by Minna Dubin
Seal Press (2023); 256 pp.; $26.97 (Hardcover)Buy Book
Minna Dubin is the author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood, a personal narrative and reportage of contemporary maternal anger. In this debut book, Dubin examines her own mom rage and interviews 50 mothers to pinpoint how rage manifests as well as how to process and address it.
Editor-in-Chief Amanda Fields recently interviewed Dubin over Zoom about patriarchy and motherhood, the counterintuitive ways mothers so often “take a break,” and mama community support. This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Amanda Fields: For those who haven’t read your book yet, could you offer a definition of “mom rage?”
Minna Dubin: Mom rage is the uncontrolled anger that mothers often feel, which stems from the impossible expectations of modern motherhood combined with the deep lack of support from societal structures and the family system.
AF: How do you think contemporary mom rage is distinctive from how past mother writers and thinkers, like Betty Friedan, or Adrienne Rich, or Anne Sexton have perceived it?
MD: I think that part of it is around intensive mothering, which is this phase of motherhood that we’re in that my parents were not part of. Mothering has become professionalized. It’s so high intensity. I’m always supposed to be watching them. I’m supposed to be researching summer camps in September for next year. Birthday parties have become these huge theme parties. What is required of mothers has exploded into this CEO-level job. It is so extreme. I don’t think that motherhood used to be easy or something. But 80% of mothers have full-time paid jobs now, and it’s overwhelming and stressful. And it feels outrageous, as Americans, that we don’t have universal childcare. Anyone who’s paying attention to the international community is watching the mothercare policies that other countries have and watching America just over and over be like, “Nope, nope, not for you. We won’t take care of you.”
AF: As I read your book, I felt my throat and chest constrict during the visceral and embodied descriptions of mom rage. Moms sometimes numb this rage through hurting ourselves. As you write: “First, we vanish our bodies (hide in the bedroom, leave the house) then we flatten our minds (check out with screen time, drink, or use drugs).” That hits home for me—not just for me, but as a single mom with a mama pack I rely on. Even our mama packs are too often in service to the patriarchy. What do you think about your mama packs? And what obligations do you think we have to our mama packs to lay bare our wounds and rage?
MD: I wouldn’t say that we have an obligation to lay bare these wounds. But vulnerability creates intimacy. When we’re vulnerable with other moms, we are offering a pathway to each other. It’s a way to show up for each other. Someone else gets to show up for you. So when you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m triple scheduled; I need someone to pick up my kid,” you’re being vulnerable in that moment, and maybe your mom community gets to step in for you. I think vulnerability and favors are how we create community.
And I don’t think any mother who experiences mom rage wants to take it out on their loved ones. And so taking it out on ourselves is a way to protect the people we love. We internalize the shame of that feeling because we’re told motherhood’s not supposed to be hard. We’re not supposed to be angry. We’re not supposed to yell. There’s a lot of shoulds happening there, and that creates a lot of shame. We take it out on ourselves because we have been socialized to feel terrible about it. Self-harm or the drinking or the numbing-out is a way to cope. Even if it’s not healthy, we’re trying to get through. Part of it is just trying to get to the next day. I certainly don’t judge or lay blame on mothers who are using any of these mechanisms, even if they’re unhealthy or harmful. I think everyone’s just trying to survive in a world where mothers are neglected everywhere we turn.
AF: A few of your interviewees felt like they needed to make sure to say that they have a good husband who is a good father. You also say this about your husband, even as you are critical of that gesture. This struck a chord for me since I am a divorced mother who used to do the same thing. Why do you think moms partnered with cis men so often feel like they have to preempt complaints about the hard parts of motherhood with “my man is one of the good ones?”
MD: It’s the same with “I love my child to the moon and back.” It’s not actually disloyal, but it is seen as disloyal to complain about motherhood, about your children, about your spouse. Statistically men are doing more labor than their parents’ generation, so mothers feel like they can’t complain because their man does X, Y, and Z, and we should be grateful for these good men. It’s one of the ways mothers are silenced, and our silence protects men and the patriarchy. Motherhood serves the interests of men right now.
AF: And you can have the moment of rage just as long as you couch that rage in “I know that he’s good at being a dad.” It protects us when we say that.
MD: Right? It protects us. It protects them. I feel it in my work and in interviews about my husband because I’m like, my husband is a great father. My husband is a great husband. My house is clean and it’s not because of me. There are all these things, but I still want to say all the other things that are also true.
AF: You write about your neurodivergent son and your frustration with how hard it is to get reasonable or fair support for him, about “the effort it would take to single handedly force the healthcare system and the school system to provide [your] kid with the intensive and specialized support he needed all while trying to parent a child who was behaving in ways [you] didn’t understand.” As I was reading that, I kept thinking about my friend whose child is nonverbal and autistic. She had a hysterectomy last spring, and her husband watched the kids while she recovered in my single mom apartment. She told me she felt like she was on vacation. It struck me that she had just had an organ ripped out and felt like she was taking a break. All these systems she navigates for her son: it’s really, really hard. Can you say more about how this frustration continues to manifest for you?
MD: It is a pretty common thread among every mother I know that, in order to get a break, you have to be really sick. Like illness or recuperating from major surgery is the break. I write about it in Chapter 7, where I fantasize about divorce, about the break it might give me. I think moms are dying for a break from the labor and the constancy. For moms who have kids who are disabled or neurodivergent, there is this incredible amount of additional labor. There is a particular hardship around being the parent of neurodivergent kids. One of the things is trying to be regulated around a kid that easily gets dysregulated. And the other thing is trying to get them the support they need. It’s not just a massive amount of labor—it feels uncharted even though there are millions of mothers doing the exact same labor. But the system is not set up. So, each of us is forging this path, the same path. We’re all doing the same work, trying to figure out how to get our kids supported. And it is an uphill battle. It is such a mess, and it’s reflective of the entire American healthcare system. But it feels particularly evil or abhorrent that it would be like this for children because mothers are the ones who bear the brunt of how hard that is. It’s unfair that the government wouldn’t have systems set up to help mothers navigate getting their kids support. And just being able to navigate the system takes so much time that it is a financial luxury. I stopped writing for a couple years while doing that job. That was a full-time job.
AF: One of our challenges at Literary Mama is that we often want our readers and writers to think about mother writing as expanding across identifications and identities. In the book, you talk about the range of ways of being a mother, and you discuss why you’ve chosen to use she/her pronouns when talking about mothers. What were your concerns as you worked to frame that usage?
MD: It felt important to make the book as inclusive as possible because I know that mom rage doesn’t stop at any sort of identity boundary. I was able to show that, but I had to make the choice about she/her: it felt important because even though non-binary people can, of course, experience mom rage, the experience of mom rage is specifically connected to gender. You don’t have to be a certain gender to feel mom rage, but gender is part of it because mom rage is about misogyny. Even in same-sex partnerships, I found that in the dynamic of the nuclear family, everything is set up for one parent to be the primary earner and one parent to be the primary caregiver. That dynamic doesn’t need to be gendered but comes from a gendered place.
As a queer person myself, it felt important to expand beyond heterosexual relationships and to talk about why I’m using she/her because I have so many people in my life that identify as trans or non-binary. And in my queer writing group, I got a lot of feedback of “I don’t see myself in this book” and I wanted to make it something that anyone could see themselves in. I’m still a middle-class white woman married to a man, so I’m telling that story from that lens. I can’t not tell the story from my own lens, but part of my need to use moms from all these other walks of life was so that the story could be told from other people’s lenses.
AF: The poem that you published in Literary Mama, “The Unpredictable Sex Life of the Tooth Fairy,” seems like a distillation of mom rage and how you describe the process of mom rage ramping up in your book. Are you aiming to keep building on the subject of mom rage through other genres?
MD: It’s so funny because I don’t think about that poem as being about mom rage. I love that you had that read on it. That poem, interestingly, is more towards where I’m going in my next book, which will be fiction about queerness and polyamory and sex. I’m excited to do something sexy and fun and make some stories up and get to live in that life. I wanted to not make the main character a mom, because I wanted to run away from everything motherhood. I’ve been writing about motherhood so intensely, but now I’m like, oh, maybe I can make her a mom who has mom rage and have that be a subplot. I think that I want to take a look at sex and rage.
AF: How have mama writing communities influenced your work?
MD: I found Lenka Clayton’s Artist Residency in Motherhood while I was in the middle of doing #MomLists, a public art project. It helped me think about that project as an artist residency. That gave it some validity: to do this weird arty thing that wasn’t just straight up writing. I wanted to do something physical. I needed to do something with my hands. I needed to see a tangible product of my labor as a mother. I think as writers and particularly as mom writers, it can be hard to honor our writing as work that should be put first ever. When you’re a mom: nothing should get put first except your family, or that’s what we’re told. And so it feels like an uphill battle to put your writing work forward, especially if you’re not getting paid for it. And that’s the challenge with writing. We don’t know if we’re ever going to get paid for this piece, if it’s ever going to show up in the world, and if we’re going to get money for it. Writing is this lonely labor of love. And the mom community made it less lonely. Mothers have made this happen.