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The Impact of Parental Absence in a Child’s Life

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Despite the challenges of parenting and the dynamics of the modern family, we can still raise a healthy generation that values family and its role in society.  Click To Tweet

In the recent past, it has become common for parents to neglect their children, which was a rare occurrence in the past—the reasons for parental absence range from unplanned pregnancies to death, divorce, separation, and work commitments. Often, parental absence leads to single parenting, which affects women and children more than it does men. 

Several studies have dug deeper into this new trend and given us insights into the impact of parental absence on children’s development. Here is an overview.

The impact of a mother’s absence in a child’s life

A study conducted between late 2013 and early 2014 in Thailand to find out the impact of separation between migrant parents and children showed that a mother’s absence affects a child’s development in its early years. 

The study used three types of households: both parents’ present households, mothers’ only households, and all parents’ absent households. The sample size was 923 children between 36 months and below. 

The study found out that mothers play a critical role in a child’s early years of development. The bond between a mother and a child is instrumental as it creates a conducive environment for a child’s language development. 

Children who are not cared for by their mothers had a higher risk of delayed development. The study further revealed that the absence of a father doesn’t make any difference in a child’s development in these early years. 

Another research in China published in 2020 shows that children who were left behind by parents in search of job opportunities in urban areas had a lower academic and cognitive test score. These children are also less likely to attend college. The research highlighted that a mother’s absence in a child’s life had a persistent negative effect on their general development. 

The impact of a father’s absence in a child’s life

There are many more studies showing the impact of absent fathers’ than there are for absent mothers in children’s lives. This is likely the case because fathers’ absenteeism is a common phenomenon in society. One such research consolidated 47 studies to come up with a comprehensive overview of what is at stake when fathers abscond from their duties. 

The different research papers showed varied results. However, one thing that stood out is that a father’s absence affects the socio-emotional development of a child throughout its lifetime. It increases the chances of a child exhibiting externalizing behaviour such as defiance, physical aggression, theft, verbal bullying, and relational aggression. 

These negative behaviours are more pronounced for boys than girls and are especially imminent if the father left during early childhood than middle childhood. The impact on social-emotional development persists in adolescence, where teens with absent fathers are more likely to indulge in risky behaviour such as early childbearing, drinking, or smoking. 

There was weak evidence that a father’s absence affects a child’s cognitive ability. However, negative behaviours do impact a child’s educational outcome.  

There is little evidence that growing up without a father will affect a child’s own family formation and economic growth. There is also little consistent evidence that lack of a father has a negative impact on college education, earnings, marriage, and divorce. Further, few studies show a negative effect on employment among children raised without a father.

In Kenya, similar studies have been done. One such study was conducted in Kerio Valley to determine the difference in academic performance between boys and girls from father-absent and father-present homes. The study revealed a significant difference. Students from families without a father performed poorly as compared to their counterparts with both parents. 

The study recommended that fathers and mothers should create time and build meaningful relationships with their children to help boost their academic performance. 

The dynamics of modern parenting

From the statistics above, it’s clear that the impact of absentee parents affects children to a great extent. Without a parental figure, a child will seek an alternative support system.

The issue of parental absence does not only imply single parenting. It is also about both parents’ homes who don’t spend time with their children. Instead, they transfer their parental responsibility to the house helps or replace the time they should spend with their children with gadgets. Such parents feel guilty of their absenteeism and thus let their children do as they please because they feel any ground rules may further alienate them from the children. 

Working hard to afford your children’s fees, and a good life is truly noble. However, given the dynamics of raising children in this generation, it’s more important to spend time with them, teach them the proper behaviour, and listen to their challenges. 

In the cases of divorce or separation, the partners involved must strive to look beyond their difference and focus on the children’s wellbeing. It is their responsibility to work together to ensure the children know that the separation/divorce is not their fault (many children often feel that it’s their fault). It’s the parents’ responsibility to ensure kids still experience the love and care they had when the parents were together. 

Responsible parenting is the first step to reducing juvenile delinquencies in society. So, I hope that despite the challenges of parenting and the dynamics of the modern family, we can still raise a healthy generation that values family and its role in society. 

Mourine Odongo
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