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Mom rage while managing parenting and work.

Have you ever wondered what a therapy session about Mom Rage looks like? Here’s a peek inside… and you might be surprised to know, it’s not just breathing exercises and affirmations! 

On Monday morning, my first client of the day, Emily, sunk into my sofa, looking deflated. “I just don’t feel like myself,” she said. 

I looked at her, signalling with my eyes for her to continue.

“I am such a grump these days at home. I lost it over the weekend with the kids when they weren’t listening to me at bedtime. And my husband receives the brunt of it. I partially feel bad for him…but if I’m being honest, I want to punish him.”

“Punish him for…?”

“For getting to do whatever the f— he wants. He plays tennis. He goes out with his friends. I even heard him planning a kayak trip!” 

“And what’s the worst part about all of that?” I asked her. 

“It’s not fair! If I did these things, my kids would revolt. I can barely go to the bathroom without them, and they hate it when I go out, even for a couple of hours. And they do need me…I am at work all day.”

“You feel torn, I get it. When you’re not working, you feel that you owe your complete presence to everyone. And you want to give that. And sometimes you hit a wall. You have needs accumulating that keep getting pushed aside, or bargained away, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of guilt, and sometimes because you don’t even notice they exist at all!”

“I have needs?!” Emily scoffed. “Sure, okay. But who has time for that? Plus, I don’t deserve to complain. I’m privileged enough to afford daycare, have a home, and a partner who contributes, even if it’s imperfectly. I should just be grateful.”

“Emily, gratitude is important in times of struggle, yes. And, I’m curious. Does it cost you and your family in other ways when you dismiss your needs?”

Is burnout the cost of trying to be Supermom?

We’ll stop here. Burnout, husband-hating, mom guilt…do you identify at all with these struggles? If so, I’d encourage you to answer that question, too: “Does it cost you and your family in other ways when you dismiss your needs?”

Have you been feeling chronically irritable, and blaming it on the difficult kids, the messy house, the inattentive husband? When we have reactions that seem outsized or out of control, we often are longing for something we need and want but are currently not getting enough of. 

I’m gonna put two truths out there. The first is, your needs absolutely deserve to get met. The other truth is, ain’t nobody gonna roll out the red carpet for you so that you can head out the door to go meet your needs. 

This is why a significant part of counselling for overwhelmed moms, and especially counselling for mom rage, involves helping women address the internal and external barriers that run interference when we try to practise meaningful self-care.

By being aware of the needs that are not being adequately met, you can take responsible action. You can prioritise yourself when possible, set boundaries, and communicate your needs to the important people in your life. 

If it didn’t occur to you to link your current behaviour to your unmet needs – well, let’s just say, you can be forgiven. The suppression and dismissal of our own needs at the expense of being the best (or perfect) mother starts even before our babies are born

Do you routinely say yes to something, even when you are exhausted? Yup, me too. Do you say, “it’s okay, I’ll do it,” even when it takes you away from something else that you actually want to do? Been there! 

Now, let me ask you this, and I want you to seriously reflect on this question: do you tell yourself a story that nobody else other than you is capable of carrying the mental load of emotional and physical labour involved in keeping the family going? Well, the jig is up, because if you keep going like you’re going, your over-functioning might turn into a repetitive strain injury called burnout.

Burnout causes a resentful feeling to creep in, even – maybe especially – as you are in the midst of caretaking and parenting. After a while, resentment has a way of off-gassing into your communication with your family. Maybe it’s in the form of passive aggressiveness, maybe it’s in grumpiness and irritability, and sometimes, we just nap in a full blown mom rage explosion. 

Addressing Unmet Needs = Real Self-Care

Our children and families have so many needs, and their needs often feel higher stakes than our own. And sometimes they are – and sometimes, they’re not. If you automatically suppress too many of your own needs to care for the needs of others around you, you might be setting yourself up for burnout and exhaustion. 

If it’s helpful, you can think of your needs as existing in four broad categories: Physical, Relational, Esteem, and Purpose (PREP).

Physical needs include: 

  • food
  • sleep 
  • rest/downtime 
  • exercise
  • safety and security

Our Relational needs can be:

  • connection
  • help/support
  • love
  • belonging
  • friendship
  • affection
  • intimacy/sex/romance

Esteem needs refer to our need to be:

  • valued
  • respected
  • listened to
  • appreciated
  • recognised for accomplishments
  • independent
  • confident

Finally, Purpose needs refer to our need to have outlets for:

  • meaningful pursuits
  • interesting work
  • creative outlets
  • intellectual stimulation 
  • spiritual connection
  • connection to a greater movement

We are pretty good at identifying when we’re feeling off, and not always the greatest at getting specific about what we are missing, and when and how to meet these needs.

So, that all sounds good – but if you’ve spent years on autopilot, how do you begin to know what you need? 

How to figure out what you need when you’re on autopilot

Here’s how to start. When you notice yourself being grumpy, or vibrating with resentment, or about to lose it: pause. Put your hand on your heart – this is a gesture of care towards yourself. Ask yourself:’ what do I need right now?’ Another way of asking: “What am I longing for?” Your first response might be something like: “I need to go to Mexico all by myself!” Work with that. Keep going. What would that solo tropical vacay provide you with? Maybe it becomes “I need someone else to make decisions for me” and that becomes, “I need to share the mental load more, and not tackle every decision on my own.” or it might be  “I need more pleasure and fun in my life!” You’ll want to keep going until you arrive at a core need that is irrefutable. From there, we can look at the smallest step you can take to start meeting that need. 

Next, ask yourself: whose responsibility is it to meet this need? For example, consider the common refrain “I need more respect.” I bet you do! But whose responsibility is that? You can certainly ask your still developing child, or preoccupied husband to give you more respect, and I actually encourage everyone to have regular conversations about respect with their loved ones, but for the purpose of this lesson, we are focusing on you taking responsibility for recognising your needs. So “I need more respect” might be “I need better boundaries” or “I need to respond effectively when I am being mistreated.” or “I need to stop bending over backwards for the people who are disrespecting me.”

Your needs also require a when. When can I meet that need? I need rest: when should I go to bed at night? I need more quality conversations in my life, when can I book a date with my partner or my bestie. I need time alone, when should I block off my calendar and turn my phone to ‘do not disturb’? Needs require time and time is a scarce resource. Needs and your calendar are a match made in heaven 🫶

Lastly, I want you to consider the difference between meeting these needs through indulgence versus nourishment. For example, going shopping when you’re feeling down, having a cocktail when you need to relax, booking a facial when you’re feeling like a boost. These are all very enjoyable, and there is nothing wrong with a bit of indulgence. But indulgence has a very short half life. The other option is nourishment. You’re playing the long game. Having boundaries in place that mean you get to bed early. Having a weekly night off of bedtime duty so that you can go for a walk with a friend. Deepening a skill that you have a knack for. Having frank, solution-focused conversations with your partner about how to address the mental load placed on you.

Ask for help. Then, ask for more help.

It takes some time to drill down to these needs, and the best way to get there is by practising all the time and asking for help. Asking for the support of those around you so that you can rest, exercise, feel good, get work done, and spend time with people who you cherish should be part of the price of admission to motherhood, not a guilty pleasure. The therapists in our Vancouver counselling practice provide therapy for moms (and dads!) who are struggling with care fatigue, burnout, and mom rage. We see the human beneath the explosiveness, and we help you take care of you, so that you can show up in a more grounded and effective way with your family – even in the chaos!

Trying to make a dent in your burnout, but not sure where to start? Let us help you! Check out Rage to Resilience: A 10-Week Program for Overwhelmed Moms. This hybrid program combines individual therapy with video modules and actionable homework tasks that will provide you with the skills and support to stay grounded, set boundaries, and treat yourself kindly.

About the Author:

Elana Sures is the owner of Open Space Counselling. She has a Masters degree in Counselling Psychology from UBC (2005) and is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and an Accredited Clinical Supervisor with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. Elana is a go-to expert on the psychological experiences of female high achievers.