It’s the very picture of tranquility: You’re rolling your Bugaboo stroller down a quiet Central Park path as your kid babbles happily. Suddenly, a herd of joggers shunts your stroller to the left then a squad of tandem bikers forces you to veer right, smack into a brood of texting teens trying to weave through a pod of slow-moving tourists. You’re ready to kill everyone and everything.
This is “stroller rage” and, for many parents, it’s a familiar feeling.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Anger Management
“In most ways, it’s an analog to road rage,” Ryan C. Martin, anger expert, and chair of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, told Fatherly. “People get angry when their goals are blocked.”
The internet is full of elaborate descriptions of this anger.”It’s like, ‘Hello! I’ve got the weight of a toddler, three litres of milk, laundry detergent, and a bag of oranges all crammed into this pram. It’s not that easy to hitch it over the gutter,” one Australian blogger laments. “It’s strange,” one blogger wrote of her own losing battle with stroller rage. “I was never one for road rage. In, fact if anything I was the slow-anxiety-ridden driver causing traffic and inducing fury in others. But put me behind a stroller and I feel rage like no other.”
That second writer has a point. There is an important distinction between road rage and stroller rage. Though both emerge from the same natural aversion to being waylaid, people with stroller rage can’t roll up their windows and scream or curse people out without consequences. “Cars provide a means of aggression as well as a means of escape,” David Wiesenthal, a road rage expert at York University in Canada, told Fatherly. “In a car you’re anonymous and you’ll probably never encounter the other drivers again.”
This is why stroller rage in a town is different than stroller rage in a city. In New York, stroller pushers (and everyone else) can be rude because they don’t expect to encounter strangers more than once. “The city is crowded, and the people alongside your stroller will probably never be next to you again,” Wiesenthal says. “Perhaps the normal restraints on behavior don’t exist.” Importantly, that’s probably less true within a neighborhood or a bounded exercise area.
Wiesenthal suspects that the psychological toll of parenting—all that multitasking, all those concerns—might exacerbate frustrations, pushing people to turn their Bugaboos into battering rams. Parents, after all, are primed to overreact. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation and stress can make us far more prone to angry outbursts. Parents dealing with young kids of stroller age are likely also dealing with sleeplessness or colic.
Young dads on stroller duty may be even more likely than moms to flip out on the sidewalk and chuck a diaper bag at a skateboarder, Wiesenthal adds. “We know that males under 30 are probably the most dangerous segment in society,” he says. “So, at least in terms of physical aggression, fathers under the age of 30 might be expected to be more aggressive than older fathers, and certainly mothers.” Women, Wiesenthal notes, are just as susceptible to road rage as men—but far less likely to get out of the car and attack a bad driver.
Interestingly, aggressive reactions may not just be triggered by outside stimuli. “Pushing a stroller makes you feel a little vulnerable, because your child is away from you and the possibility of getting knocked over or someone spilling hot coffee in the stroller means there’s some vulnerability that comes with these situations,” Martin says. “That tension escalates feelings of anger when people get in your way or when things go wrong.”
Now, nobody wants to be that parent—unleashing a torrent of obscenities at dog walkers with your kid looking on—so taking steps to prevent stroller rage before it happens is key. Wiesenthal suggests listening to music while walking, or engaging in deep breathing exercises. Martin adds that a little bit of self-knowledge can go a long way. “One of the best ways to deal with anger is to know the situations that tend to make you angry, and become a bit more aware,” he says. That way, a dad who knows he’s likely to lash out at thoughtless pedestrians, dog owners, or loiterers when he hasn’t slept can pass the stroller to mom, or at least mentally prepare himself to take sidewalk violations less seriously.
“Emotional intelligence is a big part of decreasing the likelihood of getting angry,” Martin says. “There are parts of this you can control.”