You might expect temper tantrums from your toddler, but explosive anger outbursts can sometimes brew up in moms, too.
Picture this: It’s somewhere around 3 a.m. and you just laid down to go to sleep when your tiny, barely 2-week-old newborn started crying.
You know you’re too tired to go get your child a bottle, and your partner promised to help. So, you wake your partner up and ask them to feed the baby. But instead of getting up, they just mutter, “5 more minutes,” and roll back over.
How would you feel?
Well, if you’re a mom experiencing “mom rage,” you’d probably be livid. And you might not be able to hide your anger much better than a toddler can when you tell them they can’t have more candy, even if you are generally a calm person.
Cue the cabinet slamming, yelling, or stomping around the room as you let your partner know just how upset you are.
Because that’s the thing about mom rage: It’s a kind of seething — but also surprising — rage that can feel very difficult to control. And it can be set off by the smallest of things.
A note on gendered language
Rage and anger outbursts can occur for any parent, regardless of gender identity. For the purposes of this article, we use the word “mom” based on the language within the data researched and the personal experiences of mothers, as well as to highlight some of the external factors that commonly affect the mental health of maternal figures.
Mom rage, which is sometimes also called “maternal anger” or “maternal rage,” isn’t an official psychological diagnosis. Rather, mom rage is a name given to a common and very real feeling of intense anger or rage many moms and parents may sometimes feel.
“Mom rage is a phenomenon in which moms experience intense anger that is unexplained, intense, and often very disruptive to their daily life,” explains Carli Blau, a psychotherapist certified in perinatal mental health from New York.
While mom rage can be tough to experience, you can learn how to cope and care for yourself so it doesn’t become an issue.
Mom rage can feel different for everyone. But in general, mom rage is intense or explosive anger that often feels distinct from other types of anger or rage.
This distinction commonly stems from feeling out of control, explains Sheina Schochet, a licensed therapist in New York who works with new parents.
‘Out of character’ outbursts and snapping
When mom rage strikes, you may say or do things that feel out of character with the person and parent who you are or want to be. Outbursts of mom rage can be directed at your child or partner, or at no one in particular.
“[Moms] might shout until they’re blue in the face, feel like they’re about to burst, or feel a massive rush of madness that catches them by surprise,” Schochet continues.
In general, mom rage isn’t typically a one-off event, either. Instead, it’s a persistent or chronic feeling that can linger under the surface, making you feel on edge or prone to snapping, yelling, or screaming at the slightest provocation.
Everyday things can turn into a trigger for mom rage — like your baby taking a shorter nap, a toddler throwing food, or your 7-year-old making strange or silly noises.
“Every little thing feels not-so-little and everything is a trigger,” says Ellen Kolomeyer, a perinatal mental health specialist from Florida. “It can feel like your skin is crawling, like you have a bubbling anger inside, and you just want to scream at everyone and run away,” she adds.
Who develops mom rage?
“It often takes moms by surprise because their once cool, calm, and collected personality seems to have disappeared,” says Annia Palacios, a professional counselor licensed in Texas and Florida who works with moms.
Guilt and shame
You might blame yourself for being “that mom” who yells at your kids, or you may not even recognize yourself.
“Mom rage can feel like an out-of-body experience. It’s like we are watching ourselves yell at our kids, but that doesn’t feel like me,” Palacios explains.
There isn’t just one cause of mom rage. Instead, there may be a range of factors that can contribute to these angry feelings.
Anxiety and overwhelm
Feelings of anxiety and overwhelm can play a major role in developing mom rage.
“Mom rage is often not an anger problem, but an anxiety problem,” says Palacios.
For example, mom rage became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Many parents had to transition to working from home — often while simultaneously homeschooling. Meanwhile, parents may have been concerned with potential layoffs, economic hardships, and the very real fear of illness.
Lack of support
Mom rage may also signal gaps in support systems, including from:
- family and loved ones
- society as a whole
“In a world where we don’t always live near family or have additional supports, coupled with trying to balance work, childcare, and self-care, parenting can be altogether overwhelming,” says Alisa Kamis-Brinda, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in perinatal depression and anxiety from Pennsylvania.
Parenthood is a tough job. And even in today’s world, the bulk of labor and responsibilities necessary for running a household and raising kids often still falls on the female-identified parent.
According to a 2017 study, even when moms are the primary breadwinners in their family, they still may be three times more likely than their partners to bear the mental load of raising a family, including:
- managing family finances
- extracurricular and school activities
- home maintenance
- organizing family vacations or gatherings
- staying home when their kids are sick
- volunteering at school
Having children and becoming a parent may cause you to grieve your former self, an experience of grief and loss that is not often openly discussed.
Becoming a parent can change you in ways that feel extreme and permanent. After having kids, you may feel as though you’re not the person you were before, which can trigger the need for self-discovery many busy parents don’t always have time to consider or explore.
“Moms meet a whole new person in their baby, and also in the person they become as a parent,” psychotherapist Carli Blau says.
Blau notes that this form of grief for the former self is often “profound,” and has noted it as a major source of mom rage in her practice.
Mom rage can be complex, and may be caused by a combination of many factors, such as:
Mom rage can also sometimes be a sign of an underlying mental health condition, such as postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety — two conditions where anger and irritability are key symptoms.
However, these conditions usually co-occur with mom rage, rather than being the cause of it on their own, says Blau.
When left untreated, mom rage can affect your children, family, and relationship with your partner.
Impacts on children
Kids who witness outbursts of mom rage often feel the stress their parent is under. They might feel afraid or even responsible for their mom’s emotions and behavior.
Fear can impact babies and children as they grow up, especially if it’s persistent. According to a 2010 paper, chronic exposure to fear can disrupt child development, which may have lasting consequences into adulthood.
Over time, this feeling of unease and stress can alter children, potentially impacting their:
- feelings of safety
- coping skills
- future relationships
“Kids are constant observers and they pick up on everything,” explains Palacios. In essence, kids are little “sponges” absorbing emotional regulation and behavior skills from their parents.
Watching outbursts of anger or rage may model undesirable behaviors for children on how to manage stress and difficult emotions, which can lead to:
- emotional and behavioral problems
- attachment and relationship issues
- repeating their parent’s behavior, such as yelling
- becoming overly compliant and afraid to “rock the boat”
Impact on your partner and relationship
Mom rage can also create emotional distance from your partner.
Feeling overwhelmed with the load of parenthood can trigger mom rage, which might create resentment and cause you to pull away from your partner.
If you feel resentment building, clearly communicating your need for extra support can be essential. Setting aside time away from your kids to do things you both enjoy as a couple can also help build your “emotional bank account,” which can help with feelings of disconnection, adds Schochet.
Speaking with a couples counselor, as well as individual therapy, can also be helpful in addressing resentment and disconnection in your partnership.
Mom rage — and the accompanying guilt that frequently follows it — can be managed with the right approach.
Treatment options for dealing with mom rage often include a combination of:
Talking to a doctor or therapist is a great first step to coping with mom rage, especially if it’s impacting your kids, family, or quality of life.
Psychotherapy is often a first-line treatment for issues like mom rage and can help you:
- acknowledge anger and rage
- anticipate triggers
- learn skills to cope or redirect intense feelings
To address mom rage, a therapist might work with you on:
Moms often feel shame and guilt alongside mom rage. “Many are afraid to admit their mom rage out loud,” says Palacios. “Working with a therapist can help moms feel seen, heard, and understood — often for the first time.”
Mom rage can often be a sign that your own needs aren’t getting met.
Parenting is tough and sometimes leaves you with little time for yourself. But Kamis-Brinda says, it’s important to address the self-care basics, such as:
- getting enough sleep
- eating nutritious foods
- exercising, even lightly, like going for a walk
- finding time for activities you enjoy
Practicing coping skills for anxiety can also be helpful, explains Palacios.
“A quick timeout to the bathroom to shake out your body, take a few deep breaths, and unclench your jaw can be helpful,” she adds.
Getting enough sleep
Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling depleted, emotionally and physically, and may be a key factor in mom rage.
“Revenge bedtime procrastination,” the habit of sacrificing sleep time for personal time, might also be driven by a lack of free time for self-care.
“It can be so tempting to sit and scroll on your phone or watch TV late into the night when you finally have some peace and quiet,” says Palacios. “I get it.”
However, sleep is critical, especially for busy parents. So, if you find yourself feeling exhausted and short-fused frequently, try avoiding revenge bedtime procrastination.
Consider taking steps to practice healthy sleep hygiene habits to get to bed a little earlier each night.
Set boundaries and ask for help
Setting boundaries and asking for support can be vital to coping with stress, overwhelm, and burnout, which can all lead to mom rage.
Even if you can’t eliminate every stressor, boundaries and support systems can safeguard parents from excessive stress, explains Schochet.
Consider talking to your partner and your family to let them know what you need for your own mental health.
“We can also develop support plans to help a mom or parent feel supported so they don’t have to feel so angry,” says Blau.
Medications can only be prescribed by a doctor. Following the medication guidelines in your treatment plan is vital to helping you cope and bringing relief.
Mom rage can lead to outbursts of intense anger and rage that can make you feel like you’ve lost control of yourself. You may not recognize yourself, or you could feel like a different person entirely — one you might not like all that much.
Feelings of guilt and shame often follow mom rage, which can lead to depression if unaddressed. But remember, “experiencing mom rage doesn’t make you a bad mom,” says Blau.
Dealing with mom rage might signify that your own needs aren’t being met, or that you need more support. Sometimes, conditions like postpartum depression or anxiety can co-occur with mom rage.
However, there are ways to cope with mom rage and help is available.
Consider speaking with a therapist or doctor, especially one with experience treating parents. If you’re unsure where to find a therapist, check out our guide to finding mental healthcare.
Some parents may also find it helpful to seek out group therapy or parent groups.
Postpartum Support International is also a great place to check out for its directory of therapists, support groups, and informational resources.