Minna Dubin, MOM RAGE: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood

Minna Dubin, MOM RAGE: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood

Guest host Julie Chavez interviews writer Minna Dubin about MOM RAGE, a frank, groundbreaking, feminist work of reportage about the hidden crisis of rage facing American mothers—and how we can fix it. Minna hopes her book will resonate with mothers and enlighten their partners, ultimately promoting broader dialogue on the emotional challenges of modern motherhood.


Julie Chavez: Minna, thanks so much for being here today. Welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Minna Dubin: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to talk to you.

Julie: I’m thrilled that you’re here. I’m so glad we get to talk about your book, Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood. It is so impressive. I want to dive right into it. First of all, as a mom, the title, I was like, Mom Rage, yep, check, can identify. I want to talk about how this process started for you. Tell the listeners, how did you decide to write this book? What was its origin point?

Minna: Before I was writing this book, I was writing another book that has never seen the light of day. One of the things that was part of this book was an essay that was published in The New York Times in 2019 called “The Rage Mothers Don’t Talk About.” The response to that essay was so humongous from moms from around the world. My inbox got just blasted by emails from mothers basically saying, me too. I didn’t know this was a thing. I’m so grateful that maybe I’m not the worst mother in the world. Those emails basically set me on a path of looking into this idea of mom rage and thinking that maybe it wasn’t, also, that I was the worst mother in the world. Me and the moms were sort of having a feedback loop. If we’re all feeling it, maybe it’s a societal thing and not a personal problem. That led me on this path. Then the pandemic, as we know, happened, and mom rage skyrocketed. I got more emails all of a sudden. I realized that the pandemic was increasing mothers’ feelings of rage. The New York Times republished that first essay. Then I wrote a second piece called “I’m Going to Physically Explode: Mom Rage in a Pandemic.” Anyway, both pieces went viral, and I got a book contract to write about this topic, so I did.

Julie: Not a bad way to go about getting the book deal. Good for you.

Minna: Thank you.

Julie: I say that jokingly, but what is actually incredible about that is that you struck such a powerful nerve that there would be that kind of response and that so many people, especially moms, could feel seen and understood in that. What a gift. What was that emotionally like for you? When you were describing the outpouring of emails, what was that experience like, the absorption of that response?

Minna: It was a mix. As a writer, it’s so in the dark. You write with so much faith that spending my time in my room hunched over my computer is worth it, that this is all worth something. There’s not many times in life as a writer that you get such a response to your work. On that level, it was just super thrilling for me that people cared about what I had to say. That felt really exciting and was nice for my ego. It felt like I was buzzing when I was getting all that response. I felt like I had hit on something really important that I hadn’t realized. I didn’t know that this was this undercurrent that was happening all across the world, actually. I felt very excited that I was onto something. I felt like a scientist.

Julie: That makes total sense. You had sort of a discovery moment of finding this little zeitgeist of — that makes complete sense to me. I think I’d feel the same way. Me too. This is great news. It turns into a book, which makes complete sense. I was listening to something recently about, how do you know when you have a book and not just a couple of essays? Obviously, this was a natural build for you off of the response that you had seen. Let’s dive in. How do you define rage? How would you define it for this book?

Minna: People get confused between rage and anger. They can look similar. The difference between rage and anger is basically that there is a loss of control. With rage, it feels like it is happening to you. You’re sort of under its spell. Even if you’re like, oh, this is happening, and I know it shouldn’t happen, but there’s no stopping it now, it almost feels like you are not in control of what’s happening.

Julie: That makes sense. We use a lot of terms, especially among mothers — I’m losing my mind today. I’m doing these things. They really do have that echo of this out-of-body experience to it where it’s like, I’m not in my right mind. It sounds like it relates a little bit to that for you. One of the things you did really well in this book, there was a lot to think about here. I really appreciated it. I know before we started recording, we were discussing that I have a book that’s very much about motherhood and mental health. I think the self-neglect that is so common and pervasive and expected, really, within our society — the rage not only in response to that. One of the things you did so well in your book that I appreciated was talking about the layers around rage and the other emotions that are in there. You talked a lot about shame and the misunderstandings around rage and all those things. Will you talk a little bit about rage and unworthiness? That was one that was one of the most interesting pieces to me. I thought, I want to come back and read that again.

Minna: I definitely experience that and struggle on my own with self-hatred. In the book, I tell the story of having a therapist who — I had her just for a little while. I was like, “I need to talk. We need to fix the rage.” She was like, “We need to talk about how you treat yourself because they’re related.”

Julie: Therapists, man. They really just get in there, don’t they? Golly. We pay them.

Minna: They do. For me, it feels like there is a connection between perfectionism and rigidity of things needing to be perfect and a lack of flexibility that I have with myself and the way that that also extends out to the people that I love, even though I absolutely don’t want it to. When things aren’t happening the way I want them to happen, I can get kind of intense about it. Living that life with low-level anxiety and perfectionism and not feeling great about myself, it frays you, in a way. It’s a faster route to fury when you’re experiencing all those things at once. I don’t know how to better explain it than that.

Julie: You explained it perfectly. That makes complete sense to me, also because as you say perfectionist, I’m like, let me just raise my hand here. People who get intense when it’s not going their way, that’s me. I think what you’re saying, too, it’s like just a crack in it because we’re so attached, especially for those of us who like things a certain way. We are attached to it going that way. It’s like we have a shorter fuse. It doesn’t take as much.

Minna: It also feels important to do the societal overlay of, women are taught to be perfectionists, and mothers in particular. There is so much pressure on mothers to be “perfect mothers.” Part of the perfectionism of motherhood is the self-erasure of yourself, not really being an entity and not having needs. It’s all related. I feel like with this book, I’m always trying to be like, this is the personal story, and this is not a character flaw.

Julie: That is such a freeing message that I feel like every mom needs to hear, regardless of whether you’ve felt like you’ve gotten fully to a point of rage or if you’re more feeling angry. I think it’s such an important thing to note. The system is not set up for us to succeed. That’s something you do very well here. I’m going to jump ahead. This was a later question, like I put them in order. I really don’t. That makes me sound far more organized than I am with these interviews.

Minna: We’re perfectionists. No, just kidding.

Julie: Exactly. Actually, one of my friends recently said, “You’re a type A, but you masquerade as a type B.” I was like, “Okay, I think you might be right, and let’s not ever talk about that again.” How do you combat discouragement about the systemic inequities and failures that make conditions for motherhood so impossible? That’s something I keep running up against. I am finding myself, especially in this midlife season, I just am more pissed about the deal that we were handed and that we signed off on without knowing. That part, how do you personally deal with that? What are your attempts around that?

Minna: I think it’s twofold. Part of it is just around building my own community and my friends and feeling like I have outlets and people to connect around the two. I want to be like, to bitch to, basically, because that feels freeing. It’s a way for moms to connect. Then also, just in terms of hope — because I do think that there’s a lot of hope. I don’t think that these conversations were happening. I feel like there is a wave right now specifically around a feminist outlook about motherhood and including motherhood in the feminist fight in a way that I don’t think motherhood has been included in it in a very long time and possibly not ever in this way. I feel like the conversation around motherhood is very different. It is exciting. Part of me feels like, oh, maybe it’s just my bubble. I get worried. Maybe it’s just my Instagram bubble. All the people I follow are these feminist mom writers talking about these feminist mom things. Then it’s like, well, Elizabeth Warren was talking about universal childcare. I feel like the platform is growing. I feel hopeful that we’re going to have paid parental leave at some point in the not-too-distant future. I know that’s just a tiny piece of what we need, but I’m going to celebrate when that happens.

Julie: Absolutely. You’re right, it does feel like there is a tide of conversations that are happening and people that are talking about it more. I listened to Jo Piazza’s podcast — this was from a little bit ago — “Under the Influence.” She talked about the mom influencer community. One of the things she was talking about was that in the nineties especially, there was such a push to mom harder and that that was really that time. I know you mentioned into the 2010s where it was helicopter parenting. Now we have snowplow parenting or whatever the new one is. I do see — you’re exactly right — a little bit more of a pushback and maybe a pause between the ask and the response. Things that were expected of me, even, and then I have to stop and say, do I need to do that? Is that something I want to do? Is this something that’s appropriate for me to do? You’re right. I shouldn’t be so cynical and hopeless when it comes to it. I just have these moments of, this is never going to work.

Minna: It’s a constant personal battle, too, in terms of just that pressure that you’re talking about of mom-ing harder and being like, I’m going to take my kids down to the marina because it’s eighty-five degrees tonight. We’re hot. We’re going to go down there. Then I can sit on the rock and just watch them play. They can just play with each other. I had this moment where I’m like, should I be out there doing the thing, or can I just let them play with each other? That’s that moment of, am I going to be in the intensive mothering and do the, okay, I’m in it? I’m on the floor. We’re doing the thing. We are playing, all of us.

Julie: I love that emphasis.

Minna: Or can I sit back and let them play with each other? That’s why I had a second kid, so they could be friends.

Julie: One million percent, yes. That’s such a good question. Oh, my gosh, I’m listening to you, and I’m like, yep, that was me. I still think I somewhat ruined my first child. I tell him often, I’m like, “Sorry, I probably did that to you.” I think I was in his business way too much. I should’ve let the poor kid just hang out. Some of these influences, but he’s not ruined, luckily. He’s fine. We don’t need to worry about him right now. I love thinking about those sorts of questions. What a gift that, hopefully, in the season of life that you and I are in, that we can give to the moms who are coming up behind us, to say, hey, you can be a wonderful, present mother, and it doesn’t have to look like that. That feels like just setting them up for failure. When you look back at the beginning of your own journey to get to the other side of where you weren’t feeling that rage, that out-of-control feeling, what was the point for you personally prior to therapy where you thought, okay, I need some support here?

Minna: I feel like I had multiple of those moments where I was like, oh, this is bad. I am just miserable. Part of it was when my son was — it was around napping, basically.

Julie: Sleep schedule, I’m getting sweaty you’re even saying that.

Minna: I know. It was around napping. He wouldn’t nap. We were doing the sleep training thing, and so we would always stick to this thing. I was the one who was home during naps. He would be in his crib and rejecting the nap. According to the thing I was following, I would leave him in there for an hour. That was his naptime, and he could scream for the whole hour if he wanted to. That was his naptime. I live in this teeny, little Berkeley bungalow. I’d be down the hall ten feet away in my room crying in a fetal position. He’d be in his room crying. It was brutal. It lasted forever, is what it felt like. I just feel like that was a big part of my misery for a while. Also, my husband definitely said to me once or twice, “You need to get help. This is not sustainable.” I feel like there were multiple moments where we were like, this is not working. This is not working out. You are miserable. You want to kill everyone all the time.

Julie: You know, it’s so tricky. Sleep was definitely one of mine. I’m listening to you. My husband recently woke up one of our children. They are teenagers. He woke one of them up in the morning at ten AM. I was like, “What are you doing? You don’t ever wake up anyone who’s sleeping.” It was this throwback to those days, exactly, where when someone was napping, I was like, everything stops. Don’t even look at anyone else in this house. This is silence. It just makes me feel so seen to know I wasn’t the only nutjob out there.

Minna: Oh, no. No, you’re not. You’re not a nutjob. Also — now I’m looking in the book trying to find it. I wrote about sleep. Sleep is this huge thing that we don’t talk about. There was a study. Some huge amount of mothers who felt anger also either felt like they were getting poor sleep or felt like their children were getting poor sleep, and there was a direct correlation between how you feel about your sleep and how angry you are.

Julie: That is incredible and not surprising to me when you say that. I wouldn’t necessarily put them together, but it’s so true. Also, all the conversations around sleep, at least when mine were little, were basically just totally fear based. If your kid doesn’t sleep, they’re never going to make it in the real world, so might as well just accept it. I was like, this is horrible because this child does not want to nap.

Minna: Doom. Doom. Doomed. The sleep thing, at least for me, went on for eight years because then I was dealing with bedwetting. My husband and I would wake up — we would set an alarm and wake up at three in the morning to carry these heavy children out of bed and to the — the sleep thing was a mess forever, almost a decade.

Julie: I think back to college when I would just sleep constantly. Then, you’re right, for about ten years, it’s like, that’s just not a thing that’s happening for you anymore. This is the thing I love. There’s so much to connect on here because the mom rage — I think the thing that you talk about the most and the thing I appreciate most about this book is that shame is so paralyzing. It is so counterproductive to our goals in general because the less we talk about something like rage, the less we’re inclined to see it as a systemic problem and need to fix it. You talk about it a lot in here, which I appreciate. How did you approach that?

Minna: You mean in the book or my life?

Julie: Both. In the book, how did you approach trying to lessen the shame as you went? Did you have a system for how that was going to go? Was it just, I’m going to lay it all out on the table and share all these stories and hope that that’s the cumulative effect? Does that make sense?

Minna: Yeah. The goal of the book above all else for me is to provide moms with relief and to make them feel less shame more than anything. I would love for the book to be a culture-shifting book.

Julie: That would be great.

Minna: I have big dreams for it, but on a basic level, that is my goal. I feel like the way that we feel less shame is when someone else shares something that we’re ashamed about. Then we go, oh, I can also share that thing. I feel like that is how shame undoes itself, is when you’re like, I’m not actually the worst because you do that too, and I think you’re great. I was feeling that. The moms who are writing me those emails were feeling that. It had already started happening. I also think that it’s one of the ways to help rage. If it’s in this tiny shame corner and we don’t talk about it, then it just lives there. We don’t actually deal with the rage. We don’t think about the rage. We don’t talk about the rage. We don’t work with the rage. We can’t actually access it in any way. Breaking the shame down is both a liberatory thing for me, and also, it’s a way to move to the next step.

Julie: I think that is beautiful. I love hearing you describe that because it really is so life-giving. I’m a huge Mister Rogers fan. It’s what I watched when I was little. He says what’s mentionable is manageable. That feels so true to that. It’s just like, hey, if we can talk about this, then that’s the beginning of getting to the other side of it. You said it also; seeing a person outside of yourself, you would never talk to them that way about it. How do we fact-check our own internal dialogue?

Minna: The shame is so big. I have talked to multiple women who are grandmothers at this point. They talk to me about my book. Then they tell me their rage story that they remember from when they were thirty years old. Then they say, “I’ve never talked about that before. I’ve never told anyone that story before,” but they remember every detail. They have been holding it for fifty years. The shame around mom rage is really huge.

Julie: What a gift. To your point earlier, it is a very hopeful moment, the fact that you and I are talking like this. Those women held onto those stories for that long. Where was the opportunity to talk through some of that? I think we’re very lucky to be in a moment where people are starting to talk about it. That makes sense. Plus, we all need more naps, is what I’m hearing, or maybe night nurses.

Minna: How about both?

Julie: Yes, that’s a better idea. Let’s go for more. For you now, do you have moments of rage? How do you deal with them? Is that something that has been eased for you?

Minna: I do still have moments of rage. I think that they often get sort of aborted before they get really bad. Part of that is that I’m more aware of it. My whole entire family, including my children, are more aware of it. My son and I, we have this very special relationship. Also, we’re a little friction-y, me and him. It is always going to be something with us. Also, I think I have the most tenderest spot in my heart for this child. He’s my first kid. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes we’ll be getting into it, and he’ll be like, “We just need to stop. We just need to take a break.” I’m like, “You’re right. You’re right. We need to take a break.”

Julie: What a gift you’re giving to him. The two of you, that’s amazing.

Minna: I hope so. I feel like everyone in the house is just more aware of it. I think we are all better at managing it, in a way, myself included.

Julie: Absolutely. You’re keeping your side of the street clean. I think it’s so healthy. I remember somebody telling me years ago, “I lost it with my kids.” It was a pretty middle-of-the-road reaction. They were mad. They shouted. I don’t remember all the details. I do remember saying to her, I said, “You know what? I think that’s okay. Our kids need to know that their actions have an impact for us, that we are people too.” This idea of the mother as the long-suffering, eternally magnanimous — I can absorb all of your emotions. That’s not fair to anyone. It’s not fair to them either because it sets them up for this future. I think there’s a lot of health there.

Minna: Thank you. I agree. It has always bugged me when I’ve talked to moms who won’t share if they dislike a certain activity or something with their children because they don’t want to teach their children not to like it. I’m just like, you’re allowed to have an opinion. They’re still going to like that. I just feel like everything has taught us not to be people. That feels bad to me. We get to be people. We get to have likes and dislikes and needs and all the things, emotions.

Julie: Yes. Did you post the other day about the Barbie movie? Was that on yours, about the, “We stand still so our daughters can go ahead”?

Minna: I did. It was about an article that was in HuffPost. I didn’t write it. I reposted that article, which I loved. That particular line in Barbie about “Moms stand still so that daughters can see how far they’ve come” was the only line in the movie — my heart stopped when she said that. I was like, oh, no, we don’t.

Julie: I’m going to pass on that. I was looking at some of your social media and seeing a lot of that messaging. I loved that you posted that to kind of call that out. We just forget there can be this very beautiful sentiment. Of course, we sacrifice for our children because we sacrifice for people we love, but we should love ourselves too, so that kind of balance. I just think that’s so valuable. I have two questions for you. Number one, we talked about your hope for the book, that this is going to be part of a societal conversation and shift. I couldn’t agree more that you are perfectly positioned, and so is this book, for that. I think that’s wonderful. What are your other hopes for the book’s entrance into the world?

Minna: My real fantasy of fantasies is that moms read the book, it feels impactful and important, they see themselves in it, and that they give it to their partners to read, even though I wrote it for moms. Moms are my audience in this book, but in my fantasy, fathers are reading this book so that they can understand the experience of the mothers that they love.

Julie: That makes complete sense, if it’s a mirror for women, that this book could be a window for their partners.

Minna: Yes, because I think that mom rage is very hard to explain. It’s very hard to make it something that doesn’t feel terrible between partners. I would love for them to be able to be like, I can’t explain this to you. I can’t make you understand it. Here it is. This is it. I need you to read this.

Julie: Yes, I really love that. I will leave it on my husband’s pillow tonight. I think he’ll really appreciate that, with a little sticky note with a heart.

Minna: Love you. Thanks.

Julie: L-U-V. That’ll be perfect. My final question for you, when you think about being a mom and the ways that that has changed you, what is your favorite way that you’ve been changed by being a mom?

Minna: Oh, wow, my favorite. I feel like there’s more than one. It’s very hard to whittle that down to one. Can I give you two?

Julie: I would love two, yes.

Minna: One of them would just be how into my kids I am, how into what they have to say, and just being obsessed with two new people and wanting to see their drawings and hear what happened at school and all of the things. It feels fun to have my heart be so involved in two new people.

Julie: What a gift.

Minna: It’s fun. So much of the labor part of motherhood, I don’t find all that fun. Actually, just having these two little humans who I think are great, that has been really fun for me. Then from a professional standpoint, what would I write about if I didn’t — they give me everything in terms of the pain, the joy. I feel like I have so much energy from motherhood to put into creative practice. That feels very exciting. I like it as a circle. I have all the stuff that I’m living, and then I use writing to process it. Then I come back better, hopefully, to them because I have processed it through the writing.

Julie: I love hearing that. What a beautiful way to put it. You’re exactly right. Thank you for being here today. This was a joy.

Minna: Thanks for having me.

Julie: I’m so glad we got to talk about Mom Rage. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world. I wish that all its dreams and your dreams are going to come true. I’m excited for it. I think it’s a powerful book and a valuable book. Congratulations. All the best wishes to it.

Minna: Thank you so much.

Julie: My pleasure. Thanks for being here today.

MOM RAGE: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood by Minna Dubin

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