It’s 8:00 a.m. on an otherwise forgettable Tuesday morning and I am incensed. It’s so cold that each little exhalation forms a little cloud in front of me. I’m dragging my five-year-old behind me while my one-year-old, strapped to my chest, screams.
Like some warped meditation practice, I revisit everything I accomplished in the past 60 minutes and on only four hours of sleep: I cooked breakfast, packed a lunch, tried to convince the oldest to eat said breakfast while the youngest threw food on the floor, dressed two children, undressed one child to change a poop-filled diaper, dressed him again, answered work emails, found a lost mitten and shoe, managed to put on clothes, signed a permission slip, scavenged for cash, and left for school on time. (All the while, my partner was seated on our couch, looking at his phone. He was tired and “needed a moment.”)
A car alarm yanks me from my anger spiral long enough for me to look up and see her—oh thank God, my rage friend.
“You’ll never believe the morning I had,” I tell her, skipping the “good morning” pleasantries.
“Try me,” she replies, pulling her own children behind her. “My oldest is being such an asshole.”
And for the first time that morning, I let out a grateful sigh.
Moms are furious. We live in the only industrialized nation without mandatory paid family leave, are paid less than our male counterparts, are still responsible for the majority of the household chores despite the fact that more of us than ever work outside the home, and are facing a rising maternal mortality rate, especially among black women, while conservative politicians work tirelessly to infringe on our bodily autonomy.
Our frustration is borne out of outdated gender roles and ongoing gender disparities. In a 2019 study of more than 6,000 moms, 61% of participants said they handle the majority of the household chores. Perhaps it’s no surprise that 99% of stay-at-home moms reported spending more time with their children than their partner does. But it is surprising, or at least it should be surprising, that a full 91% of working moms agreed. They spend the bulk of time with their children, despite the fact that they too have jobs.
We are right to be mad. I feel confident about that. But when we express our anger—hazardous for all women, and for mothers in particular—it tends to get a certain pop-cultural treatment. When suburban moms are enraged in movies or books, it’s about squabbles on the PTA or some perceived slight against our kids at school. For all the moms who helped turn the House of Representatives blue in 2018, there is still the sense that mothers have a single-minded focus on our children, and so friendship between moms is often depicted as superficial: We befriend the mothers of the children our own children like, the ones who make the same parenting decisions we do, the ones who despise the same moms we do. We compare latte orders.
If it were up to Mad Men to tell it, we’d all be toxic Betty Drapers, smoking cigarettes, shooting our neighbors’ birds. If it were up to Big Little Lies, most of us would loathe each other—ideally, there’d be no murder.
But I’m rarely angry at other moms—I’m angry with them.
“A lot of our venting has to do with our partners and how much we’re doing,” Shauna, 35, a working mom of four in Seattle tells me. “And it’s not about wanting to compete with our husbands over who does more, but more of just needing help and wanting them to be proactive and trying to help versus us having to nag and ask for help at a point where we’re already so burnt out.”
“My best friend [and I] just find a lot of relief in just airing it out, instead of harboring it inside and lashing out at whoever is around because we’re irritated about it,” she continues.
Shauna estimates there are four women in her friend group with whom she feels comfortable raging. (“I know with some friends, if I went off like that, they’d be like, ‘Why are you guys married? Maybe you should go to counseling?’”) The goal isn’t to find a solution to a particular issue but to simply revel in the unmitigated pleasure of free-flowing ire. A 2017 study found that venting can be positive for one’s mental health, promotes bonding, and allows for catharsis. So sure, some people do need a new husband. But everyone—including men—should have a healthy outlet.
“It gives me a sense of validation,” Shauna says. “I remember that it’s okay to be angry about some of these things and it’s okay to feel frustrated.”
Of course, some people are in a better position to hear your venting than others. Your child, for example? Not the best person to accommodate your fury. But a rage friend? She’s indispensable. Carly Snyder, M.D., a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist practicing in New York City, notes that anger “is a normal reaction to events,” and one that’s better off expressed than bottled up. “We can’t rationalize with kids. So being a mom—until your child is 18, frankly, can be rather frustrating.” That frustration, she adds, “has to go somewhere.”
The friends we can express that rage with are the smash room, personified—a contained, sacred space to vent that’s at a safe remove from our children, partners, and breaking news alerts.
“Every person should have their own space, and one of the reasons for a growing anger is because a lot of moms lose that with motherhood,” Snyder says. (In a 2018 survey of 2,000 mothers, researchers calculated that moms have on average only 32 minutes a day to themselves.)
And while finding time and space for oneself is important, the isolation of motherhood can and often does leave us desperate for a community where we can have unfettered, judgment-free conversations with people who get what we’re going through. “Regaining that [shared space] imperative,” Snyder says, “regaining that personal space, in part, allows for a regaining of a sense of self and a regaining of your identity, and that’s important.”
Laura, 31, a mom to an 18-month-old and a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, has become adept at keeping her anger inside. Her husband, a lawyer, works long hours, so she takes care of the vast majority of child-rearing duties. She says she vents to a select group of mom friends once a week, but should probably “do it more.”
“Generally, as a mom, it’s kind of easy to isolate yourself and just sink into whatever is bothering you and think about it and let it stew,” she says. “So I definitely try to do it once a week when something is really bothering me or I just feel like I’m drowning. And it always really helps.”
For Laura, the ability to vent isn’t just emotionally beneficial but physically imperative. “I have always had a sleep-talking and sleepwalking problem, and at times when I’m holding things in, I’ll have more sleep disruptions—I’ll yell at night or I’ll sleepwalk,” she says. “So it’s very important to me to have a way to express my anger without being judged, without being told my feelings are wrong or that I’m ungrateful or that something is wrong with me because that doesn’t solve the problem.”
But women’s candor isn’t always met with acceptance, especially when it comes from mothers who are being honest about their partners and children. “I worry about vocalizing being frustrated because I get the ‘Well, it’s your choice to have four kids,’” Shauna says. “And I do think about that sometimes—there are people who’d kill for the situation I’m in, so I need to be grateful for what I have. So I try to keep that mind-set, but at the same time it shouldn’t prevent me from feeling frustrated or venting.”
“I think it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are—motherhood is still really, really hard,” Laura says. “Growing up, some of my family would say that anger was ‘unladylike,’ and now I think that’s the most toxic thing you could ever say...and it’s also not true. Everybody has the capacity for anger, so why is it that moms are expected to suppress it? Everybody needs a way to get it out.”
Plus, mom rage can be productive. Moms aren’t just enjoying a weekly (or daily) bitching session, then folding another load of laundry or rushing to another drop-off; we’re running for office, voting in local, state, and federal elections, and staying politically active to ensure our anger becomes a catalyst for institutional change—change that would make it easier to raise children in a country that has historically and perpetually failed families, especially black families and families of color.
“There’s really such sisterhood in anger,” Jamie, 37, a mom of two and writer living in Connecticut, says. “I feel like so often our anger is turned against us in these totally manufactured ways.”
For Jamie, who says the majority of her mom friends are online, raging about the current political climate is cathartic, motivating, and an important release that gives her space both apart from her children and to envision a better future for them.
“It’s nice to rage with anyone about politics, but to specifically have moms—because I feel like they’re angry about it in the precise way I’m angry about it a lot of the time—to rage with is really, really nice,” she says.
Jamie says she talks to her mom friends about everything from climate change to the Iran conflict, the ongoing wars the United States is already involved in, and abortion rights at least once a day, every day.
“Being able to talk to somebody about it through the lens of motherhood—what about the long-term ramifications of this?—is cathartic,” she says. “It helps to know that you’re not alone and there are other people who care about this. It helps me remain politically active because, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I feel like you can engage somebody via motherhood.”
The collective and righteous anger of American moms was felt during the 2018 midterm elections, when a record number of moms were elected to Congress. As a result, the first-ever Moms in the House caucus was created, where moms on both sides of the aisle (21 Democrats and four Republicans) can, as Representative Debbie Waserman Shultz told the Washington Post, not only “be [in] support of one another but also to help each other be successful, to use it as a way for us to advance an agenda and collect our power, to move things forward.”
It took one block of relentless bitching before my simmering frustration abated. My friend softened too.
Very few things in life are certain, particularly when it comes to parenthood, but one thing I know for sure is that another moment will present itself that will leave me indignant. And in that unavoidable moment—my one-year-old throwing a toy directly on my big toe, my five-year-old screaming that he hates me because, yes, one must wear pants to school, another anti-abortion bill forcing—I will know just who to call.
Danielle Campoamor is a reproductive justice and abortion rights activist and freelance writer, published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and more. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and two children.
Originally Appeared on Glamour