mother and daughter talking on couch
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Do you have a strained relationship with your mother? Problems from childhood could set the stage for problems with romantic partners or your own children.

People call these difficultiesmommy issues. The term may sound cringeworthy, but it does describe some real distress.

Many experts would argue that your mother is the most important figure of your early childhood.

If she abused you, manipulated you, or failed to provide essential emotional support, the psychological aftereffects can persist into your adult life.

Over protective mother-child dynamics can result in so-called mommy issues. She might have looked the other way when you made mistakes. She may have tried to be your best friend, not your mother.

These doting, loving parenting styles can have serious effects.

You had no control over the way she chose to parent, so you aren’t to blame for any outcomes of a toxic maternal relationship.

Still, it’s worth making the effort to address any relationship difficulties you experience. After all, you can control your behavior now.

Patrick Cheatham, a psychologist in Portland, Oregon, explains that people who have a strained or toxic maternal relationship often expect romantic partners to fulfill needs their mother could not.

He says that if relationships play out like this, you might end up idealizing your partner.

When this doesn’t happen, you experience some disillusionment that leads you to shove them off the pedestal, so to speak.

Not always.

It’s easy to see how people with unloving or emotionally unavailable mothers might carry lingering scars as a result of harsh or distant treatment.

“But what if she wasn’t there?”

Maybe your mom died because she lacked the support she needed to deal with her mental and physical health issues. She might have left you with your other parent because she thought it would give you the best life.

Her absence can create feelings of abandonment or rejection, no matter her reasons or lack of control over the situation.

You might try to seek this missed love from other mother figures or romantic partners. The need for their affection might leave you with the urge to do everything possible to keep them happy so they don’t leave, too. Sometimes, this can show up as clinginess or people-pleasing.

Too much of a good thing is also possible.

Perhaps, far from neglecting you, your mother smothered you with well-intentioned guidance and refused to let you make your own choices.

Growing up without the means to meet your own needs can lead to dependence.

People usually apply the term “mommy issues” to men who display some of the following behaviors.

  • an expectation that romantic partners will provide more than a fair share of household labor or emotional support
  • trust issues or difficulty showing vulnerability
  • a strong need for affection and approval or difficulty showing affection or rapid shifts between the two
  • “cold feet” when it comes to relationship commitment
  • There is a need for maternal guidance.
  • “It’s difficult to talk to or spend time with their mother.”
  • relationship anxiety
  • It was uncomfortable with intimacy.
  • Sensitivity to real or perceived criticism is extreme.
  • Relationship boundaries are not developed.
  • A habit of dating people who share similar characteristics with their mother.

“They probably won’t look the same.”

Distress can be experienced by anyone, but gender can affect how it shows up.

A poor sense of self-worth is what the daughters of unkind mothers might have.

If your mother spent a lot of time pinpointing your flaws or critiquing your appearance, you might have a lot of shame and insecurity as an adult. This sometimes contributes to unhealthy relationship patterns or mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety.

An enmeshed relationship, or one that lacked normal parent-child boundaries, can cause problems, too.

She may have tried to be your best friend when she was a mom who set boundaries, enforced limits, and told you to be careful around bad boys instead of begging for details of your sex life.

This can create a lot of different problems. Maybe you do everything you can to keep your mother away from you, or at least shock her into thinking so.

It can be difficult to get motherly guidance as you establish yourself as an adult and pursue relationships and children of your own.

If you’ve heard of mommy issues, you’ve probably heard of “daddy issues,” too.

Both these terms have their roots in attachment theory, which we’ll go over below. They also relate to Freud’s controversial Oedipus complex theory.

diagnoses that any credible mental health professional recognizes are not ones.

You may have heard that women have daddy issues and men have mommy issues.

In reality, people of any gender can experience psychological distress as a result of an unfulfilling relationship with either parent.

The termdaddy issues is used in the context of sexual behavior, but it is inaccurate and stigmatizing. It really means that your relationship with your father affects your adult relationships.

Someone who has daddy issues might be that person.

  • Have trouble trusting others.
  • form romantic attachments easily or struggle with intimacy
  • It is possible to experience relationship anxiety or relationship insecurity.
  • There is a lot of validation and emotional support.
  • Seek partners with similar qualities to their father.

Some of these are familiar? They are similar to the things that are associated with issues with mothers.

Attachment theory is related to issues of the mother and father. That is important.

Attachment theory suggests babies are born with the need to attach to their primary caregiver.

This bond is formed with your mother. It is your first relationship and it is a good place to start developing other important relationships, such as with romantic partners.

There are two main types of attachment, along with several other subcategories.

Secure attachment

Adult attachment style is remarkably congruent with childhood attachment style,” Cheatham explains.

He says attachment is the way people balance intimacy with identifying and protecting themselves from perceived risks in relationships.

When your mother is available to meet most of your physical and emotional needs from the get-go, you’ll most likely grow up securely attached.

You could depend on her, so you feel comfortable trusting other people. People who are securely attached feel safe and are fond of intimate relationships.

Insecure attachment

Perhaps your mother was physically or emotionally absent or showed up sometimes, but not always. In either case, your attachment style might turn out to be somewhat insecure.

Anxious attachment

Anxious attachment is a type of insecure attachment. It might suggest your mother was sometimes unavailable.

Your mom might have struggled to provide support when she was stressed or caught up in her own issues. She might have been distracted by work, put her partner first, or just not be present due to health concerns.

You might feel terrified that your partner will reject you or fail to provide support, and need constant reassurance to believe otherwise.

“You find yourself checking in on them often because you can’t trust them.”

Avoidant attachment

Avoidant attachment is another type of insecure attachment. It might develop when your mother ignored you or treated you harshly.

Maybe she was overly critical and expected you to keep your emotions and behavior completely under control. Instead of offering support, she expected you to look after yourself and meet your own needs.

You might prefer to avoid relationships with people who are committed. You never learned to express your needs because you were discouraged from showing your emotions.

You need to maintain control and independence in order to be seen as distant by partners.

Attachment disorganized

If you didn’t experience a consistently secure relationship with your mother when you were very young, you may have a disoriented and disorganized attachment style.

Children with disorganized attachment don’t respond in a consistent way when the mother goes away or comes back. They may find separation confusing, throw tantrums, and be inconsolable. When the mother returns, the child may appear to seek closeness but also avoid the parent.

This behavior can lead to neglect and abuse and can increase the risk of mental health issues later in life. It can affect how you relate to someone.

Attachment theory is complex.

When you become a parent yourself, there can be issues with your romantic relationships.

In many families, parents look to girls to help maintain household harmony, take care of younger siblings, and generally work toward becoming a mother.

The sons had more freedom inside and outside the home, including forgiveness of behavioral lapse.

These expectations are changing. Phrases like “boys will be boys” are going out the window as people increasingly recognize the flaws with a binary view of gender.

Many adults today still experiencemommy issues that reflect gendered assumptions, despite the great news for future generations.


Men might not be able to complete household chores because they were never expected to.

“They might look for a female partner who will manage these responsibilities. Cheatham says they might have unrealistic expectations when it comes to their partner’s parenting.”


Some adults might bend over backwards to be a better parent than their mother was to them.

Cheatham says that parenting might be more complex for women who have a complicated relationship with their maternal grandmother.

“Society already puts a lot of pressure on mothers, so if you are trying to make sure you don’t have a bad relationship with your mother, you may be in for a lot of trouble.”

There are many ways to be a good parent.

Maybe your mother was not always there for you, but she might have tried her best with her available resources.

It can take a lot of hard work to overcome a difficult relationship.

“It is important to acknowledge how your mother’s parenting style may have contributed to the problems in your current relationships.”

Identifying these issues can help you begin making changes, since a lack of awareness makes healthy resolution difficult.

“Say you fear rejection from your partner because your mother threatened to leave if you weren’t good. You might want to remind yourself that your partner loves you and wants to be with you.”

It is not always easy to do this alone, even with a partner. Therapy comes in that area.

Professional support can help with attachment issues.

A therapist won’t diagnose you with mommy issues, but they will acknowledge the lasting effects a strained or toxic maternal relationship can have, and they can offer support as you begin addressing these concerns.

You can in therapy.

A therapist can give guidance on healthy relationships.

It’s completely normal and OK to update your mother about your life, but remember, it’s your life.

“Unless your culture practices arranged marriage, your mom shouldn’t make your decisions, shape your career, or pick your romantic partner.”

Rather than writing off real concerns with terms that don\’t get at the heart of the matter, let\’s call them “mommy issues.”

“Your mother’s attachment to you can have an impact on your romantic life, but support from a therapist can help you develop more stable relationships.”

Crystal Raypole worked as an editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. She is committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.