These days, people are often accused of having “mommy issues” or “daddy issues” but what does this really mean?
As an insult, it’s designed to attack or criticize someone’s parents or upbringing — which can really sting. However, there is some grain in truth in this, because an inconsistent or unhealthy mother-child relationship can have a lasting impact on your development.
Experts argue that your mother is one of the most influential and important people in your life, especially in your early childhood. However, an unhealthy maternal relationship can result in the development of mommy issues, which can impact all your relationships moving forward.
Mommy issues refer to the psychological and emotional impact of a person’s relationship with their mother. These unresolved conflicts from early childhood can have a lasting impact on behaviors and attitudes toward relationships in their adult lives.
“This occurs when the relationship with your mother is not secure and significant lingering wounds are playing a part in how you connect with others and your view of yourself,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.
The term “mommy issues” is the colloquial term for these attachment issues, but the effects of this complicated relationship with a mother figure can vary from person to person.
Societal norms tend to suggest that women have daddy issues, while men have mommy issues but this isn’t t necessarily true.
“These terms are based on gender norms and how society views the role of a mother compared to a father,” says Seeger DeGeare.
In reality, people of any gender can develop attachment issues due to an unfulfilling or unhealthy relationship with either parent. Even though anyone can experience long-lasting problems due to these relationships, gender affects how these unresolved issues appear later in their adult lives.
“Daddy issues are more focused on wanting attention from men and unhealthy ways that someone might go to get that attention. Whereas mommy issues are often more around being cared for in a warm, comforting way,” says Seeger DeGeare.
There are several theories that have been put forth to explain the psychology behind mommy issues. These suggest that there are two different types of mother-child relationships that can cause these issues to show up in later life.
The most common example is whereby the mother figure fails to provide essential emotional support to their child in their early life.
“When a parent is not emotionally available and able to prioritize connection with their child,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Mommy issues are less about time and more about knowing you can rely on your mother or feel like they were dependable in your childhood. This is far beyond having a working parent, this goes into truly feeling ignored and not important or even worthy of comfort from a mother.”
This lack of caretaking can result in childhood trauma that, if not dealt with, can impact all of your other relationships as you grow up.
However, the other extreme can also cause negative effects. Even though seen as a doting relationship, an overly coddling or protective mother can have just as negative of an impact. For example, they tried to be your best friend rather than your mother, or never let you lift a finger around the house.
This kind of enmeshed or codependent maternal relationship can also impact your ability to develop secure attachments in your adult life.
As mentioned, mommy issues can present themselves in both men and women. While these attachment issues are more commonly represented in men, the effects are generally rooted in a low-self esteem or a warped sense of self-worth.
These are some common signs and symptoms of mommy issues, which can be displayed in both men and women.
These signs vary in intensity based on the kind of strained maternal relationship which caused these issues.
Attachment theory suggests that when babies are born, they need to attach themselves to a primary caregiver. This attachment relies on open communication and the belief that their mother would respond if they needed help.
This results in a secure attachment, whereby you developed a healthy relationship with your mother from childhood and are therefore able to rely on and trust other people in your life.
However, if this doesn’t happen, it can affect all relationships later on in life — especially romantic relationships. This can lead to various insecure attachment styles or patterns, such as avoidant or anxious attachment styles.
“The insecure attachment style that comes with not feeling securely attached to your mother as a child can show up most significantly in romantic relationships and how it is hard to build and maintain them,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“The craving to not feel alone can cloud judgment around other people other people and build healthy boundaries.”
These trust issues and attachment styles can affect how you behave with your romantic partners. Mommy issues in men may manifest in many different ways. For example, if they had an over-coddling mother, they may not know how to complete basic household chores or tasks because their mom always did it for them. This means they may look for a partner who fills this void later in life.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the impact it may have on your significant other, with these issues also affecting how you behave as a parent.
“Becoming a parent often challenges inner child parts of ourselves,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“So even if you feel like your relationship with your mother may have been sufficient in recent years, or even a non-issue emotionally — you may be surprised by how becoming a parent can start a deeper struggle internally about things you have not addressed in years.”
Becoming a parent is a very emotional period and may unearth issues that you thought you had resolved from your childhood.
“Maybe you feel settled with the fact that your mother was not emotionally available as a child and that you had come to terms with it,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Then, you become a parent and feel the swell of emotions for your new baby and are completely confused about how your mother responded differently to you as a child. In this confusion many new emotions and even behaviors surface.”
Mommy issues in women may result in the desire to become a better mother than their own experiences, sacrificing their own needs and resorting to people-pleasing tendencies. This kind of behavior results in the continuation of an unhealthy cycle, with the issues potentially passed on to the next generation.
This kind of overbearing behavior can also impact their children’s romantic relationships. For example, a common scenario is where your partner may allow their mother to intrude on the privacy of your relationship. This can create a toxic relationship dynamic if it is allowed to continue.
By psychoanalyzing the mother figure in this way, it can give a very negative view of maternal relationships. However, a secure attachment with your mom can be an incredibly positive element in your adult life.
“If the relationship is healthy, it can be one of the most trusted people that you have known your entire life,” says Seeger DeGeare.
This kind of relationship with your mother establishes them as a key figure in your life, which can help you form healthy adult attachments. With healthy boundaries in place, your mother can provide advice on your romantic relationships and this support system is beneficial to your well-being as you navigate adult life.
If you didn’t have a healthy relationship with your mom as a child, it doesn’t mean you can’t work on it as a mature adult.
“Being able to talk to your mom can be beneficial because you can continue to work on feeling secure in that relationship,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Especially if your attachment to your mom struggled as a child, it’s key that you both have worked on that personally and together. So minimal hurt is continuing into the adult relationship.”
Seeking help from a therapist or mental health professional is the best way to deal with mommy issues effectively. Although they may not explicitly diagnose you with mommy issues, they will be able to help you through the resulting effects.
“Therapy helps! Works on the negative view of yourself that has come from the mommy issues,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“This will most likely show up as low self-esteem, being self-critical, and having mistaken or false beliefs about yourself.”
With their help, you can address any mental health concerns which were caused by this relationship and work on developing skills for future intimate partners. It may also help facilitate directly addressing these issues with your mother if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.