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

Written by Harini Natarajan

Mothers nurture, care, and protect. They help their son(s) grow and become an independent individual prepared to face the challenges of the world head-on. Unfortunately, this picture is quite different if the mother is over-protective, controlling, manipulative, abusive, or has an unhealthy attachment to her son.

A survey classified 22% of mothers as “toxic” compared to fathers (19%) (1). Toxic behavior has long-term effects on a child’s mental wellbeing and adult life. But how to know that the behavior is toxic? Is it possible to rebuild the relationship? This post discusses the signs and causes of a toxic mother-son relationship. It also explores how to slowly rebuild the mother and son relationship by setting healthy boundaries. Let’s begin!

Signs Of A Toxic Mother And Son Relationship

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 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.
  • 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 the home. This results in abandonment issues later in life.
  • Narcissistic Behavior: Narcissists are 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, seeking information about him sneakily, 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 be human is to err. 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

  • 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 depression 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

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

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

  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 or maltreatment can make mothers repeat it. Harsh parenting, on the other hand, not only impacts mental health but also sows the seeds of resentment. Mothers with depression 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 let you know what he is up to the whole day, his dating life, work-life, etc. can be intrusive and may not be welcome. It will only annoy him and push him away.

  6. Do Not Compare

    Constantly comparing your son with others is not a fair game. It affects his self-worth and can make him grow into an insecure individual always seeking validation from others. Stop comparing your son with others. Start looking for the hidden talents he has. Appreciate him and help him get better at those skills.

  7. 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 in. Authoritarian parenting, on the other side, can lead to emotional issues and depression.

  8. 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 at their place? Stop doing that immediately. Your son has his family now and he 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 keep a distance so that they are not annoyed.

  9. Do Not Pressurize

    Pressurizing someone to do or not to 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 leave it to him to make his decision.

  10. 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.

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

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 have 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 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 keep 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.


Toxic mother and son relationships can be complicated to navigate through. However, therapy and effort from both parties can help improve the relationship gradually. Talk to a counselor to understand the root cause of the cracks in the relationship. Work together to glue the pieces together. It might take some time, but for sure, understanding, empathizing, and forgiveness can help heal and rebuild a good mother and son relationship.


Recommended Articles

Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.
As Chief Editor, Harini sets the tone and editorial direction for StyleCraze to deliver engaging, interesting, and authentic content revolving around women's health, wellness, and beauty. She has over 14 years of experience in content writing and editing for online media. She specializes in the areas of Beauty, Lifestyle, and Health & Wellness and is proficient in Medical Sciences (Biology, Human Anatomy and Physiology, and Biochemistry). Her background in Biomedical Engineering helps her decode and interpret the finer nuances of scientific research for her team. Harini is a certified bibliophile and a closet poet. She also loves dancing and traveling to offbeat destinations.