Having married a DC comic fanatic and having four boys, superheroes are something of a given in our household. When the latest superhero movies come out we watch them together as a family. When holidays or birthdays roll around, there usually is a superhero or villain toy given to at least one of the boys. All of our boys have dressed up as a superhero for Halloween at least once, our 5 year old dressed as Batman three years in a row. So when it came to explaining my bouts of rage to my kids, the easiest way to do that was to relate it to something they could understand – a superhero, The Hulk. And that’s when I started to take back control by first outwardly acknowledging this mommy rage by naming it Mama Hulk.
Realizing a Change in Myself
Something I was never told before becoming a parent was that we don’t just watch our children grow up, we also grow up with them. We mature, learn, and change along side them and as much as I want to be the perfect mom, that just isn’t realistic. I feel like I’ve done a fairly good job at explaining my mistakes and asking my kids for forgiveness in situations. For example accidentally losing/breaking a toy of theirs, wrongly punishing them before all sides of a situation were explained and heard, or even snapping at them when frustrated. But to claim ownership of this horrible anger, that I seemed to have no control of, was very difficult for me. To be honest, this “Mama Hulk” lived inside of me with free range for far too long. I was too scared and ashamed to admit that I was dealing with unexplained, severe anger that reared its ugly head when the goings got tough.
I didn’t always have this Mama Hulk anger constantly bubbling under the surface. There is a specific moment nearly six years ago that I vividly remember, the moment when I realized something wasn’t right.
‘I should feel happy right now. I should feel … something … right now.’
It was a beautiful summer day. The sun was shining, and big fluffy white clouds scattered across the bright blue sky. The temperature was perfect – not too hot and not too cold, and every once in a while, a warm summer’s breeze would sweep past with those beautiful smells of flowers and freshly cut grass. As I was sitting outside on the grass watching my kids run around, laughing and playing, I took in the beautiful ideal scene around me, looked up at the sky and thought, ‘I should feel happy right now. I should feel … something … right now.’
But I felt empty.
Reaching Out for Help
Thankfully, I have a very supportive mother who had dealt with postpartum depression. Throughout my first pregnancy, she reminded me of the signs to watch out for after my son was born. After he was born she asked frequently how I was doing. Although I didn’t experience postpartum depression with my first born, with my second I knew something was wrong when I had this realization of emptiness. I had no fear of reaching out to my mother, I knew she would understand … and she did. After a long conversation she advised me to call my doctor and, after we hung up, I did just that.
Telling my mother was one thing, I knew she would be supportive and understanding. But, reaching out to a stranger and to tell them I was struggling was terrifying. Nonetheless, I made the call and they scheduled me to come in the next day.
Will they call CPS on me? Will they see me as an unfit mother? Will my children be taken away?
All of these questions, and probably a hundred more, ran through my head as I drove to the doctor’s office for that appointment. But, I knew that I had to be honest and vulnerable in order to get the help that I obviously needed. Through tears I told them about the perfect day and how I had been void of any feeling. I managed to find courage to tell them that I wasn’t the same person in the middle of the night as I was during the day. Those hours upon hours of breastfeeding and rocking my baby at night were hard and isolating. I was alone, I was lonely, I was sad, and I was angry. The doctor listened as I told them how in the morning, I felt startled at the feelings of anger I had experienced during the night, because that wasn’t like me during the day.
The nurse passed me tissues to wipe my tears and listened intently, no sign of judgement on her face. She asked me the questions that needed to be asked in visits like these, “Have you ever hurt your child? Have you ever hurt yourself? Do you ever think about hurting your child? Do you ever think about hurting yourself?”. After assuring her that I never had any of those thoughts, we talked about treatment options.
Treating Postpartum Depression
I ultimately chose to start taking antidepressants daily, although there are other ways to try and kick postpartum to the curb, such as therapy and self care. Although I was interested in going to therapy, it wasn’t something that was doable in my life at the moment. Eventually, I was able to incorporate exercise as a form of self care, in addition to taking antidepressants. That additional form of treatment, and just the alone time of exercising, helped tremendously!
Soon I was feeling again. I was working out once a week at a free fit club in town, taking my kids out on hikes and walks almost daily. In the winter months I got a membership to Planet Fitness and utilized their 24 hours of operation and went to work out at the only time available to me, when my husband got home from work …. at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Lots of people thought I was nuts when they would see that I “checked in” on Facebook to Planet Fitness at 3 a.m., but to me it was my time. I didn’t feel guilty about getting away for an hour because everyone else in the house was asleep. During these early mornings I was able to jam out to music that I wanted to listen to, had endorphins released as I worked out, and I was getting in shape. I was having the me time I desperately needed from being a stay at home mom of three kids – the fact that it was happening at 3 a.m. didn’t bother me at all.
To those next early morning hours, coffee was my saving grace!
The antidepressants and exercising/me time helped me start to get back to the old me, but there was still a dark cloud hanging over me … my anger. As much as I’d like to say I’ve gotten my anger caged and under control, that’d be a lie. The baby I was suffering postpartum depression with will be six years old in April and Mama Hulk has been along for the ride the entire time. Thankfully she shows up a fraction as much as she use to but, for me, it’s still too much.
I had to make a decision: change or continue this destructive cycle.
January 25th, 2021 is hopefully the last time my kids will ever have had to see my mommy rage. On that Monday morning Mama Hulk exploded out and the reaction from my kids as well as the out of body experience I had forced me to make a decision: change or continue this destructive cycle.
In hopes of containing my mommy rage I had made a very detailed daily schedule, with a lot of time dedicated to my boys’ home schooling schedule. I had figured out which subjects each of my boys could work on independently and which subjects they needed a bit more guidance from me. Being able to have one work independently while the other had me working with them, I was eager to see our school times go smoothly. That Monday morning I felt excited to put the new schedule into place, confident that the structure it would bring would keep my anger of losing control of any situation far away.
Looking back I’m shouting at myself, ‘You dummy! You have four kids, this “fool proof” schedule is going to crumble!’
Sure enough as I was getting a magic coloring book (the ones where you just add water with a paintbrush and the pictures magically add color) for my youngest, who decided to join us as the kitchen table, my seven and five year olds decided they would rather distract and annoy each other rather than work. I felt agitation rising in me but was eager to get back on track with the schedule. After all now that my youngest was entertained again, I had dodged that bullet of a hiccup in the routine! As I was wrangling back control of the boys and their school work I suddenly felt wetness on my face. Apparently so did my two older boys and they began to shout at their little brother, who instead of ‘painting’ with water on his magic book, was flicking the wet paintbrush at all of us.
At this point I lost it.
I screamed at my children. I SCREAMED at my children.
This is where I experienced my ‘out of body’ moment. As part of me (my body) stood there screaming at the top of it’s lungs, the other half of me (my mind) was clear and seemed disconnected from the actions my body was doing. Trapped inside of this horribly angry screaming body I saw the effect my actions were having. My youngest had the look of absolute terror in his eyes and was bawling.
When I finally snapped out of it I immediately felt the physical and emotional consequences. My throat felt raw from all of the screaming, I felt shaky, and a headache was already pounding in my temples. My head was also swimming with questions, ‘Who was that?! Why did I scream like that? Why do I snap and explode so easily? How much damage am I causing my kids?’
Immediately I began apologizing, first taking my two year old into my arms and trying to hug and kiss the terror away, then pulling my older boys in for hugs and a spew of apologies. It broke my heart how easily they forgave me. I felt undeserving of their forgiveness. My heart broke even more when my seven year old told me, “It’s okay, I didn’t even hear you”. It was the first time that I ever considered that maybe he was getting use to these explosions of anger and was use to it, maybe even numb to it.
I knew apologies were not good enough. It was time to make a change or continue on the destructive cycle that was clearly effecting the people I loved the most.
Taking Full Responsibility
My anger was something I had made excuses for. I snapped because they ran into the room during nap time and woke the baby up or I screamed because I was tired of being touched and followed everywhere. But it was clear to me that if I didn’t own up to my personal struggles, no matter how hard it would be to admit, that nothing would every truly change.
I explained to my seven and five year olds that I was like Bruce Banner. I’m usually this calm and laid back person but when I get mad, I have this Mama Hulk that comes out and explodes with anger, just like Bruce Banner explodes in anger when he becomes The Hulk. They laughed at the analogy and although didn’t want my rage to be made light of, I was glad to know they understood what I was referring to. After apologizing again to them, I made sure to tell them that nothing they did or could ever do would ever permit me or anyone else to treat them or scream at them like I had.; also, that they should never act like I did and scream at anyone that way – ever. My fear was (and is) that my behavior has caused them to think that this is an acceptable way for them to be treated and to treat others. I promised them I was going to work on changing and would be doing my best to keep Mama Hulk caged away.
The next thing I did was to throw my schedule for the day to the wind. I let the kids play video games and watch TV as I got on the phone and called my mom. In the past, I had sprinkled occasions of my anger into conversations but never really expressed just how abrupt, awful, and intense it was, but that day I did. My mom, wanting to give me mercy, tried to justify my anger.
She did this not to belittle what effect my anger has on my kids but instead to show understanding as to how my anger could reach that level. I knew if I continued to allow excuses for my anger that I would never change and I explained to her what I explained to the boys, that nothing they could ever do would warrant that response from me. I phrased it to her, “If I neglected all of my responsibilities as a homemaker, would my husband be justified to scream at me? If I spent money we didn’t have on frivolous things, would that then give him the justification to scream at me? But what if I had an affair, would that then give him justification to scream at or even hit me?”. Her answer was, “No, of course not!”. Well, it’s the same for my children’s actions and my mommy rage.
There is no justification for my screaming at my children. None.
I’m Not Alone In This
I desperately wanted to make a change but I didn’t know what to do. Making a detailed schedule was what I thought was going to be my golden ticket but that ended up failing the moment my meticulously planned routine got off track. It may sound ridiculous but at the time I felt like I was the only person who dealt with such sudden and cruel anger. Mommy rage is a taboo topic and it’s not talked about nearly enough. I get it though it’s scary to be open with people about this unexplainable rage that you deal with.
All those questions I had driving to my doctor’s office were constantly in my head over the past years after I had suppressed my Mama Hulk anger. If I confided in people would they call CPS on me? Would they see me as an unfit mom? Would they no longer trust their kids to come and be at my house?
As I scrolled through Instagram that day I stumbled upon the above post by Psychedmommy, it was the first time I felt seen and understood in my anger. I eagerly clicked and read the photo description and was surprised to see that there was a mommy rage workshop that was happening that day! After doing a bit of digging to get more information I quickly purchased my webinar ticket.
I truly believe God was visibly working His goodness for me that day. Everything happened to work perfectly; I found the Instagram post with enough time to purchase a ticket and the webinar video would be available to be watched after in case I wasn’t able to watch it live. It felt as though God was saying, “If you really want to make a change, here are the tools to get you started”.
Thankfully I was able to watch a good portion of the three hour webinar live. There I found a community of people who, like me, dealt with this horrible mommy rage. Some experienced this rage towards their partners or parents, others their child(ren). We shared common feelings of shame, guilt, and fear that we had permanently damaged our relationships. But we also shared the drive to make a change. Each person who attended was making a decision to own up to their mommy rage, put themselves and their struggle into the light to be seen and judged but with the hope of finding the tools to help better themselves.
The webinar Mommy Rage was put on by Dr. Ashurina Ream (PsychedMommy) and Erica Djossa who has a podcast called “Happy As A Mother”. This topic of Mommy Rage is one that has been requested of them a lot and it’s a webinar that they have held multiple times. Although I wish I could post the video to help everyone who could benefit from it, I can’t, but there is a good chance they’ll have another Mommy Rage workshop in the future! PsychedMommy does have a highlighted Mommy Rage story on her Instagram that includes Q&A’s, tips, and advice.
One bit of information that really connected with me was when they pulled up an image titled ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. Each level needs to be met before you can try to meet the next level’s needs. If you try to skip a level or two, it may work for a moment but will inevitably crumble. They talked about how each level’s needs are important for us as parents to function and how if we neglect those needs then we are more likely to experience Mommy Rage. It starts off simple with Physical Needs – food, sleep, bathing, and movement. For me, that level isn’t even met. No wonder my Mama Hulk anger would come out so often! I wasn’t alone in that either, they had asked us to comment which level of the Hierarchy of Needs we feel we’re meeting everyday – most people stated they aren’t even accomplishing the first level daily.
Tools to Tame Mama Hulk
From the Mommy Rage webinar and reflecting back on the circumstances when my Mama Hulk anger came out, I began to piece together what contributed to my mommy rage anger erupting. In finding the areas that were problematic I am also able to see where I can now improve in becoming better at handling my anger.
- My Hierarchy of Needs were not being met.
- I was hardly meeting my baseline needs which is something that all parents go through at some point but I had never changed to make myself a priority again. Although I logically know that in order to take care of others you first have to take care of yourself (the whole putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others scenario) it’s hard for me to put myself first. But this is where utilizing a schedule may benefit me. It sounds incredibly excessive to schedule out specific times to accomplish my baseline Physical Needs in the hierarchy but it’s what I need at the moment until I realize that doing those things are necessary, not selfish.
- I had been ignoring my body’s warning signals.
- Reflecting on past circumstances has allowed me to see that although it felt like my Mama Hulk anger had burst out of nowhere, there were always warning signs. Some warning signs my body has provided for me were; smaller anger outbursts, quickening of pulse, feeling agitation rising up inside of me, my mind and body feeling like I was being pulled in all directions. Somedays I was better at delaying my mommy rage and I had experienced all and more of those signs before, other days I only experienced one and it may have been right before my anger erupted. Regardless, my body had been warning me of what was to come, the problem was that I hadn’t been paying attention. Acknowledging the signs, practicing mindfulness, and finding my own personal way to bring me back to a calm state is what’s helping me contain Mama Hulk now. During the seminar they suggested that when we start to feel the anger building up that we verbally speak it aloud for our kids to hear so we can demonstrate to them the healthy way to deal with our anger. “Mommy is really starting to feel frustrated right now, I think I need to go into my room and take five minutes to myself”.
- Losing control
- This was the most obvious trigger to me and ironic enough, this is where I need to practice being adaptable and flexible when it comes to daily schedules. To tighten the reigns on my kids and their lives wasn’t the answer because they’re children and well, life happens! But what I can control is myself and how I react to situations happening around me. Accepting the chaos in those situations where I want things to go smoothly is challenging for me but I’m practicing being mindful and present in the moment. I’ve also started asking myself a question in these situations when I start to feel my anger rising, ‘If I only had one week to live, would this really be worth me getting upset about?’. If I’m not mistaken, since I started asking myself that question the answer is 100% of the time ‘no‘. In fact, it usually helps me to cherish the moment I’m in even more. I’m suddenly aware at how young my children are; I start to study their faces and features, knowing that although they may cause me anxiety, exhaustion, and grief in the moment, I know I’ll miss these loud, crazy days when they’ve grown up and moved out.
I was inspired to be vulnerable and share my experience with you when I saw on the webinar chat just how many other people deal with the same mommy rage that I do. If my struggle resonates with you, you are not alone. If you still feel alone, please reach out to me because I am here for you.
I was also inspired to share this after reading and rereading my friend Jamma’s post. She got vulnerable in sharing a personal situation that happened in her life but also talked about how she took responsibility, learned, grew, and is now flourishing after the fact. I hope that in sharing my struggle that I, too, can help someone else and I pray that in the future I find myself flourishing with my Mama Hulk anger being something of a distant nightmare.
Although I am ending this blog post, I will be continuing on in this journey to calm and contain my Mama Hulk anger.
Until next time, you are loved and worthy. Remember that.