Why Some Mother-Son Relationships Are Toxic – Ways To Fix Them

Because the mom-son bond should be replete with love, care, and great affection.

Reviewed by Hemali Adhiya, ICF Certified Relationship Coach
Written by Sneha Tete, Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach
Edited by Asmita De, MA (English)
Fact-checked by Reshma Latif, BSc  • 

A toxic mother and son relationship results from a manipulative, over-protective, abusive, or controlling mother. Such behavior can have long-lasting effects on the son’s mental health and impact his adult life. However, these toxic relationships occur only on a minority scale, and most mothers leave no stone unturned to make the careers of their son(s).

According to a survey, 22% of mothers are “toxic” as against 19% of fathers (1). This could be quite shocking, but the statistics say so! So, how do you find out if a relationship is toxic? Can we rebuild a healthy relationship? In this article, we will discuss the causes and signs of a toxic relationship between a mother and a son and how to deal with it. Keep reading.

Signs Of A Toxic Mother And Son Relationship

Verbal abuse a sign of a toxic mother and son relationship
Image: IStock

The signs of a dysfunctional mother-and-son relationship appear early on from the son’s childhood. Such a relationship affects the brain development and cognitive abilities of the child, resulting in difficulty in bonding and learning, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and attachment issues. Here, we have listed the signs of an unhealthy mother and son relationship:

  • Compulsive Controlling: From what toothbrush to use and which subjects to pick to whom to marry, the constant need to control the son is a glowering example of an unhealthy mother and son relationship. Wil Wheaton, a blogger shared his experience of living with a controlling mother. She chose his clothes for one of his magazine shoots to make him appear good enough for the fans. “I wanted to wear an Oingo Boingo T-shirt, and in her manipulative way, she pulled every button-down shirt I owned to try on “just to be sure”. She exhausted me, and I wore whatever she wanted me to wear (i).”
  • Manipulation: Manipulative behavior to get things done her way or fulfill her wishes is a classic example of an unhealthy mother-son relationship. Crying, making the son feel bad, and gaining sympathy are a few ways some mothers tend to manipulate.
  • Abuse: Verbally and physically abusive behavior is commonly exhibited by insecure mothers. From giving the cold shoulder, calling names, comparing with others, using words to intentionally hurt, to punishing for the smallest of errors are signs of an unhealthy, toxic relationship.
  • Threats: Another sign that a mother-son relationship is toxic is the mother constantly threatening to leave home. This results in abandonment issues later in life.
  • Narcissistic Behavior: A Narcissistic parent is tough to impress. They have impossibly high standards. They do not see their son(s) as an individual, but rather as an extension of themselves. As a result, the relationship takes an unhealthy turn when the expectations are not met by the son. This, in turn, affects the son’s future relationships with his friends, colleagues, and family members.
  • Interference: Interfering with who to marry and further interference later in the marriage is another sign of a toxic mother-son relationship. It causes marital problems and sometimes burns the bridges between the son and his wife.
  • Overprotectiveness: Mothers protect. But overprotective behavior that demands the son be constantly monitored, sneakily seeking information about him, and fighting his fights are a few signs. In the long run, this can become annoying and ruin the relationship.
  • Substance Abuse: Abusing substances and being unable to take care of the son and/or finances strains the relationship. Neglect and immature decisions often make the son shoulder a lot of responsibilities. In the long run, this dependency on the mother without helping or contributing to the relationship crushes the mother-son bond.
  • Unapologetic Nature: Harsh treatment or manipulation can cause a rift and reduce trust. However, mothers who do not take responsibility for their actions or apologize often push their sons away. Not apologizing deepens the crack in the mother-son relationship.

These are the various reasons a mother and son relationship becomes toxic. But to err is human. And, like issues in any other relationship, a bad mother and son relationship stems from certain psychological issues. We will discuss the same in the next section.

Causes Of Mother And Son Relationship Problems

Depression as a cause of toxic mother and son relationship
Image: Shutterstock
  • Insecurity: Possessive, over-protective, manipulative, abusive, and narcissistic behavior originates from a mother’s insecurity. Fear of losing control of her life, feeling ignored, financial problems, a divorce or separation, losing a job, etc. can trigger insecurity.
  • Depression: Mothers who are depressed have a negative effect on their children (2). Postpartum depressioni  XBehavioral, physical, and emotional changes that women face after childbirth that may lead to experiencing sadness and despair. and/or clinical depression can make the mother neglect or abuse their son (3).
  • Childhood Abuse: Women who have experienced childhood abuse can become harsh parents (2). In other words, they repeat the parenting style they experienced in their childhood, which contributes to their negative behavior.

Unhealthy attachment style in a mother and son relationship is psychologically complex. Making amends for toxic parenting and forgiving can slowly heal the relationship. In the following section, we advise mothers and sons on how to rebuild the relationship.

How To Build A Healthy Mother And Son Relationship

Do's and don'ts of building a healthy mother and son relationship
Image: Shutterstock

Any relationship is a two-way street. For it to work, both parties have to invest the effort. We have listed out to-dos and not-to-dos for both mothers and sons to rebuild the mother-son relationship. Take a look.

10 Things Mothers Can Do To Improve The Mother-Son Relationship

Therapy as a way to improve the toxic mother and son relationship
Image: Shutterstock
  1. Listen And Empathize

    A mother’s job is 24/7. It can get tiring. In the chaos, mothers often forget to listen and empathize. However, it’s not too late. Start listening to your son and understand his point of view. Does he need your attention or love? Are you being too imposing? Or, is he going through something that needs an intervention by an expert? His behavior (silent, ignorant, angry, etc.) and choice of words will reveal a lot. All you have to do is listen with your ears, eyes, and your motherly instinct.

  2. Apologize

    An apology can go a long way to mend a fractured relationship with your son. It is also the best way to extend a helping hand to someone who is not receptive due to past hurt. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Make amends starting with a heartfelt apology and not repeating the behaviors that made your son distant.

  3. Seek Therapy

    Childhood abuse, emotional abuse, or maltreatment can make mothers repeat similar behavior. Harsh parenting, on the other hand, not only impacts mental health but also sows the seeds of resentment. Mothers with depression, built-up trauma, or other mental illnesses can also hurt their sons by not being emotionally supportive. If you want to make things right, seek professional therapy. It will enable you to get to a better mental space to have a healthy relationship with your son.

  4. Focus On Yourself

    Most women dedicate themselves to their child or children – and this can be unhealthy for both the mother and son(s). Give your son the space they need. Focus on yourself. What is it that you want to do? Go to school? Learn a new skill? Travel or write a book? Maybe start a cooking channel on YouTube? Focusing on yourself will have a positive effect on you. You will be happier – and so will be your son, family, and friends.

  5. Respect His Privacy

    Everyone needs privacy. Whether it is your son’s personal or professional life, you must respect his privacy. Constantly nudging him to receive updates on his day, dating life, work-life, etc. can be intrusive and may not be welcome. It will only annoy him and push him farther away from you.

protip_icon Quick Tip

Avoid dropping at their place unannounced, especially if your son has a family. Call or text him beforehand to see if he’s available.

  1. Do Not Compare

    Constantly comparing your son with others is not a fair game. It will impact his self-worth and self-esteem and can make him grow into an insecure individual always seeking validation from others. Further on, it will hinder the other relationships he will develop in life. Stop comparing your son with others and appreciate him for who he is. As a mother, encourage him to hone his existing skills pressuring him to pick up something that others’ sons are doing.

  2. Be Authoritative, Not Authoritarian

    Authoritative mothers are warm yet firm. They love and support their children but also keep a close eye on their progress in studies and protect them from unwanted associations. On the other hand, authoritarian mothers are unsupportive, cold, lack empathy, and abusive. They also are strict. Being authoritative will give your son a healthy environment to grow and learn. Authoritarian parenting, on the other side, can lead to emotional issues and depression.

  3. Do Not Interfere In His Marriage

    Do you interfere in your son’s marriage with unsought advice, playing the referee, or complaining about your daughter-in-law? Or do you drop at their place any time and overstay your visit? Stop doing that immediately. Your son has his family now and has to take care of them. Of course, you are a part of it. However, two people in the marriage should not be influenced by another person. Maintain a close bond with your daughter-in-law and your son but also enough distance so they don’t feel annoyed lest they start making you feel unwanted.

  4. Do Not Pressurize

    Pressurizing someone to do or not do something never works. Your son is no exception. It only creates undercurrents of tension and resentment in the relationship. If you think your son needs guidance, discuss it with him over lunch. But let the final decision and its consequences be entirely his.

  5. Let Him Fight His Fights

    You want to protect your son from every blow. But that’s not practical. Let your son fight his fights. It will also teach him the skills required to navigate through the adversities of life. Your role as a mother would be to support him and show him the right direction – and not walk his walk.

Read more: reasons to love your mom

These are the 10 things mothers can do to mend their relationship with their son(s). The following section lists out 7 things sons can do to improve their relationship with their mother.

7 Things Sons Can Do To Improve The Mother-Son Relationship

Showing appreciation as a way of improving toxic mother and son relatiionship
Image: IStock

A majority of responsibility for a bad mother and son relationship is shouldered by mothers. However, a lot of toxicity can come from sons as well. It may be a reaction to the mother’s behavior. But the bigger picture here is to mend the cracks. Here’s what a son can do to create a healthy mother-son relationship:

  1. Stay In Touch

    Staying in touch with your mother through calls or visits will help your mother feel secure and happy. Call her at least once a week to let her know that you are doing well and ask her how she is. Visit her on holidays for at least one dinner or one day to make her feel included in your life.

  2. Say Thank You

    Mothers do a lot for us, but how often do we say thank you? Not acknowledging her efforts can make her feel invisible and unappreciated. The next time she does something nice, whether you ask her for it or not, do not take it for granted. Say thank you. It is going to make a lot of difference to her.

  3. Forgive More Often

    All mothers are not perfect. They are human beings, just like you. They have their issues to deal with. Some mothers are just better capable of dealing with the issues than others. Learn to forgive her for not being able to be the model mother. Holding a grudge against her will only cause you pain and keep you from moving on. Forgive her for mistreating you. Forgive her for not knowing better.

  4. Don’t Be Financially Dependent

    It is very important to be financially independent from an early age. It will give you the freedom to choose the subject you study, the college you go to, the career you choose, the house you buy, the car you drive, and the person you marry. Yes, you can go on a break if you need to. But do not sit around and let your parents take care of your basic needs. Get a part-time job to use your time and learn something.

  5. Be Supportive

    Just like you need your mother’s support, she also needs your support. After all, human beings are codependent. Whether you have a single mother or not, mothers always look for the approval of their children. So, if she wants to date, or learn something new, or seek therapy – encourage her and support her by helping her install a dating app, downloading the school brochure, or booking an appointment with the therapist.

  6. Introduce Her To Your Friends

    Friends often become family. Why not introduce your mother to a few such close friends? This will keep your mother from anxiously wondering about your safety and the company you keep.

  7. Set Boundaries

    Setting boundaries is a great way to build a healthy relationship with your mother. Let her know that you are not OK with her calling too many times a day or worrying over you. It is OK to lend money to her when she needs it. However, if she has substance abuse issues, you must tighten the budget. Lastly, you have to make her understand that you are a different individual and not an extension of herself. Unrealistic expectations from you will only cause you to move away from her.

protip_icon Quick Tip

Seek therapy and help from support systems as you will require a lot of healing from the toxic relationship. Therapy will help you identify the patterns and heal from the negative thoughts and guilt.

Infographic: Mother-Son Quality Time Ideas

Once you begin working on improving the mother-son bond, the next step is spending quality time. The idea of spending time together comes with the understanding that you both (mother and son) are going to give all your attention and effort to each other. The expectation and commitment is predetermined. It is a very wholesome and safe way to build a bond and keep it from getting toxic.

Check out the infographic below on some mother-son quality time ideas that can help you both build stronger and healthier bonds.

mother son quality time ideas (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Save the high-quality PDF version on your device now.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

Your mental health comes first, no matter what. If you can relate to most of the signs mentioned above, the chances are you live in a dysfunctional family and have a toxic mother-son relationship. So, you must work on the relationship together to adopt healthier behavior patterns. There could be many underlying reasons behind such an unhealthy dynamic between the two of you. You both need to talk it out and make each other aware of your feelings and that you are hurting inside. Seek professional help if nothing else works.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mother-son enmeshment?

An enmeshed mother-son relationship is where the son becomes a mama’s boy and cannot separate from his mother even after growing up. There are no boundaries in the relationship, and the son fails to have an identity and values of his own.

What is a normal mother-son relationship?

A normal mother-son relationship involves healthy boundaries, privacy, support, trust, love, and individual freedom. It does not involve manipulation and toxic behaviors.

What is codependency between a mother and son?

It is an unhealthy relationship between a mother and her son where the mother exerts unnecessary control over her son’s life.

Key Takeaways

  • A mother’s manipulative or abusive behavior can impact her son’s mental health.
  • Insecurities, postpartum depression, and clinical depression are some common causes for this behavior.
  • Respecting his privacy, not comparing him with others, and letting him make his own decisions may help rebuild a healthy mother-son relationship.

Check out this video to learn about the signs of a narcissistic parent that can have a lasting impact on a son’s life.

Personal Experience: Source


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. The sins of the mothers
  2. Maternal depression, maltreatment history, and child outcomes: The role of harsh parenting
  3. A longitudinal study of maternal depression and child maltreatment in a national sample of families investigated by child protective services
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