Have you felt resentment in motherhood?
Resentment is one of those emotions that we wish we didn’t have, yet it can feel so justified.
It’s not an enjoyable way to feel and most of us don’t want to be perceived as resentful or bitter. Women often feel guilty for feeling resentful.
There is, however, plenty of fuel for resentment in modern motherhood.
We can resent our kids for how carrying and birthing them has changed our bodies and our lack of independence or time for ourselves. We can resent them for the pressure parenthood has put on our relationships or the challenges they present us with (which may also reflect parts of ourselves that we don’t like).
We can resent our partners for the amount of freedom they have, their lesser share of parenting or domestic duties or the way they don’t seem to carry the worry and mental load like we do. We can resent them for not being able to understand how we feel and provide the compassion and emotional support we need.
We can resent other mums for having an “easier” baby, the way they look or the amount of support they have.
We can resent our parents for not providing the practical help we want, or not supporting our choices.
We can resent our employer for requiring us to do things that compromise our ability to be the mother we want to be, for treating us differently, for not understanding the change in our values, commitment and priorities, or for seeing our days out of the office as days off.
We can resent motherhood itself for not being what we expected, for requiring more of us with less in return and for surprising us.
And there are many more.
You may have noticed a theme in these examples – a perceived lack of fairness.
Resentment stems from unmet needs
Brené Brown defines resentment in her book Atlas of the Heart:
“Resentment is the feeling of frustration, judgement, anger, better than and/or hidden envy related to perceived unfairness or injustice.
It’s an emotion that we often experience when we fail to set boundaries or ask for what we need, or when expectations let us down because they were based on things we can’t control, like what other people think, what they feel, or how they’re going to react.”
Resentment feels angry, but it is actually related to envy. There’s something we need, want, or expect that we’re not getting.
In terms of domestic work, Eve Rodsky, author of the book Fair Play says that women’s resentment peaks the more lopsided the division of labour is at home.
The more our needs go unmet, the more resentful we feel.
Being selfless and silent fuels resentment
In modern society, we are conditioned to believe the myth that a good mother is selfless. She happily prioritises everyone else over herself. This, coupled with a lack of support and lack of value placed on mothering work means that women are constantly giving SO much, with little return or appreciation.
We don’t become mothers for appreciation or to get something back, but continuously giving to the point of exhaustion and at the cost of your own needs, desires and wellbeing is a pretty unfulfilling and unsustainable situation. Eventually, it starts to get to you.
What makes it worse is staying silent about how we feel. We keep our feelings, needs, desires and opinions to ourselves in order to appear more agreeable, selfless, capable, or to preserve relationships.
Dana Jack, a professor of psychology at Western Washington University who has pioneered research into self-silencing, says that when women stay silent inner feelings grow angry and resentful.
Can you recall a time when you didn’t ask for what you want or say what you were thinking and you felt angry and resentful?
The longer we stay silent, the more angry and resentful we become. And the more resentful we become, the more negatively we see our situation. Our brain looks for evidence to justify our resentment. We end up unhappy, disconnected, angry, and bitter.
I don’t want to feel like that and I’m sure you don’t either.
We have to learn to work through resentment so it doesn’t become a burden or a threat to our relationships.
How to work through resentment:
1. Acknowledge it
We need to acknowledge and feel our feelings so they can be processed and released. Name them and notice how they feel in your body.
2. Meet yourself with compassion
Your feelings aren’t bad and they don’t make you a bad person or mum. They are telling you something needs your attention both internally and externally.
Meeting ourselves with compassion involves treating ourselves with warmth and understanding, remembering that everyone experiences difficulties and suffering at times and seeing the situation as it is without exaggerating or minimising it.
It’s ok that you feel resentful. There are real reasons for it.
3. Identify the unmet need, desire or expectation.
When you see your partner lying on the lounge watching YouTube surrounded by what looks like a toy store and laundromat explosion, you may feel resentful.
What is the unmet need, desire or expectation that is causing the resentment?
- Do you wish that you were able to rest (you’re so, so tired!) regardless of whether the chores were done?
- Do you wish or expect that your partner would have the same priorities as you?
- Are you longing for time to do things that are relaxing and enjoyable?
- Do you need more support?
Ask yourself, What is unfair in the situation from my perspective? What is missing for me?
Interestingly, fair doesn’t always mean equal. For example, domestic duties don’t have to be split 50/50 to be perceived as fair. Whatever feels fair to you and your partner is right for you.
You can also explore your expectations and ask, What expectation do I have that hasn’t been met?
4. Take action as appropriate, including:
a) Express your need, desire or expectation to the relevant person
It isn’t really fair to hold people to expectations they don’t know about, so if you haven’t clearly communicated what you need, now’s the time to do it.
You might also choose to talk about your resentment with the person involved, and in that case, create space for them to also share their perspective. Understanding each other will help you figure out how to move forward.
b) Talk to a trusted person
Talking it through with a professional or someone else you trust provides emotional rest and relief. They may also provide a different perspective or help you get clarity on what is causing the resentment if you are having trouble identifying it.
c) Take care of the unmet need or desire yourself
We think that our resentment is all about the person or situation it is directed at but it’s actually about our unmet needs or desires.
Do you need more validation, appreciation or compassion?
Have you considered that you can give that to yourself rather than relying on others to provide it?
It’s lovely to receive those things from others but it is really valuable to be able to meet your own needs in these areas.
If you feel resentful because you give more than you get back, what exactly do you want to get back? What do you feel you are missing out on? Can you make those things happen for yourself?
For example, how can you make sure you get some space to be alone, some time to pursue your hobbies, or how can you create more fun in your life?
If you feel resentful because your partner gets more sleep than you and you need extra sleep too, what can you do to make that happen? What support do you need? What conversations do you need to have? What time do you need to go to bed?
d) Adjust your expectations to be more realistic
Is your resentment fueled by the unrealistic standards you have for yourself?
When we try to live up to the ideals of the perfect mother and superwoman we end up doing more than we can realistically manage, doing things out of obligation and feeling like we’re never enough. We need to create our own more realistic expectations of ourselves.
If your expectations are for someone else or a situation, can they realistically meet those expectations? Just like we may expect ourselves to be perfect and reach unrealistic goals, we can apply this to others.
Are you expecting someone else to do things exactly as you would? We need to appreciate that we all have different ways of approaching things in life and that there isn’t necessarily only one right way.
Do you resentful towards motherhood, because your expectations were vastly different from reality? It’s very hard to have realistic expectations about something you’ve never experienced, which can vary so much. It’s also very hard to have fixed expectations about something you have no or limited control over (there are many things in motherhood that are out of our control). Could you let go of those old expectations and create new ones that would be more supportive for you?
e) Take into account your role in the situation
There is often something we can do to improve the situation and relieve our resentment.
For example, if you feel resentful because your partner doesn’t listen to you and you need to feel heard and important, consider how you indicate that what you are going to say is important and that you need their attention. Do you tend to start talking while they are in the middle of another task, or even in another room? Do you make the important information clear? Do you tell them what you need from the conversation and from them?
What can you do differently?
f) Forgive and repair if necessary
Forgive yourself for feeling resentful when you don’t want to (it probably makes a lot of sense!), for not speaking up about your needs and expectations and for holding people to expectations they didn’t know about.
It is also helpful to forgive the people who disappointed you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you agree with what has happened, or that you will just forget about it. It means that you can move on without so much stress. It is emotionally healing for you.
If you have acted in a way you regret out of resentment, repair with the person. Repairing after disconnection strengthens our relationships more than the absence of conflict.
5. Let the past go
Resentment grows when we hold on to it and ruminate on the event that caused it. Replaying the incident in our minds or retelling the story to others can feel quite satisfying because it makes our resentment feel justified and we may receive validation from others, but the more we focus on it, the more our brains look for supporting evidence and strengthen the resentment.
For example, if you think your mother-in-law provides much more support to your sister-in-law and ignores your needs, then you will be quick to notice any situation that may demonstrate this, or even misinterpret neutral situations to support this.
So, if you want to let go of resentment, make an intentional decision to let it go and proactively look for the positive aspects of the situation or relationship. You may need to keep doing this until the intensity of the feeling decreases.
Resentment is a common and normal experience in motherhood, but we don’t have to hold onto it and end up feeling bitter, angry and disconnected. We can use resentment to help us identify our unmet needs, desires and expectations and take action to help us feel happier and lighter.