In April 2020, writer Minna Dubin penned an essay for the New York Times, “The Rage Mothers Don’t Talk About”. It quickly went viral, with the message resonating clearly with mothers parenting under the initial pandemic lockdown.
“The overwhelming response blew me away. It showed me that mom rage is a widespread phenomenon, and, also, that if so many mothers are experiencing it, there must be something bigger going on,” says Minna, adding “We can’t all have an anger problem!”
We spoke to Minna, a Berkeley, CA, based mom of two (a 10-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl) about her new book, Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood.
What is mom rage and how is it different than simply losing your temper with your kids?
The difference between anger and rage is that rage feels out of control. It almost feels as if the rage is happening to you, like you are not the one steering the ship. One mom I interviewed talked about her rage as a growly thing in her throat. There are usually physical tells that you’re raging. For me my voice drops an octave, I begin speaking really slowly and intensely annunciating, hitting my Ts really hard. I also start gesticulating like crazy.
Can you talk about the shame behind mom rage?
The messaging we get from media and even from our own friends and mothers tells us that we must perform motherhood in this one very particular way (always gentle, prepared, enthusiastic, never complaining or allowing our needs to surface because we should always be attending to our family’s needs first, etc.). This kind of motherhood is detrimental to our personhood, not to mention it’s also unattainable! But we’ve been indoctrinated with this messaging since we were children, so as mothers, we now put this pressure on ourselves. And when we inevitably don’t live up to these standards, and rage, it feels like we’ve gone against everything a mother “should” be, so we feel like the worst mothers in the world. The shame is huge. The problem with shame is it immobilizes us. It makes change impossible. We can’t problem-solve or get curious and investigate what’s going on if we can’t even talk about it because we’re so ashamed of ourselves.
What was the process of writing this book like – cathartic or educational?
Both! I’d say that narrating the Mom Rage audio book was the most cathartic. I laughed and cried in that little recording booth. I did a lot of research for this book and I learned so much, like the strong connection between poor sleep and anger. And that some studies have shown that new moms are more likely to be rageful than depressed.
How do the gender norms for moms contribute to Mom Rage? In other words, Dad Rage isn’t so much a thing – why is that?
In 2023, moms—regardless of whether they work for pay outside of the home or work for free inside of the home—are still doing double the number of hours of childcare and domestic labor as fathers. Any parent who stayed home with their kids for any period of time in those early years can attest to how much more exhausting that kind of work is than most paid jobs. So either way, moms are overworked, exhausted, and the whole world including their husbands, are basically looking at them, like “What are you so tired/annoyed for?” because care work in our society is not valued as “real work.” This is offensive, patronizing, and really, it’s gaslighting..
“Dad rage” (which, for the record, is not a thing) is a whole other can of worms! Anger is an acceptable even positive emotion for men to express. Studies have shown that men’s anger is viewed as “situational,” as in, “Oh, he yelled because the kids were being out of control,” not “he yelled because he’s got anger issues.”
What are some ways to fight back against mom rage?
Social change is what we need: universal childcare, men working in childcare, a year of paid family leave for all parents, etc. But in the home, while the slow wheels of bureaucracy turn, the best thing for mom rage is to embrace it instead of pushing it away out of self-hatred and shame. Rage contains useful information. Maybe it’s that the mother needs help during the morning rush. Or needs to “clock out” of her mother job at 5 pm every day and the other parent can take over. There is no “right” way to mother, despite media and social messaging telling us otherwise. The right way is the way that lends itself to a happy family.
There’s a chapter in the book called “Invite Your Rage to Tea,” which gives really concrete ideas on how to get curious about what’s underneath that rage, and what kinds of questions we can ask our rage in order to better understand it and get quicker at recognizing when we’re feeling triggered so we can stop the rage before it starts.
What other motherhood books do you like?
Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Giménez Smith – a memoir about a professor dealing with new motherhood and also her own mother’s decline from Alzheimer’s
The Possibilities by Yael Goldstein-Love – A thrilling new novel about maternal anxiety
Cry Baby: Infertility, Illness, and Other Things that Were Not the End of the World by Cheryl Klein – a gorgeous, tender read about trying to become a mother
You Look Tired: An Excruciatingly Honest Guide to New Parenthood by Jenny True – the funniest, most inclusive, and most helpful guide to early parenthood I’ve ever read
Touched Out: Motherhood, Misogyny, Consent, and Control by Amanda Montei – a researched memoir about how men’s entitlement to female bodies continues into motherhood
Anything else you’d like to share?
Mom rage is not your fault. You are a good mom.