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February 20, 2024

January 31, 2024

Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms

E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist

What You'll Learn

  • Why We Need to Consider Mom Overwhelm in the Discussion of Anger
  • How Unfairness in Parenting Can Fuel Maternal Anger
  • Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger from Overwhelm and Pressure
  • Treatment for Postpartum Rage vs. Addressing the Social Side
  • Why We Should Still Take Ownership Even When Anger is Justified
  • How to Use Our Anger to Fuel Positive Change

Since the beginning of the podcast, I’ve talked a lot about Mom Rage. We’ve covered how postpartum rage can be a sign of depression or anxiety, the way our nervous system reacts when experiencing stress, how to break out of shame and focus on repair, and what we can do to work through our emotions with mindfulness and grounding. 

And all of those facets of maternal anger are important and valid. There is an individual mental health component to Mom Rage that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

But as time has gone on, I’ve also started having other conversations about Mom Rage—more specifically about how our society creates overwhelmed moms, and how that overwhelm creates the perfect recipe for anger. 

It’s hard to know where our anger is stemming from and what it’s trying to tell us—especially when we’re in the weeds of mothering young children. But identifying the roots of our anger can help us understand how to manage it. 

Clinical psychologist Dr. Ashurina Ream, founder of Psyched Mommy has previously appeared on the podcast several times, to discuss how to manage Mom Rage from a mental health perspective, along with resentment and the importance of boundaries. 

Today, she’s back to unpack the differences between postpartum rage and parental anger due to societal pressure and expectations. 

Why We Need to Consider Mom Overwhelm in the Discussion of Anger

Dr. Ream and I founded Mom Freely together to validate and support moms as they navigate the challenges of motherhood. Mom Rage is something we have approached together before, both in our workshops and our course, All The Rage

But both of us have come to have a broader view of maternal anger. Sometimes, anger is a sign of a mental health concern (in fact, it’s the number one overlooked sign of postpartum depression). 

And sometimes it’s a justifiable response to mothering in a society that holds us up to unreasonable expectations with no support. 

Sometimes, anger is a distress signal on an individual level. And other times, it’s part of a bigger discussion about why moms are overwhelmed. 

Sometimes, anger is a distress signal. Other times, it’s part of a bigger discussion. 

The conversation isn’t an either/or. Moms can experience postpartum rage for a number of reasons related to sleep deprivation, hormonal shifts, depression and anxiety, or a tough adjustment to motherhood

They can also feel irritated or angry due to gender norms, a lack of parental leave or time to focus on healing, the invisible load, and an overwhelming weight of social expectations. We need to understand all the factors at play so we can approach our anger in a productive way. 

How Unfairness in Parenting Can Fuel Maternal Anger

Dr. Ream pointed out that when we enter parenthood, there is often an unveiling around the unfairness that moms carry—in our partnerships, in the way society views and undervalues care work, in policies in place that don’t support moms, in the motherhood gap and the impact on our careers, and in the pressure to show up and be “on” everywhere all the time. 

It feels like so much is expected of us, and yet no one understands or respects the work we do. We feel unacknowledged and invisible. This unfairness often leads to feelings of anger, resentment, and rage. 

To complicate matters more, we often internalize this anger because it feels like everyone around us is handling it just fine. We don’t realize that everyone is drowning in plain sight. So instead of recognizing and acknowledging the internal and external pressures, we might think we are the problem. 

We don’t realize that everyone is drowning in plain sight. 

In these situations, thinking of Mom Rage as an individual issue could become part of the problem, contributing to that level of self-blame. 

At the same time, when irritability and anger are a symptom of depression and anxiety, it can affect how we see the world. Depression taints our perspective of the world, highlights the negative, and can become a lens that changes the way we see our partner, our experience as mothers, and the intentions of the people in our lives. 

Parsing out the differences isn’t always easy—but there are some ways we can distinguish whether our anger is related to overwhelm due to pressure or an indicator of an underlying mental health concern. 

Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger from Overwhelm and Pressure

Postpartum rage is often more pervasive than pressure-driven parental anger. Moms who struggle with postpartum rage often wake up feeling like they are already at capacity, rather than experiencing bouts of anger related to a specific trigger. 

Because postpartum rage is often a symptom of depression or anxiety, it likely comes hand-in-hand with other symptoms, such as feelings of hopelessness, feeling disconnected or a lack of bonding with the baby, your partner, or your other children, weeping, negative self-talk, or spiraling negative thoughts. Even simple tasks might feel exhausting or overwhelming. 

Moms coping with rage related to mental health typically feel anger in all areas of their lives—work, home, or even when doing things they enjoy. Even in positive moments, there’s an underlying current that doesn’t turn off. 

But the other type of anger often presents itself differently. Typically this anger can be traced back to a trigger. It likely surfaces when you are feeling overwhelmed, dealing with a time crunch, or feeling resentful over a specific incident. 

It’s common for this type of anger to be triggered by a situation that relates to unfairness in the division of labor, the load of being the default parent, or being interrupted when trying to complete something. 

If the situation at hand were to change—if there were more support or a more fair distribution of labor for example—then this anger would likely subside, unlike postpartum rage as a symptom, which is often more encompassing and not situational. 

Another key difference is that postpartum rage often doesn’t feel rational or justified. Moms find themselves experiencing anger when their babies don’t sleep or when they can’t be soothed. It can feel very jarring because it seems out of character or surprising. 

Of course we will experience anger when we’re carrying an unfair burden of the mental load. 

Anger related to pressure and overwhelm, on the other hand, can feel rational and justified. Of course we will experience anger when we’re carrying an unfair burden of the mental load, or we’re defaulted into all the labor, or we’re expected to work as if we don’t have children and mother as if we don’t have jobs. It makes sense for us to feel that way. 

But even if our anger is justified, most of us don’t want to just accept it. When we can identify which form of maternal anger we’re experiencing, it becomes possible to problem-solve. 

Treatment for Postpartum Rage vs. Addressing Societal Pressures

The treatment plan for postpartum rage is typically multifaceted. It might include therapy, medication, and prioritizing sleep, as well as establishing support plans with a partner or family members. 

It’s important to remember that just because it surfaces in the postpartum period doesn’t mean it just goes away on its own. Some studies have even found that up to 25% of moms with severe postpartum depression continue to have symptoms even three years later. Identifying and treating it is vital. 

But can the other type of maternal anger—the one stemming from overwhelm, expectations, and unfairness, also be treated? 

It’s a bit more complicated. Before we become aware of this type of anger, we might solely blame ourselves, assuming that we are the problem. Once we do become aware, things change. We could say that since our anger is justified, it’s someone else’s responsibility—such as our partner’s or society’s. 

The problem with both of these extremes is that they don’t help us manage our anger. If we shame or blame ourselves, we can’t problem-solve. But we also can’t problem-solve if we take no ownership of the situation. 

We can recognize and identify the social factors and pressures that are leaving us overwhelmed and still create a plan for productive and positive change in how we want to live and show up in our family. 

Without ownership, we just let motherhood happen to us.

Dr. Ream said that this can feel unfair, as if we are taking even more burden on ourselves. But without that ownership, we just let motherhood happen to us, and we don’t experience it with enjoyment and fulfillment.  

Why We Should Still Take Responsibility Even When Anger is Justified

There is a healthy balance between identifying the root of our anger and still creating a plan for how we manage it. But treating this type of anger goes beyond just learning to tune into and recognize our emotions. 

While those are valuable skills, we also need to determine what we can do to address the real problem. We can’t immediately fix all of the social issues mothers face, from the perfect mother myth to gender norms to a lack of workplace support

But we can still create change—first by acknowledging that the pressures and expectations are unrealistic, then by learning to set healthy boundaries, take responsibility for our needs,  tuning into our values and choosing what to let go of.

This work also involves recognizing our own internal pressures and beliefs, such as perfectionism and comparison, and working to break away from those. 

We can learn to unsubscribe from a lot of the messaging that is keeping us weighed down. 

Dr. Ream said that we can learn to unsubscribe from a lot of the messaging that is keeping us weighed down. 

When we recognize what messages make us feel vulnerable or inadequate, we can call them out for what they are and re-center in our values. 

How to Use Our Anger to Fuel Positive Change

The first step to creating change is to embrace the personal responsibility piece. Our anger is justified. And yet, it does impact the way we parent, the way we show up for our kids, and the patterns and norms we lay down for them. 

That doesn’t mean that our partners don’t bear some responsibility, or that we can’t or shouldn’t push for social change. But it does mean that we can take control of the pieces that are contributing to our overwhelm and anger and choose to parent in a way that feels right to us. 

Another big piece is recognizing the “shoulds” of motherhood that surface in our minds and breaking away from them. Things like:

I should be the one getting up at night with the baby because my partner earns more money or I’m on leave. 

I should prioritize school functions over work meetings because my kids should always come first. 

I should just be grateful for being a mother and I shouldn’t complain or have negative feelings. 

And finally, we need to recognize that the path to managing our anger is less about “quick fixes” like parenting scripts and more about ongoing unlearning and inner work. 

This isn’t always easy to do. We’re talking about countering a lifetime of gender norms and social expectations that leave us feeling like “good moms” always sacrifice themselves, push themselves to do more, give their time and energy and attention to their children, put their own needs on the back burner, and find fulfillment only in their motherhood role. It’s a lot of unlearning and self-awareness, which can feel like more to do. 

But if the end result is mothering with less pressure, harmful messaging, or beliefs that don’t align with our values, then it’s worth the work. 

If you’re in need of a judgment-free space, our mom therapists understand the nuances of anger in motherhood and are here to help! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today!

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Tags:

Mom Rage

Gender Norms

Invisible Load

Overwhelm

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Ashurina Ream is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in perinatal mental health. She is also the founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, the largest social media platform focusing on perinatal mental health. Her rapidly growing platform provides educational resources to parents around the world. Dr. Ream’s passion for this field arose after becoming a mother herself. In her own postpartum months, she quickly recognized the limited support in the community regarding the care for women. This resulted in her pursuing advanced training and certification through Postpartum Support International as well as the Postpartum Stress Center. Ever since then she’s been equipping and empowering women to thrive in every season of motherhood and beyond.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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