The day started like most other days. I awoke before my husband and kids, did a quick workout, and showered. I had the best of intentions. I would be calm and patient. I would roll with the punches. I wouldn’t lose my shit.
I packed my kids’ lunches, fed the dogs, and reminded my kids to brush their teeth, and wipe down the bathroom counter. I cleaned up the dog poop in the living room. Ugh. Deep breaths. I will not lose my shit.
I checked my email and Facebook, scrolling through a handful of humblebraggy posts, news headlines that pretty much said the world was going to end, and a handful of nasty comments on my latest post. Let it go, let it go. More deep breaths.
I unloaded the dishwasher, catching sight of chipped dishes and a family of ants crawling around behind the coffee machine thanks to a yogurt container one of my kids didn’t manage to put in the garbage. Why the fuck can’t anyone in this family pick up their shit? Why do I have to do freaking everything? Why are there so many damn ants?
“Can you please brush your teeth and clean the bathroom counter?” I asked my kids again. My husband reminded me he had a work event, so he wouldn’t be home for the evening shitshow of homework, dinner, and bedtime. Deep fucking breaths.
I listened to my kids argue about who got the last Eggo for breakfast. I stepped on a Lego they hadn’t picked up the night before. I stepped over the dirty socks in the middle of the kitchen floor.
“Brush your teeth,” I said. “Wipe down the kitchen counter.”
The kids continued shrieking over that damn Eggo waffle. The phone was ringing, our dogs were barking — no, howling — and I couldn’t hear myself think. I could feel my blood pressure mounting. My mind raced. Prickles of anxiety coursed through my veins. Stress about our latest credit card bill, the car’s broken tail light, and a tense conversation I’d had with a family member grew. All the messes — so many fucking messes — spiraled into more worries about money and vacation plans and my kids’ problems at school until…
“AGH! CAN YOU TWO JUST STOP ARGUING FOR ONE MINUTE AND BRUSH YOUR FREAKING TEETH! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO ASK YOU? DO YOU EVER LISTEN?! NO! WHY DOESN’T ANYONE FREAKING LISTEN TO ME! GOOO NOW!”
My kids stared at me. I stomped off into the bathroom and slammed the door, feeling the mixture of relief and regret that comes after I lose it on my kids and throw a full-blown adult-sized tantrum.
What is it about motherhood that makes me so tense and angry? So downright ragey?
I’m generally a pretty laid-back person. Or at least I try to be. But despite my best intentions, it’s like a switch is flipped from calm, rational mom to raving madwoman within a matter of seconds.
Sometimes it’s the general messiness of life with young kids that gets to me. Nothing is ever in its place. Things are always dirty. There are fingerprints and paint chips on literally every wall in our house. I’ve cleaned more bodily fluids out of the carpet and couches than should be expected in a lifetime.
Other times, it’s anxiety that triggers the anger. Stress about money and work. Fear that things are worse than they really are. Worries about everyday “calamities” like being late to work or why a friend hasn’t texted back, and actual disasters like plane crashes and car accidents and systemic racism.
Sometimes it’s too little sleep and a racing mind.
Most of the time, however, I think it has something to do with the general chaos and unpredictability that goes with motherhood. There are times when everything feels so out of control, and it all just feels like too much.
I don’t want to be this way, of course. No one does. I have steps in place. I see a therapist, take anti-anxiety medication, and remind myself to take deep breaths and let it go. I practice self-care and get plenty of exercise. Sometimes these things work, sometimes they don’t.
I have a good relationship with my kids, but I still worry about what these outbursts (however rare they might be) are doing to them. Is this what they will remember about their childhood? God, I hope not.
I have a friend who still talks about all the cupboard slamming that went on in his childhood. There’s no doubt that his mom is a good mom, and my friend and his mother have a close and healthy relationship. But still, all these years later, this is what he remembers about those years of his childhood — the cupboard slamming. I don’t want my kids to remember cupboard slamming. I want them to remember laughter, hugs, and smiles. I want them to remember the love.
So how do I — how do we, because as much as it feels like it sometimes, I know I’m not alone in this — stop this spiral of tension, rage, and guilt?
Well, I’m no psychological expert, but I think the first step is understanding the source of the tension and anger. For many of us, the rage is triggered by anxiety or depression. Other times, it can be run-of-the-mill stress that we let get out of control.
Society’s unrelenting pressure on parents, and mothers in particular, might also play a role because that never-ending hamster wheel can be so damn exhausting. And sometimes we lose our shit because, well, we’re imperfect and flawed humans who make mistakes and lose our shit sometimes.
Once we understand the causes, we can get the help we need. For me, anti-anxiety medication and therapy have helped a lot. But even armed with those tools, I still slip up. I still yell. I still lose my shit more than I’d like. It’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress.
I’m learning to embrace the chaos, rather than trying to control everything. I’m also trying to understand my specific triggers — clutter, work stress, insecurities — so that I can address those issues instead of exploding at my kids about Legos on the floor. It takes grace and patience, with our kids and ourselves.
I don’t know why motherhood makes me so tense and downright angry sometimes, but I’m working on making changes. Because as big as the anxiety, frustration, and anger can get sometimes, the love — the unconditional and immeasurable love — is so much bigger. And that is what I want my kids to remember.