By: Sarah Normandin – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
I don’t think I ever knew real anger until I became a parent. Before that, my world was a tightly controlled environment, a carefully curated timeline of events and experiences designed to keep my anxiety and boredom at bay. I knew parenting would be hard, but I had no idea that it would undo me, at times completely. When I first felt rage, I was shocked. I had never before experienced a surge of energy so strong that I thought I could actually kill someone with my bare hands. It terrified me. I went to a therapist I had been seeing for awhile and she freaked out–I think she thought I was losing my mind. I wanted to say–but don’t mothers get angry sometimes? Because THIS sucks. But I didn’t, I just stopped going to therapy and tried to figure out how to deal with my newly found emotional turmoil myself.
You see, parenting a newborn was really hard. When my son was an infant, he cried. All the time. And I remember a family member commenting on someone else’s much quieter baby, saying that she was a “good baby.” To me, this meant that I had a “bad baby” and what was worse, that it was probably my fault. And of course, we all know that a fussy baby is just that. But the implication to me was that I just needed to work harder, that if I tried hard enough, I could make everyone happy. A fussy baby to me, was a failure, a failure of my ability to mother, of my worthiness, of my ability to remain in control of my life. Maybe I wasn’t up to the challenge, maybe I wasn’t really good at being a parent, maybe I didn’t have it in me. Maybe I had been deluding myself all along that I was a competent and capable person.
And this made me angry. My lack of control. No matter what I did or how much I tried, I just couldn’t get on top of things. It was beyond infuriating. I had always been able to manipulate my environment to make myself look like I knew what I was doing. I could put on a pretty good show that I had my shit together, but that just wasn’t happening anymore. I could see the fault lines in my self-deception. I was tense, and emotional and really pissed off.
If I’m honest, the way I dealt with it at first was by pushing it down. It felt so unacceptable to have some much negative energy. This was what I wanted after all, so shouldn’t I be happy? The discourse on motherly anger in our culture certainly isn’t a positive one and no one around me was really being honest about their experience. So I kept much of what was going on in my head to myself. Actually, I just yelled at my husband, A LOT.
I felt ashamed, which fed my need to be perfect, to cover up all those bad parts of myself. This got cyclical–the worse I felt about myself, the harder I tried to make it perfect and the harder it would be to keep up the facade. Eventually, I became so exhausted from trying to keep up my bullshit that I ended up in the ER, but that’s another story for another day. The thing is, my body eventually was like, ENOUGH. And so I was forced to give it all up. To give in and admit that I was a human being. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I had to really look at what was driving me, what my motives were and it just didn’t seem worth it to waste all my time and energy on being perfect. I’m sure no one actually thought I was perfect, but in my mind, all that mattered is that I looked like I was on top of things. “Never let them see you sweat” was always my motto. But I was sweating; it was obvious that I was falling apart. And eventually, by the time I was dropping more money on alternative therapies than I was actually making, I knew it was time to change.
I had to take on the slow and arduous work of becoming ok with just being myself. And the thing is, I was actually just really embarrassed. My house doesn’t always look great, I forget to send essential items in my kids backpack, I’m not on top getting him to all of the RIGHT camps and after-school activities. There are weeks where mac and cheese and chicken nuggets are a substantial part of our household diet. There are also hours spent outside playing, snuggling at night until I hear my son snoring, and potentially a lot of candy crush when my mind won’t stop spinning. And I’m learning to become ok with that.
Over the past six years, I’ve tried to make peace with my anger and listen to what it has to say to me. I’ve tried to give myself a break, more free time, and less pressure to get it right. I’ve realized that I need a lot of downtime in order to feel like a proper human being, that my productivity isn’t the same as my self-worth and that people actually need to rest in order to function.
I’ve learned that anger is not always necessary or worth it. But my rage is a valid and normal response to what it feels like to parent in this day and age. How hard it can be to cope. How you want desperately for everything to turn out all right. There is so much pressure to be good at it, like your child is an extension of your own success.
And let’s face it, we do judge parents whose kids have problems or don’t fit exactly into the box. We blame them, give them the side eye and think “I could see THAT coming” or “they need to get a handle on THAT.” So in judging myself less, I’ve had to let go of judging other parents so much too.
I guess I’m just asking for us all to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, relax a little and know that we’re all just trying our best. Because we just might be missing the important things, the things that really matter. On the nights I bring out the frozen food for dinner I might also have more energy to show up for my family, to laugh, to not get worked up over how messy the house is or the mounting pile of laundry and just be there with them, living life. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s real and it’s what we’ve got right now and at this point, I wouldn’t trade that in for a clean house or a square meal or even a happy baby.
More by Sarah:
Sarah is a therapist and coach who has been supporting women for over 12 years in creating lives that align with their own values. As a mother and a wife, she understands the complexity of modern life and how to manage stress while juggling many responsibilities. She believes in having fun, taking naps and saying no as often as possible. If you’re interested in exploring motherhood, imperfection and doing less to have more–or just want someone to tell you to take a break, you can find her at sarahnormandin.com.
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