Moms who struggle with personal relationships may have teens with attachment issues, study finds

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Experts say this can have an effect on kids’ long-term mental health

Mothers affect their kids both physically and mentally by how they interact with them. Now, researchers from the University of Houston are exploring how moms’ personal lives can affect their kids’ attachment styles. 

According to their findings, mothers who struggle with their own interpersonal relationships are more likely to have kids who develop an insecure attachment style, which can ultimately affect kids well into adulthood. 

“When mothers struggle in their own interpersonal relationships, the passing on of secure attachment and healthy relationship functioning to adolescent offspring seem to be impeded,” said researcher Carla Sharp. “Maternal interpersonal problems were associated with higher levels of insecure attachment in adolescent offspring such that adolescents would either dismiss the need for attachment with their moms or show angry preoccupation with the relationships with their moms.” 

Developing attachment issues

The researchers interviewed 351 pairs of mothers and children who were receiving inpatient psychiatric care. Children were asked specifically about their attachment to the people in their lives and the effect it has had on them. Mothers were asked to report on what they remembered about bonding with their own mothers. Both groups also answered questions about how close they felt to other people, if they struggled to feel close with other people, or if they tried too hard to please others. 

The study showed that when mothers struggled to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships – platonic, familial, or romantic – their children were more likely to have attachment issues. The researchers also found that this could be generational; mothers involved in the study who had poor experiences with their mothers were more likely to struggle in their relationships with their own kids. 

The researchers explained that all parents are hoping their children develop a secure attachment; this is when kids feel emotionally supported and connected to their parents and view them as comforting figures. However, this study highlighted the other attachment styles – insecure, dismissing, and preoccupied -- often create insecure attachments in kids.

Kids with insecure attachments will either completely reject a connection with their parents or have an unhealthy preoccupation with their relationship. Over time, this can affect mental health by increasing the risk of anxiety and depression. It can also be detrimental to social relationships and increase the risk of substance abuse. 

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