cry during the happy times.
About Reon Baird-Feldman, PhD
Licensed to practice psychology/neuropsychology in NY and CA, Dr. Baird-Feldman recently joined the psychology team for a reality television show while managing her private practice and working in a nursing home in NY. She currently resides in Greenwich, CT with her husband, Doug, and two daughters, Simone (7 years old) and Saya (4 years old).