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How Does an Overbearing Mother Affect a Child?

by Jackson Fields

The domineering style of an overbearing mother can promote emotional problems, trouble managing social situations and difficulties in school that follow the child into adulthood and the workplace. While the neglectful “bad-mother” promotes a sense of abandonment and the balanced “good-enough-mother” fosters a sense of safety, the overbearing “good-mother” prompts feelings of anxiety and depression, which can foster social problems like delinquency, issues with motivation and other developmental concerns.

Types of Mothering Styles

In her landmark book on parent-child relationships, "The Drama of the Gifted Child," German psychoanalyst Alice Miller described three different kinds of mothering styles. The “bad-mother” is absent and neglectful. The “good-enough-mother” effectively balances the child’s need to develop independence with her own need to be present as a parent. The “good-mother” is hypervigilant and overbearing.

Development of Anxiety

Children of overbearing “good-mothers” can develop an expectation that they will only be loved if they behave in a particular way. These children typically exhibit higher levels of anxiety, note Temple University researchers Chiaying Wei and Philip C. Kendall in their 2014 study, “Child Perceived Parenting Behavior: Childhood Anxiety and Related Symptoms,” published in Child Family and Behavior Therapy. Children who reported feeling more accepted and experienced their mothers as less controlling, displayed fewer anxiety symptoms. Further, Chiaying and Kendall suggest that mothers using control tactics, such as guilt or emotional manipulation, to influence the child’s behavior not only set the stage for additional anxiety, but influence the potential development of trust issues in later relationships.

Development of Depression

Overbearing mothers have children who display higher levels of depression and lower life satisfaction, according to University of Mary Washington researcher Holly H. Shriffrin in “Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being,” published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. Shriffin and her colleagues suggest this may be due to a child feeling hindered or controlled when attempting to explore or exercise independence. Overly controlled or manipulated children express the helplessness that comes out of this situation as sadness or self-isolating, both in childhood and later in life.

Delinquent Behavior

Restrictive parenting is related to an increased incidence of childhood delinquency, according to a meta-analysis of 161 studies published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Delinquent behaviors, such as truancy, fighting, lying or stealing may arise in response to a child feeling controlled. In an effort to counteract this feeling, children tend to act out against authority figures, in general, and the mother, in particular.

Issues with Motivation

As children develop, parental hypervigilance leads to less school engagement, report Brigham Young University researchers Laura Padilla-Walker and Larry Nelson in a study of 438 students, “Black Hawk Down? Establishing Helicopter Parenting as a Distinct Construct from Other Forms of Parental Control during Emerging Adulthood” in the Journal of Adolescence. Their findings suggest that children will behave in certain ways to avoid parental scrutiny, failing to become self-motivated. When there is no pressure on youngsters to perform, this lack of internal motivation develops into an obstacle that may follow them throughout their schooling and into adulthood.

Resources

  • The Drama of the Gifted Child; Alice Miller

About the Author

Jackson Fields holds three master’s degrees in psychology, has contributed to and edited several books, and published more than 250 articles on psychology and related topics. His work appears in a number of national publications, including Psychology Today and Huffington Post.

Photo Credits

  • JackF/iStock/Getty Images