Many studies have elucidated the causes of poor social, psychological, and emotional well-being of children. A 2007 report by the United Nations International Childrens Education Fund (UNICEF) revealed that children in developed countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have poor emotional well-being (Kruk 1). This study highlighted poverty, racial prejudice, and social class as the contributing factors towards low emotional well-being. Despite these causes, the effect of a fathers absence in a childs life has often been ignored. Fatherlessness is an escalating demographic trend in most countries across the globe. Studies by Greene found out that over 40 percent of children in western countries sleep in houses where there are no fathers (23). A significant number of these children are likely to become adults without having a sense of what it feels to have a father. The absence of a father in the life of a child has led to escalating cases of depression and anxiety, reduced levels of education and increased cases of school dropouts, high rates of incarceration, and suicide (Kruk 1). This paper argues that absentee fathers present devastating effects on the socio-emotional well-being of children.
In his book, Fatherless America, Blankenhorn refers to fatherless children as the most destructive trend in this generation (12). The contemporary American life is characterized by increased cases of children being raised by single parents. These children are typically fatherless and have often been raised by women who prefer to raise children outside formal marriage (de Minzi 194). Marital problems such as divorce and separation have also contributed to the single-mother phenomenon across cultures globally. Popenoe observed that the father-leaving process is usually accompanied by tension and stress, which affects the familys emotional well-being (3). It often leads to decrease in family income, stressed relationship, bitterness, and sometimes, domestic violence. Although most parents who experience these challenges often tend to mask them from their children, they hardly succeed because most children usually discover the existence of a parental conflict. This conflict creates an unsatisfactory psychological environment affect the emotional development of a child (Popenoe 8).
According to Greene, 40 percent of children in western countries are fatherless. The author described fatherlessness as an emotionally harmful demographic tendency in the contemporary world (27). This study revealed that children born to absentee fathers are five times more likely to commit suicide compared to children raised in a two-parent environment. The study listed increased rates of depression and anxiety, reduced education levels, lower job security, rising cases of school dropouts, high cases of divorce, socio-emotional and behavioral issues. The study also revealed that a child raised in a fatherless environment is thirty-two times more likely to be jailed compared to children raised in complete family environments.
McLanahan et al. observed that fatherless children experience social stigma among peers who view them as different from children raised in a two-parent environment (401). These children exhibit diminished self-concept, feel abandoned, and have compromised emotional security. Separate studies by Kruk found out that fatherless children experience behavioral problems. These problems include difficulties in social adjustments, withdrawal, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness (Kruk 1). In social places, these children do not like to socialize with their friends and often prefer to be alone. Other vices exhibited by fatherless children include truancy and lackluster class performance. De Minzi further revealed that 71 per cent of children who drop out of school are fatherless while 85% young people in U.S. prisons are fatherless. The failure in class has a profound impact on their emotional well-being. The consequences of dropping out of school include delinquency and involvement in crimes. These revelations are clear pointers that absentee fathers pose emotional toll on children are and are likely to influence their growth and development negatively.
Research has not explored the long-term emotional effects of absentee fathers widely. Greene stated that most adverse effects identified usually end with time. However, the adjustment process among can take time depending on factors such as age, gender, temperament, and the quality of the subsequent family environment (31). Emotional recovery in children can take some time to heal. In some cases, these effects occasionally reoccur during adolescents. Popenoe emphasized that female children who experience father absenteeism towards the late stages of their childhood are likely to experience negative consequences of absenteeism in their adulthood (13). Some cases of depression have also been reported among adults whose fathers left their families in their childhood. Children raised by single and economically independent mothers experience less emotional effects of absentee fathers compared to children raised by single and vulnerable mothers. While the former category of children can access necessities of life, children in the latter category are predisposed and susceptible to poverty and general deprivation, which can consequently, affect their emotional well-being (Popenoe 16).
Studies by McLanahan et al. revealed that fatherless children exhibit anti-social behavior such as aggression and non-compliance (414). These behaviors can be exhibited for two years as children struggle to transit into the fatherless environment. The authors posited that boys exhibit violent antisocial behaviors within and outside the home environment compared to girls. These behaviors are linked to strong father-son bonds that usually exist before the disruption. However, the interruption of the bond may lead to mother-son acrimony. Adjustment in girls is usually faster compared to boys. Emotional behavioral manifestations among girls are less visible following the fathers exit from a family than boys. However, like boys, girls exhibit stress and dissatisfaction (McLanahan 417). The adjustment process among girls is catalyzed by strong mother-daughter bonds and less father-daughter ties.
Most of the literature materials reviewed in this study conclude that the effects of absentee fathers on the emotional well-being of children are fundamentally negative. De Minzi observed that the socio-emotional consequences of absentee fathers occur during the transition period (205). The author further revealed that the transition period could pose dire effects on the development of children. In his argument, Greene acknowledged that although absentee fathers affect the emotional development of their children, most of the emotional problems arise from the marital conflict and disruption that often precede father absenteeism (34). This argument has some logic because the disruption is sometimes accompanied by domestic violence. In spite of this argument, the exit of a father from his marital home leads to severe devastation on children, especially if the father is the provider of income that supports the needs of the family. The lack of sufficient income can plunge the family into poverty and misery, and affect the emotional well-being of the children.In conclusion, this study underscored the centrality of a father in bolstering the childs emotional development in the family. The study has revealed that absentee fathers pose dire consequences to the well-being of the child. These effects encompass depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and anti-social behaviors such as non-compliance and aggression. The study has also shown that these effects manifest overtly in boys compared to girls because of the strong father-son bonds. In this regard, there is a need for proper legislation and policy formulation on the involvement of both parents in the life of a child. Both parents should share responsibilities for the child after divorce and separation. The law should emphasize shared parenting where both parents accept responsibility for the needs of the child and expressing their willingness to recognize and protect those needs.
Blankenhorn, David. Fatherless America: Confronting our most urgent social problem. HarperCollins Publishers, 1000 Keystone Industrial Park, Scranton, PA 18512, 1995.
de Minzi, Maria Cristina Richaud. "Gender and cultural patterns of mothers and fathers attachment and links with childrens selfcompetence, depression and loneliness in middle and late childhood." Early Child Development and Care 180.1-2 (2010): 193-209.
Green, Tara T. A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives of African American Men. University of Missouri Press, 2014.
Kruk, Edward. "Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger." Psychology Today (2012).
McLanahan, Sara, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider. "The causal effects of father absence." Annual review of Sociology 399 (2013): 399.
Popenoe, David. Families without Fathers: Fathers, marriage and children in American society. Transaction Publishers, 2011.
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