How to Recognize an Unhealthy Relationship With Your Mother

by Erica Loop

When mom crosses boundaries, doesn't respect your privacy or hovers like a helicopter, your relationship with her can suffer. Whether you still live at home or you're a full-fledged adult who's moved out, recognizing an unhealthy relationship with your mother can help you to start solving the problem and turn your family dynamic around.

Blurred Lines

Take a look at how close you and your mother are. While there's nothing wrong with having a caring bond with mom, when it gets too close for comfort you have a problem. This may mean that either you or your mother -- or both of you -- blur the lines of the parent-child relationship and don't respect each other's boundaries. For example, instead of acting like a responsible mother who sets rules and gives guidelines, she thinks she's your BFF. This may include your mother acting like she's your age or you having to be the grown-up and mother her, according to psychologist Susan Newman in "How Close is Too Close in Mother-Daughter Relationships?" on the website Psychology Today.

Helicopter Parenting

You may not have noticed your mother not-so-subtly hovering over you during your Mommy and Me class when you were 4, but now that you're older you can pick up on the signals that she's a helicopter parent. A helicopter parent is overly involved, makes decisions for the child and jumps in to save the day -- even when the child doesn't want her to. As adults, grown children -- as well as the parents -- viewed this type of behavior as too intense, according to the study "Helicopter Parents and Landing Pad Kids: Intense Parental Support of Grown Children" in the "Journal of Marriage and Family," by Karen L. Fingerman et al.

Pressure Tactics

While a helicopter mom may hover and rush in to help, some parents crank up the pressure and have expectations that are too high for the children to meet. If you never feel like you're meeting mom's expectations or simply can't live up to her goals, you have a problem in your relationship. In a study of college students' adjustment in the "Journal of Youth and Adolescence," researchers Allison Kanter Agliata and Kimberly Rank found that students who had parents with higher expectations had lower self-worth. For example, your mother pressures you to take high-level science courses -- even though you would rather take art courses -- and demands that you get straight A's. You get B's and feel like you're a failure.

Your Role

Even though mom plays her own role in the unhealthy dynamic, don't assume that you have nothing to do with it. Review your own behavior, looking at how you treat your mother as well as how you react to her. For example, if you're always trying to please your controlling mom, she may continue her unwanted behaviors. If you're always asking for help or support -- emotional as well as financial -- as an adult, your mother may grow to resent your overly needy nature. In the "Journal of Marriage and Family" study, the researchers noted a connection between parents who viewed their grown children as needy and their feelings of lower overall life satisfaction. Your mom may want you to act independently, and not want to baby you forever.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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