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does venting make moms feel better?

by Meagan Francis on October 28, 2009

steam

Every now and then I’ll read a blog post where a mom is sharing about a difficult time in her life. Maybe she’s going through some kind of trauma, maybe she’s dealing with depression or exhaustion or a difficult discipline issue or just the small, numerous ways kids can (metaphorically speaking, of course) get under your skin and then slowwwwwly peel it back until you’re just a big open nerve.

When I read those posts I often feel compelled to give some words of encouragement or empathy in the comments section…and then feel kind of like a jerk when it comes time to fill in my URL. I can just hear the posters’ and commenters’ thoughts: The Happiest Mom? Oh, shut up already.

Even though I feel like I’m pretty open on here, it’s hard to get past my “Happiest Mom” moniker sometimes. Because if there’s one thing moms don’t like, it’s the fabled “mom who has it all together” and making everyone else feel bad about themselves. And if there’s anything else moms love, it’s a good vent.

Let me just get this out of the way: I so do not have everything together.

On the other hand, I do believe that we have a part in creating our realities. And I’m no longer convinced that venting is all that good for me, as a mom or a woman or a functional member of society.

Recently I commented at Momalom–a blog I really like, written by two sisters who both have three kids each and who also both happen to be great writers. In her response to my comment, Sarah wrote this: “It’s a fine balance between griping about motherhood when you need the release and reveling in it because you realize how lucky you are. In the end I have to believe that as long as I am honest about it – in good times AND bad, that I’m doing okay. If I focus on one or the other too much, I’m not honest. And if I subscribe to any one of these posts any more than the next, I’m also limiting myself.”

I agree with Sarah that if we subscribe any more to one moment of our lives than another, we are limiting ourselves. Very true. I am more than my latest blog post, mood, or parenting experience.

On the other hand, don’t I have a choice about which one I focus on?

And don’t I have a hand in creating the kind of life I want…partly by choosing which feelings and experiences I want to have going forward?

I absolutely have bad moments. Sometimes I vent. Sometimes I rant. Occasionally I even rant and rave. I gripe about minor things, I play the martyr, I feel sorry for myself, I sometimes collapse under the always-growing pile of other people’s needs and wants and find myself sniveling at the bottom of the heap, chanting “it’s not FAIR it’s not FAIR it’s not FAIR.”

But for the most part, I’ve found that venting is not the relief or release I hope it’ll be. Often quite the opposite, in fact.

There are days that I live inside a vent, and they are—for the most part—really bad days. I groan when I look at the alarm clock, then shuffle out to the kitchen and think about how much I need some caffeine before I break a pencil over somebody’s head. I feel anxious that the baby might wake up before I get in my cup of tea and a few moments of quiet. I look out the window and utter another sigh when I consider bringing all the kids out into the cold or slush or wind. I take a look at my to-do list for the day and consider how I never seem to have a day just to hang out and relax and oh my God did the big boys really forget to start the dishwasher again, and what is it with the pee on the toilet seat, and how come I’m out of my favorite tea and NO NO NO WHAT IS THAT SOUND IS THE BABY UP ALREADY?

See what I mean? One little injustice or annoyance stacking on top of another. And the days that I really hone in on this part of the truth; the days I dig my claws into that vent and hold on for dear life…those are the days I end up so full of the unfairness of this hot steaming pile of crud sandwich that life can be that I can barely stand it. The vent starts to write itself. All the unfairness of it. The messes and indignities. The drama. The boredom.

So I’ve learned to reframe my truth. Because the kids that peed on the seat and dirtied the bowls are sitting there in rumpled jammies and the baby is smiling expectantly at me with her flushed morning cheeks and everybody is waiting for my cue to start the day…and what else am I gonna do? I could remind them all how much it stinks to sit in their pee (which, yes, I sometimes do) and I could tell the baby that I really don’t appreciate it when she doesn’t let me finish my tea. But that wouldn’t change the fact that the day has to start, that I’m in charge, and that we’ll all be a lot happier (yes, me included) if I can just let it go. And if I can do that, if I can let all that bad stuff go even just for a moment..well, there’s not much of a point bringing it back up later, is there?

Is my approach less honest? Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as self-preservation. In every person’s life there is more than one truth. And there is a lot of room for creating your own truth, a truth you can live with and a truth that the people around you can live with. My kids raise my blood pressure, ask too much of me, make a mess and behave like uncivilized monkeys. Their existence brings a long list of needs: groceries, doctors’ appointments, notes from school, dinners to be made, laundry to do, fights to referee and floors to clean. But those things are not going to stop happening no matter how unfair they are, no matter how hard I vent. And they’re only part of the truth.

For me it’s not about pretending everything is wonderful or glossing over the hard parts of parenting. I love a good one-line gripe on Twitter. When I get together with my mom friends we share good-natured jabs at our kids and spouses and responsibilities and lives. And when there’s a problem that has an actual potential solution (a relationship issue, or a discipline problem, for example) it can be really helpful to talk it over with other people who’ve been there. Venting has a place in my life, for sure.

But I just can’t live inside a vent anymore. I did once upon a time, when my children were younger and I was more shell-shocked by how HARD and NEVER-ENDING it all is and just needed somebody, anybody, to relate to what I was going through. And the more I wrote and the more they related the more I crawled into my vent and lived and breathed it and it became my life.

At some point, though, I realized that the venting never brought me as much satisfaction as I’d hoped for. Instead it just made the bad parts seem to last longer, because I was still talking about them days later. Even commiseration, I realized, was cold comfort. Turns out I didn’t really need others to agree with me that life stunk. I just wanted to no longer feel as though my life stunk. And the only way I could make that happen was by writing my own motherhood story—one I actually wanted to live inside.

Maybe that’s not true for you. Maybe for you venting is more like sticking a fork in that potato in the microwave: safer for everybody involved than risking an explosion. But if you see yourself at all in my words, I invite you to spend a week or two not venting. Just see what happens if you “act as if” life isn’t so bad. Look at life not as a series of bad and annoying things that happen to you without your permission, but instead experiences you can choose to participate in on your own terms.

Just give it a try. You can always go back to venting. Believe me, I sometimes do. I just prefer not to. Not because I’m the Happiest Mom in the World, but because for me, too much venting is a sure way to think I never could even come close.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah October 28, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I have something big to say. I haven’t thought it all through. I’m sure that it will be comprised of enough words to fill my own post. (and i may). But right now I just feel the need to say SOMETHING.

First of all. Yes. Venting turns into ranting turns into negativity that spreads like a virus through your body and your relationships. The key for me in your own story is that you “let go.” There is an enormous difference between letting go and burying. And letting go is a hard lesson. Hard to learn. Hard to exercise. But you do it. I know you do it because I come here to this space and I read your voice and I can feel it. And it’s not just because you don’t divulge all the annoyances of your kids or your chores, but because you speak with a certain resolve. That this is your life. This is mothering. This is the you that you choose to be. And it is a wonderful thing.

I have more to say. Much much more. Because you are right. There is an awful lot of venting out there. Venting which too often turns to negativity. And it irks me as I can only assume it irks you. Or, maybe it just saddens us both. I have my own reasons and my own perspectives for writing about the bad alongside the good. First and foremost, I am an IN THE MOMENT type of person.

But now? Instead of explaining further, I must take pause. And think about where this post really leads my thought. And my words. Which have been very positive lately, I would like to say… (while grinning)

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Kristin T. (@kt_writes) October 28, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Great post–so much to think about (and so well-written, as always)!

As I was reading in your post about Sarah’s take on finding that “fine balance” and being honest with yourself, I completely agreed with what she was saying. Then, further along in your post, I agreed with your perspective and choices, too. I don’t think they make you less honest in the least.

In the end, it’s all about balance–even what you’re talking about is dependent on balance, too. The tough thing about issues like this is that there’s no one-size-fits-all best approach. There are so many factors involved, from each individual’s personality and weaknesses, to their upbringing and how their parents dealt with frustration and anger.

The important thing is that we each become more aware of the choices we’re making and how those choices play out in the day-to-day. For some people, a bit more venting can be healthy, while for others it only feeds the fire. Hearing what both you and Sarah have to say helps the rest of us be more aware and deliberate.

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Boy Crazy (@claritychaos) October 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Meagen, first I want to say I have read you a few different places (print) and really like what you have to say.

I, too, am one to focus on the positive. Believe me, I vent and do so with raw honesty. But I am a firm believer that negativity breeds more negativity, and that by focusing on the positive we will start to see things more optimistically. I write about this a lot – in fact many of my vents spin towards the silver lining before I am through. If you’re interested, here a couple of posts I’d like to share because I think they are relevant to what you’re saying here.

http://clarity-chaos.blogspot.com/2009/09/aftertaste.html (on my blog)

http://happybambino.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/gratitude/ (a guest post I wrote elsewhere)

Thanks for your voice on this.

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Jen October 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Meagan, Thank you for writing this. Not just because you refer back to Sarah’s response. But because it is the truth. The real truth. Taking a break from the venting is empowering. There are better ways to get through the difficult parts. Family, motherhood to me means 1,000 little forgivenesses each day (well, sometimes a few less). And I find it most difficult to forgive myself, for the impatience, the frustration, the want for quiet, peace, neatness. I’ve lately been having a VERY difficult time with this. With the It’s NOT fair. Why me? Etc. I feel like I could be venting all the time. But I can’t. The venting is just as bad as the frustration. It’s no good for any of us. And I need to figure out how to get through it. Because I am the one to give the cue that it is time to start the day, like you, and we are all happier when I am happier. Thank you for the truth of this. Of your writing and of your days. It helps me to know that I am far from alone. Cliched, perhaps, but very very true.

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Christina October 28, 2009 at 7:30 pm

You make a great point and one I try to live by. A friend of mine was telling me she had a blog I’d never seen before. Then she told me, “Yeah, and my sister’s friend looked at it and asked my sister, ‘Does this woman even like her children?'” She laughed about how she only posts about the hard stuff.

The funny thing was, I went and read her blog and I found it absolutely sad how negative she was. I knew her as a dedicated, loving mom with a sense of humor, but NONE of that came out in her blog. Even her supposedly humorous stories had an edge and negativity to them.

I think a blog ought to reflect the person writing it and as you say, we can choose to focus on the positive and joyful. Not that we set ourselves up as Supermom, but that we share even our gripes and challenges in a way that puts them in perspective and helps us move through them, as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.

(By the way, I just posted my own response (just a few months late) to the Bumpaholics article on my blog. I quoted you.)

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Amber October 28, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I realized a long time ago that venting wasn’t cathartic for me. It just leads to wallowing. There are a few rare exceptions, but for the most part flying off the handle or blowing off steam do me no good.

As you say, there is more than one truth. And we can choose which one to embrace. I believe that wholeheartedly. I may not practice it as well as I would like, but I’m trying.

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Christine LaRocque October 29, 2009 at 6:29 am

I can totally relate to: “when my children were younger and I was more shell-shocked by how HARD and NEVER-ENDING it all is and just needed somebody, anybody, to relate to what I was going through.” Mine are 8mos and 3 yrs and I totally feel shell shocked. I also remember though feeling like this when my first was 8 mos and I know it got better so I am banking on the same happening as the 8mo gets better. I am so guilty of the wallowing. I keep reminding myself that attitude is everything, but struggle to improve mine. Thanks for this post, it gives me food for thought and reminds me to put everything into perspective and find a way to get by with more thoughts of all the good days, rather than just the bad days.

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Mara October 29, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I think what you are talking about is a big part of growing into motherhood. I know that before I had children I was all about venting – any problem I had went into my eyes and ears and brain and out my mouth. When I was a new mother, this was also the case. For that reason, I remember clinging to Operating Instructions like it was some kind of life raft during the first few months of my oldest son’s life.

But like you, lately, I’ve been inclined to change my tune. Although I do still kvetch to my friends (mostly in person, not on Twitter or Facebook) I don’t like to spend a lot of time writing or exploring the darker side of motherhood. In fact, I have deliberately chosen an online presence that is, if not altogether free of venting, pretty darn close to it. I wouldn’t say I’m dishonest on my blog – I mention when things don’t go well, for sure. But I don’t really spend a lot of time talking about it. And I’ve had people I know personally say things to me like “your life isn’t really like that, is it?” You know what my response is? Yes and no. While I’m not interested in being Miss Mary Sunshine, I do like focusing on the things in my life as a mom that make me happy. Because I had enough drama in my unhappy childhood and don’t really feel like passing it along. And because I’m in it for the long haul.

There’s nothing wrong with venting. I’m just not interested in it being a major way that I think about my life.

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Meredith November 3, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Oh my god I need to print this out and put it on my refrigerator. I often find that when not done properly, venting just gets me more riled up. There’s venting and then there is wallowing and either way I usually just need to get on with it. Thank you for a great post.

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Lindsey November 4, 2009 at 9:23 am

Thank you so much for writing this.
I am engaged at this precise moment in an effort to reframe my life, to take the focus from the difficult to the joyful, and hoping that sheer force of effort will go a long way towards that.
I wrote today on my blog the following line (that a friend told me, I think it is an AA tenet): you cannot think your way to right action. so act your way to right thinking.
I’m certainly trying.
Really glad I found your blog!
Lindsey

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Pepper November 5, 2009 at 9:33 pm

I think you are very right in a lot you say but in some ways I think that if we stopped venting on our blogs or in our lives that we may be drawing these perfect happy little lives for new mothers and struggling mothers that make it even harder for them.

A very good example of this is postpartum depression. There are not enough mom’s out there talking about their experiences. When I see another mother willing to express themselves about how hard it is how they struggled I feel like wow, I’m not the only one. And then I too can talk about my experience.

I do think what you hit on about the negativity is what really needs to stop. I’m amazed at some of the dirty mouths out there in the blogosphere now. And it’s not just that that is upsetting but how blatantly crass they are about the things they are talking about.

I think we need to share our struggles and ask for help, but I don’t think we need to be rude or completely negative to do so.

I hope this makes sense. It makes sense in my head. LOL

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Jennifer Margulis November 15, 2009 at 10:32 pm

I agree that we can choose our focus and our reality, Meagan. And it can be so powerful to CHOOSE not to vent or to choose not to dwell on the negative. I think sometimes our minds are our worst enemies. In Zen I think people call it “the story” — the story we tell ourselves that often has little to do with reality. We can change that story and have a much better time of things. I think it’s a really good thing to focus on the good and the happy. And, as this post shows, you do that in an HONEST way, without pretending perfection. I so appreciate that.

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hlf December 8, 2009 at 8:40 am

thank you so much for saying what i’ve been dying to read for a while now. i am 23 weeks pregnant with my first child and have come across so many articles, posts and ‘advice’ from friends about how being a mom is pure drudgery with perhaps a little joy sprinkled in here and there. since i am not yet a mother, just a peaceful and happy (not blissful) pregnant lady i feel i am in no position to make any claims about motherhood, but i’d like to believe that i wouldn’t have planned to have this child if i weren’t prepared to sacrifice so many of the freedoms i’ve enjoyed for the past 34 years. it would be naive to believe that motherhood doesn’t come with frustrations, that no strain is felt, but what about the joys? i know they exist, and it’d be nice to read about those. i guess i’m one of the lucky ones who is not terribly challenged or enamoured with her work outside the home, and i’m looking forward to having a job i can believe in, work hard at, be challenged by and really put my heart and soul into. no child is born to make us happy, or unhappy for that matter. no child asks to be born. as mothers we have a real responsibility to challenge ourselves to be the best women we can be for ourselves and therefore, for our children. i agree that in life, not just motherhood, focusing on negatives is never a good or utile approach. thank you very much for pointing this out in such a well-reasoned way.

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Debra December 9, 2009 at 7:01 am

So true! Thanks for the inspiration. I find myself again and again struggling to go complaint free for these very reasons.

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carolina December 9, 2009 at 8:22 am

I can agree with you for the most part, and definitly well expressed,you obviously have alot of experience to say it so mater-of-factly. But there are those of us that have a more difficult time just “letting go”and being more optomistic. some people live in the momment, and feel as though the hard times will never seize, so for those moms out there that do have a harder time…
I have three kids myself,son is 6,daughter is 3 and baby girl is 7 months. I never imagined how hard it would be not knowing what having the children so close in age might do to me, but its stressful! i commend all of you that can do it, but i have very difficult times and i get depressed, i want to cry for little things all the time,but i realize and tell myself that my kids are watching me,and i then see my mother in myself, i dont want to emotionally scar my children, so i literally FORCE myself to do something “I ENJOY” doing, without the guilt of taking the little one along for the trip, the will servive, they will be happy when momm is happy. SO…do whats fun for you, and FORCE IT OUT!! because not all of us a wired to just let go so easily

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Betsy November 2, 2010 at 5:15 am

“I am more than my latest blog post, mood, or parenting experience.”
This truth resonates deeply with me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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Marianne February 9, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I’m alittle lat to the challenge here…I on;y fund your blog in December and I was reading through old posts and found this. just what U needed to hear. I see myself completely in the “living in the vent” scenario. I have been laid up recently recovering form surgery and am finding the forced slow-down of my pace of life is enjoyable. While I still don;t have loads of patience, I’m finding what I have a little easier to access with my 5 and 6 year old. This might be the perfect time to try this. Though I’ll admit that I’m frightened I might lose my sense of humor, since so much of it is based on sarcasm. We’ll see what happens! Thanks for this!

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amy March 9, 2011 at 6:53 pm

wow. I am just now discovering your blog, and browsing through the archives, and there is some really brilliant, profound stuff here that I am needing to hear. like this post which I am printing to chew on some more. thank you.

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Mon May 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Well said……I understood venting to be something negative but really telling it like it is whether your confidont, sister, best friend or whoever it is that your venting to is the norm and only not saying it would be negative. Mothers should be entitled to release energy our energy as mothers its not always easy. Reality check when we are everything to everyone its our right as mothers to release good or bad energy as long as its not hurting the people we love, write it on a notepad but release your energy its healthy to let it out. No such thing as the perfect mother.

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