mad moms: an origin story hypothesis

Do you feel like you never really struggled with anger until you became a parent?

Do you feel like you struggle DAILY with anger now that you are a parent?

Are you a mama?*

This one's for you.

*Not that papas don't struggle with anger - it's just this one is focused on mothers specifically, you'll see why if you read the fucking post already.

Mad Moms:
An Origin Story Hypothesis
in 5 Parts

Part I: The Workbook

that font is

I bought an anger management workbook.

Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed it took me so long to put it together... I was like AAAAAH WHY AM I SO ANGRY and also AAAAAAH I LOVE WORKBOOKS SO MUCH, and then one day it was like God/Bezos himself touched my shoulder and/or smacked the back of my head open-handed and said "Girl you know there are workbooks about managing anger, right? That's why I made for you, my child.  #FreeSameDayShipping #MyMiracle #YoureWelcome."

The first paragraph in that book pulls no punches:

People who struggle with chronic anger are in unbearable pain.
The way you know their pain is unbearable is because they do not bear that pain.
They get angry instead.

In the next chapter I learned that an anger response is made up of two parts:
First, pain.
Second, a trigger.

This makes sense. A person can be in pain for a really fucking long time and just stew in it until somebody cracks the lid on that stew pot and shit goes down.

Think about the last time you really really really had to pee, and you were like I can do it we're almost home... now we're home... almost there... almost gonna pee... just peed a little but these pants are black so I'm good.. still okay... then your kid slapped you in the face/said "Mommy" real loud/walked slowly to the house/paused to pick a flower for you and you FREAKED OUT. And then afterward you were like "Wow, I really overreacted, that was weird."

Or think about the last time you were putting your kids in the car and they were acting like a pair of damn fools and you were like I can do this... I love my children... I love their spirits... This is a phase... I am not a terrible mother... until you heard someone mutter, "Control your kids, lady," and then your kid slapped you in the face/said "Mommy" real loud/flung his shoe across the parking lot/asked you for a kiss and you FREAKED OUT. And then afterward you were like "Wow, I really overreacted, that was weird... although that lady was a bitch," and your kids were like, "that lady was a bitch!" And then you cracked the windows and got out of the car to retrace your life choices.

People who struggle with anger are in pain.
The trigger gives you permission to express that pain as anger.
Anger = Pain + Trigger.

Part II: The Mothers

Many women I know never struggled with anger until they had kids. But once they had kids they struggle daily with anger - unprecedented crashing waves of anger. (This is purely anecdotal, maybe I just know a lot of high-tide types.)

We're tempted to blame the kids for the anger. The timeline matches up. And, yes, kids are a lifetime of aggravation.

For example! Think about kids who have FOR YEARS wanted their Sunday pancakes cut into bite-sized pieces and smothered generously in syrup. But today without warning changed their minds and suddenly wanted their pancakes cut into dipping strips with a bowl of syrup on the side so when you serve them what you think is going to be a slam-dunk no-conflict breakfast, you discover in the amount of time it takes for your kids to inhale and start wailing that you have just literally murdered their dreams. And you have to make the choice between exerting the physical labor to whip up a second batch of pancakes, or exerting the emotional labor to either try to convince your child to eat the fucking pancakes OR to sit stone-faced at the table and try to ignore the screaming meltdown over the now-cold and soggy bite-sized pancake breakfast that you thought "sounded nice" only an hour earlier...

When mothers wake up in the morning, they know that they have better-than-even odds of breakfast being stressful enough to crack the Dalai Lama.

But I don't think it's just the kids - some family members are a lifetime of aggravation, too. So are house cats, small dogs, hemorrhoids, close-talkers, bus pervs, sunny days when you forget your sunglasses, and birds that fall under the "rats with wings" genus.

There's more to it than just "I have kids now."

These women feel afraid of their anger - it's powerful, uncontrollable, shameful, and happens all the time, or at least a lot more than it ever used to. (Wait, am I describing anger or adult-onset lactose intolerance?)

No, but seriously, for so many of us our anger swims up to the surface, this muscular, toothy, invisible threat, and it just lives there. It happens as we become parents. But it's not just the kids.

Part III. The Pain

The experience of becoming a mother is transformative - at first I typed the word "traumatic," but then I remembered that some people don't consider becoming a parent "traumatic." But most of us can agree that becoming a parent is transformative.

Transformation is a two-part process:
First, destruction.
Second, creation.

Transformative experiences necessarily require either partial or complete death of your previous self.
The caterpillar gets got in order to grow wings, and you know growing wings has got to hurt.

Grief is a factor.  Fear is a factor. Uncertainty is a factor. You've never been this thing before.

There is pain in transformation and I'm not just talking about the stitches in your lady grundle.
There is pain in becoming a parent and I'm not just talking about physical pain (although you haven't lived/barfed until someone takes a running leap and lands knees-first in your crotch.)

There is cataclysmic emotional pain in becoming a parent.

If you're already a parent, I'm guessing you can relate to many if not most of these experiences:

- seeing people leave the house with only a wallet in their hands and feeling crushed by the logistical and material burden of your baby

- "liking" pictures of your college friends on a bike trip through France at 2:00 am while the baby nurses and you smell like milk and B.O.

- performing the Heimlich maneuver on your silent, open-mouthed child

- watching your child approach another child on the playground, ask "Can I play?" and get rejected

- trying to answer the question, "Will you ever die, Mommy?"

- looking across the table at your partner and realizing you have no idea what he does at work all day

- looking in the mirror at yourself and thinking, "damn, I've gotta get a membership to... something. A smoothie service. Or Barre. Or... church..."

- catching a look that passed between two other parents, about your kid

- making small talk at a social function and answering the question, "So what do you do?" and seeing the other person's face glaze over as he/she looks for a more interesting person to talk to

If you're not yet a parent consider this your warning: you WILL have an existential crisis at some point during the child's first year.  You WILL be devastated by the irreversible passage of time. You WILL grieve the life you used to have, and you will come to accept that it will never be resurrected.

You WILL be wounded when the love that you have for your baby cracks open and blooms into the love you have for your toddler which is gorgeous but grown from the wound where you cracked, nevertheless.

Sometimes you'll look at your child and want to cry because you love him so fucking much and know the person he was is gone, and you know this person will be gone soon too, and before you know it he'll be jerking off in the good towels and hiding his bong in a hollow hardback Wizard of Oz, and you'll look at him that day and want to cry because you love him so fucking much and you know the person he was is gone, and you know this person will be gone soon too and sometimes you'll go into his empty room and smell his pillow because your heart is just fucking broken open with so much fucking love... it's painful, okay?

It hurts to love them so much.

That pain is new to parents. Maybe that pain, and the new triggers of whining sounds and shit smells and someone always touching you and soaring to new heights of exposure to other people's bodily fluids, maybe that's enough to jack us up into unprecedented rage.

But I think there might be even more. See, the anger doesn't feel new. Not to me.

It feels as old as I am. It feels like it's always been there.

PART IV: The Other Pain
these are actually not that bad
you know
for a shoe that completely distorts
both the shape of a human foot
and the way a body was meant to move through space
they're super cute

There is pain in the daily experience of being female.

Keep reading, gents. This one is going feminist and you have to get on board the train or...  nope, actually, there is no "or. " You have to get on board the train.

There is pain in being a sexual object before you are sexually empowered. Think of baby turtles in the vast ocean - soft, tasty morsels without the hard shells they'll need to survive. There's pain in being catcalled as a child, in being shunned by other girls for growing breasts before they do, in smiling at disgusting jokes because the other option is to start a fight with someone bigger and louder than you are. There is pain in knowing your relative size, and weakness.

You know the conventional wisdom that tells you, knowingly, that "the first time hurts a little"? Translation: there is pain in sex. There is pain in being the one who MUST go to Planned Parenthood for birth control or the morning-after pill (whereas your partner can go to Planned Parenthood or Taco Bell, either's good, because whether he puts a penis, Plan B, or a Gordita Baja in his body, Josh is not going to find himself ticking off days in his calendar in 3 weeks, wondering if he will still be able to graduate college.)

There is pain in trying to be seen as an equal. There is pain in not being called on in class. There is pain in knowing that you have to try. There's pain in going to a church where only men stand as elders, in looking around at all the women in the pews. There's pain in speaking to men and seeing yourself ignored. There is pain when someone meets my husband and me and shakes his hand but not mine.

I can only speak to my experience of being a girl and a woman, but I can tell you that I was made to feel most valuable when I was pleasing, easy, sparkling and inconsequential.

What the world most values about me is at odds with what I most value about myself, and there is deep pain in that. Because it means that either the world and the people I love in the world are wrong (which is scary and lonely) or I am wrong (which is the definition of shame.)

Consider how much pain there is, even in this woman's first-world life - honestly, a few sketchy hookups and shitty microaggressions here and there do not make me Malala.

And then consider the woman you are, the women you love, the woman you're raising. She hurts too. These things and others like them hurt her. We are in pain. Even if we brush it off or minimize it because we're not "whiners" or into "playing the victim," we are in pain.

Part V: The Trigger

Remember the formula for anger - pain, trigger. It's easy to recognize that formula in the demands of a regular day - everyday pain, everyday triggers:

I have to pee, then he whines for milk.
My back hurts, then the pot boils over.
I look at myself in the mirror and I look like shit, then a full bowl of cereal drops off the edge of the table.

But what about the bigger pain - the chronic pain of love, the deep pain of mismatching your world?

Are there bigger triggers to match this bigger, deeper pain? Is that what causes the flood?

A trigger works by giving you permission to express - literally, to push out - the feelings that have been churning inside. What if simply becoming a parent - the experience of cracking open both literally and figuratively - was the trigger that cracked open your own lifetime of pain, and the lifetime of pain you know is coming, as you watch your child grow up and transform - destruction, creation, destruction, creation... until the end.

I TOLD you that you'd have an existential crisis.

So that's my hypothesis and I'm going to rewrite it without the question marks:

We struggle with anger (which consists of both pain and a trigger) when we become parents for two primary reasons: first, because parenthood is intrinsically painful and exhausting in everyday ways, and it depletes our ability to control our emotional responses; and more broadly, because parents are complete human beings who bring a lifetime of pain into the experience of parenting, and because becoming a parent is uniquely transformative, painful, and is in itself a profoundly powerful trigger for the full expression of emotions, both joyful and terrible, which makes it really fucking hard to smile at bullshit anymore.


This is one backseat blogger's opinion, based on one pretty sweet workbook and the self-awareness that can only be achieved with the combination of a lifetime of therapy and a theatre degree.

This made sense to me.

I just had the strangest instinct to end this post with the words "I love you."
I guess, if you read this far, I do.

(ugh sorry hippie alert)


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