Stressed mother crying and holding her child.

The Day My Volcano of Mom Rage Erupted – Releasing the Motherhood Load

The day my volcano of mom rage erupted was the day that changed my entire approach to motherhood.

I was on my third maternity leave, home with my three sons—eight weeks old, just under two, and three and a half. As you can imagine, life was generally chaotic at best.

But the chaos I was experiencing went beyond the stress of herding three little boys. I wasn’t just frazzled—I had lost myself.

I woke up every morning feeling irritated, as if I had already hit my limit for the day before I poured my coffee. I felt like I was drowning. The experience of motherhood wasn’t the happy, joyous, greeting-card image I had imagined. It was a constant struggle.

But I was determined not to let that show. I wouldn’t admit it to myself, let alone anybody else. Instead, I picked myself up every morning, committed to plow through the discomfort—the pain I was feeling—with a stiff upper lip. Whenever I would wonder why I found it so difficult, I told myself that I needed to suck it up. This is what motherhood was. Diapers and spit-up and tantrums and stress. I’d signed up for it. I had no right to question it.

Sad tired mother under tree with a stroller.
Image Credit: KieferPix/Shutterstock.

Then one morning, it all came crashing down. It was one of those mornings where everything went wrong. Getting three kids out the door is never easy. Inevitably, somebody spills their milk, can’t find their shoes, or melts down. But this was a Stroller Fit Boot Camp day—a fitness class for new moms I attended every week. And I desperately needed to get there—it was the one thing that was giving me a sense of normalcy.

I juggled bags and car seats and blankets and corralled the boys out the door to the van. Just as I hit the button to open the door, I heard a snap. The pulley system on the van broke.

The stress started to bubble up, but I pushed it back down. I refused to let this derail my day. I got everyone buckled in, manually closed the door, and pulled out. In less than a minute, I saw red and blue lights in my mirror. I groaned as I pulled over, working to push down that stress again. I ignored the screams and cries coming from the back seat and tried to be polite as I rolled down my window.

The officer ticketed me for speeding—I’d hit a speed trap and hadn’t adjusted in time. But he also wanted to know why I wasn’t wearing glasses. I explained that I’d had LASIK but never updated my information. He decided to ticket me for “misrepresenting my license.”

Upset angry woman crying with forehead pressed against the wall.
Image Credit: christinarosepix/Shutterstock.

The anger started to bubble back up—only this time it was different. This time, I couldn’t hold it down.

I snapped at the officer, took my tickets, and managed to contain my rage until I drove back home and pulled into the driveway.

I opened the car door and collapsed, sobbing in a fit of rage, to the point of vomiting.

And, as I felt the volcano bubble over, as I felt myself collapsing and hyperventilating hysterically, I realized that I was not okay. I couldn’t keep pretending that I was.

I ended up being diagnosed with postpartum depression and started a journey to recovery. But I also realized that what I was striving for—this image of the perfect mom—was unattainable.

I was shooting for a dangerous bullseye—the perfect mom. I thought that I was just not measuring up. And I believed that if I admitted that I couldn’t handle it, I was admitting that I had failed at the most important job in my life. But I hadn’t failed. The perfect mother myth had failed me. It had told me that I needed to strive for something false, something entirely unrealistic. It wasn’t until I broke out of that mindset that I truly started to experience joy in motherhood.

Mother holding child next to window.
Image Credit: Natalia-Lebedinskaia/Shutterstock.

After I had my breakdown-turned-breakthrough, I realized that not only is perfect not real—it’s smothering. It’s unattainable. And it doesn’t reward you. As I broke away from that perfect mother myth, I was able to see motherhood in an entirely new way. I started to get curious about why I felt this need to strive for perfection. Where did these beliefs come from? Whose voice was sounding in my head? How had I been led so far astray? Where was I even trying to go?

The more I looked beneath the surface, the more I saw that the construct of motherhood had kept me from being the mom I truly wanted to be. I’d been conditioned to believe that I had to be all the things— the nurturer, the teacher, the schedule tracker, the memory maker, the keeper of the house, on and on and on. A rulebook of motherhood had been handed to me without me realizing it. And that rulebook came with an invisible load—a world of mental and physical tasks that kept me pushing toward perfection while barely being able to breathe.

But I wasn’t the only mom that inherited this rulebook. Motherhood researchers have deemed this the era of intensive mothering—an approach to motherhood that is so all-consuming that mothers’ identities don’t make it out alive. The more we feel we should be present, “on,” and centered around our children, the more we take on physically, cognitively, and emotionally.

This essay is excerpted from Releasing the Mother Load: How to Carry Less and Enjoy Motherhood More by Erica Djossa (April 2024). Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Sounds True.