Mother and child relationships

Had a discussion today with a woman who expressed some concern how she could relate quite differently to her two children. This is not an unusual comment to hear if one works with parents and children. 

Mothers almost never relate to their children the same way in varying degrees. This is a commonality. 

Firstly, personalities fit differently. Mother has her personality and each child she gives birth to will have its own unique personality. The siblings personalities can be quite different even if they are twins. So her personality will ‘fit’ better with one child’s personality than a siblings personality and a different type of relationship will evolve over time.

Sometimes a mother will project her own Child ego state onto the first born and not the subsequent children and hence different relationship will evolve. This is where the mother uses the daughter or son in the hope that her own Child ego state needs will be met. Or the mother may for some reason identify with one child and not the others. It can be because the child is of the same sex of has some characteristic that mother feels in herself and also sees in the child.

This is not an abnormal situation and will happen in many, even most families and does in all sorts of other relationships in the work place or with friends. Most often it does not lead to serious difficulties but it can in a smaller group of people. Mother in essence lives vicariously through one of her children and not the others, so different relationships evolve.

An example of where it can become a problem is when mothers put their daughters in child beauty pageants

Child beauty pageants

Or the ugly parent syndrome at children’s sporting events. The parent gets highly emotional because in their mind it is not about the sporting performance of their son or daughter but they feel it is about their own Child part inside themselves.


It is virtually impossible for a parent in some way not to do this confusion of boundaries between self and the children but as I said in most instances it does not cause any great difficulties.

Sometimes you get the situation where as the son grows older he starts to look very like mother’s father (or girl like mother’s  mother) and then a transference situation evolves. The mother starts to have feelings towards the son that she actually has for her father. This does not happen with her other children and hence different relationships evolve between mother and the each child she has.

In other situations mother may see a characteristic in one of her children that she does not like in herself. This can lead to problems where this child is singled out from the siblings for harsher treatment or she has a reaction formation and is overly permissive with the child.

Mothers and fathers can generally treat their various children in a similar ways and one could even say equally, but they are not going to feel the same about each of them.

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