New parenthood brings a lot of intense emotions: Love, joy, and gratitude, to be sure, but there are others that are not as pleasant to talk about. Along with the feelings of bliss, at some point or another, most new parents also experience a darker range of emotions like fear and anxiety. I know firsthand these are tough things to admit and even tougher to talk about, but perhaps the most disconcerting is my own anger. I love him with all my heart and know he's just a helpless little person, so why does my baby make me angry?
It feels humbling to admit we're dealing with anger towards an innocent baby, but the truth is that the addition of a little one in a family brings a ton of stressors, and our psyches can only deal with so much. Is every baby a blessing? Absolutely. But does every baby also bring sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, loss of autonomy, and a huge lifestyle change? Also yes.
Marriage and family therapist Mallika Bush tells Romper that "anger in new mothers is much more common than most people realize. The transition to motherhood is one that our culture does not honor or help us prepare for. We are expected to go back to our pre-baby self like nothing amazing and monumental happened."
And even though dads don't go through the physiological changes that moms do in the postpartum months, all the other changes can arouse some surprisingly negative emotions in them as well. For mothers and fathers alike, family therapist Heidi McBain says, "Becoming a parent is a huge life transition that can bring up feelings of grief and loss. People are surprised by what they are not used to feeling, or not expecting to come up for them at a time that [they] assume will be filled with joy and happiness."
Again, does this mean you don't love your baby? Not at all. It just means that this major change in life circumstances — whether it's your first baby or your fourth — is legitimately hard.
So, what can we do with our baby-induced anger? Bush recommends starting simply by talking about it with a safe person, whether that's a therapist, spouse, or friend. "Being heard in this painful experience can help alleviate some of the isolation and shame that often comes with feelings of anger," she explains. It takes guts to be vulnerable about these feelings, even with a trusted person, but you and your baby both deserve it.
Bush also urges parents to start looking for ways to take better care of themselves. "Recognize and honor that you have limits, and anger may be showing up because you feel shame about having needs like space away from your baby," she sympathizes. "It’s OK to take time away, even when your baby is very young."
As frustrating as a crying baby is when you have sore nipples and haven't slept in weeks, the odds are good that the intensity of your feelings in the moment surpass your current circumstance. That's why McBain encourages parents to identify the deeper level of where their anger is coming from. "Underneath the anger are usually feelings of sadness or fear," she explains compassionately. "Therapy is really beneficial for helping people work through their anger issues at this deeper level."
The most important thing to remember in the heat of an angry moment is to take a break away. Pass him off to someone else, or leave her in a safe crib for a few minutes while you step outside and clear your head. Anger is a normal experience in your shoes, but until you can find a listening ear to vent to, keeping your baby safe is your number one priority.