It was 5pm, in the kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon. I emitted a roar so thunderous that my toddler wailed and my sons abandoned the television's glare to investigate. Next appeared my husband, clutching an open laptop whilst swiftly cutting off a colleague mid-sentence.
Eyes watched in confusion as I visibly shook next to a mound of pesto pasta that seconds before I'd envisioned hurling against the wall. Heart galloping and adrenaline searing through my veins, I left the room and sank into the sofa crying shoulder-shuddering tears of failure.
I like to think of myself as a rational and nurturing individual. Yet this last year I've encountered rage like never before. It's visceral, gaining momentum emotionally and physically until I am out of energy to tether it. If I'm not able to diffuse it, it erupts, leaving collateral debris of tears and shame in its wake.
I am not alone. "I have never had as short a fuse as in this past year," admits a fellow mother. We all laugh and cry along with Anna Maxwell-Martin and her silent screams in Motherland, the BBC's unvarnished depiction of the traumas of motherhood, which has just returned for a third series.
While the internet is awash with humorous motherhood memes about losing our rag, our minds and our willpower not to succumb to 'wine o'clock' – not so funny following last week's news that for the first time, more British women are being treated for alcoholism than men.
I'm lifting the veil, because what we don't need is more of us mothers in shame and guilt. And in a recent social media poll of 6000 respondents, 93 per cent of UK mothers said they'd felt more rage and irritability in the last year than pre-pandemic.
It's time to start taking rage seriously and arming ourselves with tools to diffuse rather than repress it.
Rage is a symptom of parental burnout
We are a nation of burnt-out mothers. Burnout develops when we are forced to (or choose to) chronically deny our human-ness. We demote our own needs and overlook feelings in order to reserve what energy we can for those depending on us.
Ultimately, this sense of depletion often leads to rage. "I feel the irritability coming up my throat and if I don't compose myself, it floods out like fire," shared one mother.
Much like a filling bladder or an old student loan, needs and feelings do not dissipate when ignored, they grow in size and urgency. When our emotions and needs are chronically pushed down and repressed, the pressure builds and builds, mounting, when unaddressed, to an explosive release.
Being angry doesn't make you a bad mum
Rage is often portrayed as a masculine emotion. The loving, patient mother may be reduced to sobbing, but rarely do we witness red-raw rage. Though we are long past the days of overly emotional women being branded clinically "hysterical", there remains an unease in communicating the messier emotions of womanhood and motherhood, out of fear of being gaslit by the very people we turn to for support.
I am noticing, both in myself and other mothers, the strong drive to caveat anger and difficult emotions. An admission of rage, or finding something excruciatingly challenging is swiftly followed by a cascade of proclamations of love and gratitude for children. "It's overwhelming, but I wouldn't change it for the world/but I love them/but it's good too."
There is fear that the presence of anger drags love into immediate question – thus a need to reassure whoever is listening that we love our children. Love and anger can co-exist.
So many times have I spoken to women who've concealed the truth of their post-partum anxiety, the extent of their low moods, and the reality of their intrusive thoughts out of fear that their ability to love and mother would be questioned, that their child might be removed from their care.
Know your red flags
With practice and reprioritising, it's possible to avoid burnout before you find yourself sliding down the fridge, wondering how things got so bad.
Consider your red flags. One mother tells me she knows she needs rest when she no longer bothers to eat properly, and instead snacks all day on sugar. It may be apathy, exhaustion or irritability. You might struggle to make simple decisions or rationalise thoughts.
Perhaps your flag is a lack of desire to run a route you love, resentment for a family member who rests with ease, or feeling frozen as you open the laptop for work. Perhaps your flag is those nights adrenaline chases sleep out of reach, or a hypersensitivity to the normal sounds of your home.
To ignore burnout is to fuel the very issue itself.
Your emotional and physical resources are a currency that you spend on your family for the benefit of their collective wellbeing. Plan, strategies and diarise periods of space, rest and refuelling, whatever that may look like for you. Use what resources and support you have available to facilitate these things.
And remember, small things, whilst they may never feel "enough", are always better than nothing. They might enable you to find the strength to breathe your way through the next tantrum or curveball.
What to say to a child if you've snapped
If you feel the rage building, urgently prioritise calming your mind and body. Use a simple breathing exercise, step out of the room if appropriate. Switch on the TV for the children or hand out iPads like frisbees, delay dinner.
Scroll, call, text, read, stretch, pummel a pillow, walk; do whatever you need to in order to calm your nervous system so that you can re-access your rational brain again.
If rage has erupted, take a moment to recalibrate whilst offering yourself words of gentleness. When rage is followed with self-criticism and shame, you are less likely to attend to the overlooked needs that led to it. Claim responsibility and talk the episode through with your family or child in a way that allays any resulting fear or confusion.
I recently apologised to my 4-year-old for rage-fuelled snapping. "It's okay," said his little voice in reassurance. "Being tired and grumpy is okay," I said. "But shouting at you like that isn't okay. I am very tired and I am going to find a way to help me try and be patient next time."
We can affirm the validity of feelings whilst acknowledging that how you communicated it wasn't helpful.
Compassion ends the cycle
Just as those you care for, you are equally deserving of a life well-lived.
Acknowledging your needs isn't guilt-worthy indulgence, instead it forms the foundations upon which everything you love and enjoy can stand firm. Welcome the small things.
"I need to see my mum. We speak online, it's not the same but it gives me something," shares one mother. Whilst you may fantasise about a week on a sandy beach devoid of all responsibility, an evening out might not cut the mustard, but it's something. Cut corners, delegate, make space and lessen perfectionist standards where possible.
Seek friendship and support. Whilst someone may not be able to relieve you of stress, they can validate your feelings and offer vital compassion, lessening burnout-fuelling feelings of self-sufficiency. If you recognise that you spend life firmly sat on a seat of the burnout rollercoaster, seek professional support.
Us mothers need mothering, and where we cannot be mothered we must learn to mother ourselves. We must coax ourselves to bed at a good time, encourage ourselves to pick up the phone to a listening ear, to walk, to breathe deeply.
Sometimes I wonder if the raging mother-me who fantasises about throwing the pasta against the wall is simply the acting out of my inner child, who is angered and hurt at the injustice of being so chronically overlooked.
• Anna Mathur is a psychotherapist, author, speaker and mother of three.