At a time when people are wishing the pandemic away, many parents still can't escape the ongoing realities of COVID-19. And while moms are screaming in fields and finding new ways to own and express their anger, some say acknowledging their frustrations isn't enough.
Lindsay Murachver, an event planner and mother of two girls, 3 and 1, says she's feeling fatigued and burned out after two years of pandemic parenting. The Massachusetts mom had her second daughter during the pandemic, and she says she's felt a general sense of grief and sadness over lost experiences. She was also angry — she just didn't know it.
"Anger just wasn't an emotion that you were allowed to feel as a mom," Murachver tells TODAY Parents. "My relationship with anger was an inability to recognize that I was angry. I couldn't recognize that the frustrations, the bitterness and the resentment was all a result of anger."
It wasn't until Murachver attended a mom "scream session" coordinated and hosted by Sarah Harmon, a mental health therapist, yoga teacher and founder of "School of Mom," that she realized just how angry she was.
"Just gathering with other caregivers and screaming into the abyss about our pent up frustrations and rage over the past few years," Murachver explains. "It was cathartic."
While Murachver says the release was necessary, as was the sense of community among other equally upset moms, the anger remained.
"I'm good for like, the next few sustainable moments, but then I have to scream again," she says. "I feel like every day is a low-level scream."
While attending the scream sessions and owning her anger has helped her be a more present, fun parent — as well as helped her better communicate with her partner and advocate for herself — Murachver confesses she doesn't have the answer to what comes next.
"I feel like it always falls to us," she says. "If I need a break, it's up to me to advocate for that break and then set up everything that that requires. It's terrible that our culture has made the decision to leave mothers on their own. There's not much structural support."
What should moms do with their anger now?
Sarah Harmon, who started and hosts the scream sessions, says moms and clients frequently ask her what they're supposed to with their anger after they've properly identified and expressed it.
"In general we need to see anger as a healthy emotion," she says. "And anger is one that has so much wealth of information. And what's really exciting about anger, and what I teach in my community, is that anger is like a unicorn wand or a red flag that goes off and says there is a boundary needed somewhere. It's saying something is off."
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a psychiatrist, New York Times contributor and founder of Gemma, a digital education platform focused on women’s mental health, agrees, saying that anger is a "data point emotion."
"When we feel it, we learn something about ourselves and our world," Lakshmin tells TODAY. "We feel anger when we feel slighted or when we notice injustice. This gives us valuable information about ourselves and our world."
Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid family leave. A reported 63% of full-time working parents have a hard time paying for child care — for low-income parents, the percentage increases to 95%. Currently, moms are paid 75 cents for every dollar a father makes.
Both Lakshmin and Harmon say the next step is to use the information anger provides to change the environment that fostered the anger in the first place — though they both also admit that's much easier said than done.
"The next step has to be collective action," Lakshmin says. "Understanding that we, as women, have to be the ones — and I know it isn't fair, because we shouldn't have to do more work — but the reality is that in order for the systems to change, we need to show up."
Lakshmin says that in many of her patients, she sees their anger quickly turn to guilt or anxiety. Instead, she challenges women to push back on what she says is societal conditioning that convinces women, particularly moms, that their anger is something they should fear.
"Our culture tells us that we need to stifle that anger and instead experience it as, 'I did something wrong. I'm not organized enough. I'm not good enough at time management,'" she explains. "We convert it to self-doubt and to shame, when, in fact, there is so much power in getting to and staying with the root emotion, which is anger."
Why aren't more dads angry?
"I'm honestly concerned my husband wasn't more concerned that I felt a need to go scream at a track," Murachver, the Massachusetts mom of two, admits. "He should be really angry, or concerned, right?"
Yet, all the attendees at the scream sessions (so far) have been women or femme-identifying parents, leaving some moms wondering when their male partners are going to meet the moment.
"With all the invisible labor that we do, he doesn't even know," Murachver says. "Of course, dads are impacted too, but not to the same degree if mothers are still holding up so much of the emotional umbrella of the house on top of the logistics."
The ongoing pandemic has disproportionally impacted moms, especially working moms. Moms have been handling the majority of child care responsibilities, and were more likely to reduce work hours in order to accommodate at-home e-learning and other parenting duties. Moms' mental health has also suffered more than the mental health of fathers, according to the American Psychological Association, though fathers were more likely to ask for support.
Men were also promoted three times more than women during the pandemic. Meanwhile, one in 10 women quit their job due to a pandemic-related reason, and one in five women reported being pushed out of the workforce entirely. And even as Americans have returned to work as COVID-related restrictions have eased, women are still left behind — 27 times more men than women joined the workforce in January 2020.
If fathers are oblivious to the real plight of moms, it's likely because they are not being impacted by the pandemic in the same way.
"Partners need to hear that scream," Harmon says. "And say, 'Oh, maybe I didn't know this was an issue. Maybe I didn't know you were struggling so much.'"
Harmon says that moms can be so stuck in the overwhelm of their resentment that they're unable to adequately express their feelings in a way that will be heard and accepted by their parenting partner.
"The way that we have the conversation isn't so helpful — and not to put all of this on women at all," she adds. "We need to teach couples and families and partnerships as they transition into having kids how to have these conversations around support. We don't do that as a society."
Murachver agrees and says it is, for better or worse, up to moms to give their male partners "a clue" as to what they are feeling and the amount of paid and unpaid labor they're actually taking on.
"But I mean, to see men, as a collective, getting angry about what moms are going through?" she adds. "I wouldn't wait for it. Let's be real. If we want something to change, I think it's up to us. Sadly."
It's time for more moms to be 'selfish'
Brittany Hampton, a mom of two boys, 5 and 6, and a business owner living in Massachusetts, says the pandemic has served as a wake-up call, highlighting what is most important to her.
"The biggest takeaway is that while this is the biggest pandemic of our lifetime, it won't be our last," she tells TODAY. "So I have realized what my hard stop is — and that is my need for community."
Hampton, who has attended multiple scream sessions, says the moments when she has gathered with other moms to yell into the void have also reminded her that women need to invest in themselves — something that often causes moms to feel guilty.
"In fairness, maybe (the reason) why the dads are all right is because the dads do prioritize going for a run, going to the gym or doing something for themselves," Hampton says. "They're doing things that are giving them that outlet, while we feel like self-care is a luxury."
Harmon, who offers a "Mothering Oneself Mindfully" program designed to help moms care for themselves in a purposeful way, says moms can shift their idea of self-care from just another thing to add to the "to-do" list to a "hierarchy of needs."
"I try to flip it and say, 'Would you ever tell your kid to ignore their needs?' But we do this with ourselves," she explains. "So turning the same kind of compassionate discipline and boundary-setting on ourselves and saying, 'No, I have these needs, too.' We just need to understand what those needs are first."
Lakshmin also encourages moms to continue to seek other mental health care services, even if they're learning how to accept and use their anger.
"Yes, you can go in a field and scream, but if you're depressed it is still also a good idea to be speaking with a therapist or a psychiatrist or be seeking treatment," she adds. "One discharge of anger isn't going to solve those underlying issues."
As for Harmon, she says she'll continue to attend the scream sessions and find other ways to use her anger to not just evoke change as a business owner who offers paid family leave, but propel her to put herself first in order to make sure what is plaguing moms today won't harm the moms of tomorrow.
"If we're not finding a guilt-free way to prioritize ourselves," she adds, "we're going to continue to be broken."