How does an overbearing mother affect a child?

Updated July 19, 2017

An overbearing mother is one who hovers over her offspring, behaving as if the child cannot function adequately without her instruction. She expects him to obey without asking questions or defying her demands. If the child resists, she manipulates him to get her own way through tears, anger, the silent treatment or threatening to stop loving him. The child is not allowed to make choices for himself. If he does make a choice, the mother tears apart the decision, assuring failure of the child's self-initiated efforts. An overbearing mother is sometimes referred to as a helicopter mother. Her overprotective ways smother the child's independence and growth.

Relationship of the Child With Others

The child of an overbearing mother may not have many friends because the mother determines who her son or daughter can befriend. Some overbearing mothers plan birthday parties, getting the mother-approved children to attend by giving out expensive door prizes. The child might seem embarrassed when seen in public with his mother. He will allow his mother to speak for him even when he is present and able to speak for himself.

Performance and Perfection

As the child matures, she may become performance-oriented. Perfection becomes the means by which she keeps the love and acceptance of her mother. As a result, she is continually anxious about her class assignments and anything she does as an extra-curricular activity. She may require constant assurance from classroom teachers or those in authority that her work is above average. All of her actions are calculated to please someone else, mainly her mother. The expectations and approval of her mother become the focal point in her life.

University of Montreal Study

A study conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal examined children of overbearing mothers to determine how the offspring related to their hobbies. The affected child pursued hobbies such as playing a musical instrument or participating in a sport with an obsessive passion. Rather than having a healthy outlook about their activity, these children would drive themselves. The overbearing mother would admit to demanding her son or daughter continue on with a hobby regardless of the child's feelings toward the activity. Professor Genevieve Mageau, the head of the study, believed as the children grew up they would continue the hobby to bolster their self-esteem rather than for enjoyment.


To the child of an overbearing mother, an open-ended assignment without definite boundaries and expectations is an exercise in frustration. He cannot set reasonable goals for himself. His mother will exert her own influence in school assignments so that he cannot fail and might even do the homework for him.

Reactions To Failure

The child will not accept failure in a healthy way. She may cheat on assignments or lie to get the grades expected by her mother and to avoid disapproval. If she does something of which she knows her mother would disapprove, she hides it. She magnifies the mistake or failure in her mind and may develop a sense of extreme guilt or self-loathing over her imperfection. The mother may increase the feelings of guilt through her reactions. According to psychotherapist Elizabeth Meakins of London, both girls and boys can develop attitudes of insecurity, showing itself through self-injury, eating disorders and low self-esteem. Perceived failure can be acted upon in various ways by the child of an overbearing mother. He might blame the people or circumstances surrounding the thing at which he failed. The mother may do the same. The child may become aggressive, self-injurious or abnormally frustrated about his failure. He may overreact when disciplined by an authority figure and express extreme fear about his mother being contacted.

The Child Becomes an Adult

The grown child of an overbearing mother will be emotionally immature. She does not know how to express her feelings, make decisions or assert her independence. She will not exercise her right to say no to authority figures such as employers. Instead, she will be driven to perform and gain their approval. The adult child of an overbearing mother might cave in to peer pressure because she has been taught to obey her mother's rules without having been given the reasons for those rules. She might do things she has been taught was wrong to avoid conflict with others or to earn acceptance, love and approval. Any relationship with a significant partner or spouse will be strained until the child of the overbearing mother redefines the boundaries between herself and her mother. An adult who has been raised by an overbearing mother will have difficulty believing anyone can love her unconditionally.

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About the Author

For almost four years, Sandra Petersen has written fiction stories and non-fiction articles for sites like FaithWriters, Associated Content, Helium, Textbroker, and Triond as well as Demand Studios. Petersen attended the University of Wisconsin-Superior and earned her Bachelor's degree in elementary education with a minor in music education.