Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Does my anger make me a bad mother?

This is not an easy one to write. Anger is a bad thing, right? And anger and women is very bad; she historically was labelled as hysterical and out of control on the brink of insanity who needs straightjacketing. A dominant message for a woman seems to be 'be nice, smile and get on with it'. 

Of course we feel the anger. And I wonder, how and where does it get expressed? What's the damage and cost of the silent simmering anger cum rage? 

Man and anger is not unfamiliar and the display of public aggression is a common occurrence. It seems that they are allowed, from childhood onwards to express, bash, destroy and thrash - the response mostly is a shrugging of the shoulders with a comment along the line of 'oh it's a boy - oh it's a man thing'.

Two examples of male aggression:
1) When I was laying in the hospital bed after the birth of my twin girls I was suddenly feeling very alert, pricking my ears as my heartbeat quickened. What was this noise? I was feeling alarmed and slightly scared. It sounded like a collective roar of voices and for a moment I was convinced war had broken out. I went to the window to see and guess what, it was men playing football!
2) The other week it was school sports day and at the end the parents get to run too, of course women and men separated (why??). I swear I have never ever seen anything like it when the men were running. It felt like they were running for life, that winning was a matter of life and death. Eyes were bulging, bodies were thrusting forward. Momentarily their raw energy and resolve made the air shiver as if a herd of wild animals had just run by. There was definitely aggression in there. And ok some women took it equally seriously but for the most part the women had fun, didn't mind looking ridiculous and it was mostly boobs bobbing up and down!

At least this is a manifestation of anger/aggression of a type of man that seems perfectly acceptable. 

My anger the other day manifested in the morning when first the baby wouldn't eat and I felt frustrated and let vent by letting out some guttural sound like 'aaahhhrgggg'. He didn't seem to be bothered and I managed to feed him in the end but I noticed the girls eying me suspiciously. The next one, and that's the one I would usually feel ashamed and not talk about, was when we got to the usual hair-style discussions that go on every morning these days. The hair style is a big thing at the moment, taken to a real heights the other day by the girls mentioning another girl at school who was wearing a real flower in her hair! (It was probably fake!) One of my daughters asked me to do a hair-style and after it was done, she decided she didn't like it pulled it all apart and blamed me for not understanding her instructions. I lost it - I shouted at her, she started crying and said stop shouting and I then walked away from her throwing the hairbrush on the floor, which broke in two. I felt immediately pretty stupid, and ashamed.

I told my husband in the evening and he said that breaking the brush wasn't such a bad thing but that he found it interesting that I didn't express my anger directly towards her rather than channeling it through an object. Maybe he has a point. 

Perhaps it is more acceptable for men to show anger and aggression directly and we women are expected not to and therefore go on a detour to express it?

These days I feel a lot of anger and frustration and I notice that it feels like a problematic thing. Many women report anger and rage in the premenstrual period and I am similar there. Again I wonder why it's regarded as such a bad thing. I know that any display of anger of a mother with child makes people around go quiet and everybody retreats embarrassed, pretending that it's not happening. A lot of mothers admit and say 'oh I have been shouting again this morning'. But there rarely seems a display of that publicly. If it is, like the other day in the park, I noticed that there was an us and them narrative going on whereby she was this bad mother from the housing estate and we were these proper educated good mums definitely not from the housing estate! 

Perhaps this undercurrent of fear is bubbling away under the surface for all of us where we are terrified that someone will judge and label us as a bad mother. I know I do. Yet it is vital I feel that my children, perhaps particularly my girls because of the socialization of gender, get that anger is a normal emotion. Of course we don't want to be destructive and we don't want to hurt someone (although in relationships that's sometimes inevitable, we are not saints) but I want my children to know that why I feel angry and realise that they have an impact on me. Equally I would like them to be able to express their anger and not eat it! 

Ultimately perhaps it is about need. So often I find we women are afraid to ask for what we need and want and the anger simmers away until it finds a trigger and we explode. 

So maybe, forget about the good and bad mother, it's a construct anyway, and try and tune into what I need and express my feelings when that need is not met, there and then, not tomorrow. Then perhaps the anger does not have to become rage and hate but can be expressed as a positive catalyst for change!

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