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Mothers of rage don’t speak


I start working with a life coach. He assigns me a section of Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence”. Goleman cites the work of University of Alabama psychologist Dolf Zillmann, who discovered that the physiological effects of rabies can last for days and that rabies builds on rabies. Repeated aggravations – “a provocation sequence” – can greatly increase anger, so that on the third or fourth rage trigger, the person reacts at level 10 in response to a misplaced key or dropped spoon.

The example used by Goleman is (wait for it!) a mother in a grocery store with a 3-year-old child and a baby. The 3-year-old begs his mother to buy things, takes food off the shelves and doesn’t listen when she orders him to put it back. Then the baby drops a jar of jam, which shatters on the floor. The mother explodes: screams, slaps the baby, slams the cereal box and angrily zigzags the cart towards the exit.

Of course, Goleman chose this story to illustrate Zillmann’s “streak of provocations.” Maternity is an implacable provocation! And yet, we are expected to be holy and patient, to hold and care for our babies with love, even in the most difficult times. Dwelling so serenely in the state that Anne Lamott calls “the myth of motherly bliss” that we don’t shout or curse, and we certainly don’t become enraged or violent.

Looking for help, I join a 12 week anger management group for mothers. The facilitator encourages us to add “tools” to our “toolboxes”. We practice deep breathing one nostril at a time, and read about “happy parenting.” The most important part, for me, is the mirror provided by the circle of tired and sad mothers. A woman is divorced. One has a toddler at home and a 3 month old baby at the breast. Only one participant is dad; apparently there is no class for raging dads. Another mother admits she wants to throw her child across the room, and the rest of us forgave her before she finished her sentence. We all nod, as our bodies flood with relief that the rage hasn’t isolated us.

Couples therapy, individualized therapy, life coaching, mothers’ anger management — I worked on my maternal rage. I haven’t found the golden ticket to serenity yet, but I’ve noticed that when I get to exercise, art, and healthy eating, I have a bigger fuse. long. In toolbox lingo: these things fill my cup of patience. Unfortunately, as a working mom with a small child, I don’t swim in my spare time, and cooking, running, and unpaid hobbies often fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

I try, however. And failed. And sometimes successful. I count every little victory — today i got angry and clenched my fists but kept my voice very calm! Every day I start over: breathing in his sweet little boy scent when he slips into our bed and I wrap my arms around him, enveloping his body with mine; and at the end of the day, whispering to me, “Don’t touch him, don’t touch him, don’t touch him.”

[“I’d like to melt down when my kids do,” writes one mom. Read how she keeps it together.]


Bay Area writer, public artist and performer Minna Dubin is working on a collection of essays on motherhood.

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