Absence In Child Development


Rapid social changes have been noted for the past 20 years, which have marked a significant increase in the number of families headed by single women due to cases of either divorce or separation. According to Strohschein (2005), children aged 3 to 9, raised in these families may be subjected to varied degree of contact with their biological fathers, whereas others may have little or no contact with their fathers at all. Whilst the impact of fathers on a child’s outcomes and general well-being have not been extensively explored, evidence suggests that the love of a father is vital, just as a mother’s love, which has a positive influence on a child’s health, social functioning, as well as cognitive development (Kelly & Emery, 2003). On the other hand, evidence also denotes that the absence of the father could be regarded as beneficial to the development of a child. This paper thus, purposes to explore what is already known about father absence in a child’s development. In this regard, it will expound on the positive and negative developments for children aged 3 to 9 years, raised in fatherless families.

Positive development/ well-being for children (3 to 9) raised n fatherless families

Strohschein (2005) states that the increase of parental divorce or separation has led to an ongoing debate, which questions whether divorce or separation is damaging a child’s development, or benefits a child’s development, and as such, various researchers have purposed to involve a process-oriented approach examines the life of a child before and after a divorce or separation, thus aiding to get a deeper understanding of the circumstances in which divorce or separation adversely impacts or benefits children of the age bracket of 3 to 9. In response to this debate, Strohschein (2005) indicates that divorce or separation provides a stress relief hypothesis, which notes that children aged 3 to 9 may have a significant beneficial impact when they come out of a noxious environment. Noteworthy, if children are raised in families in which their parents are hostile openly, or are even abusive, they are bound to experience a stress relief, which consequently leads to a post-divorce/separation improvement when considering their mental health. Frank et al. (1987) point out that in an instance where a father does not fulfil his responsibilities properties, and rather may be abusive, his absence is of great significance to the development of a child aged 3 to 9, owing to the fact that the absence establishes the absence of anger, pain, as well as disruptions to the family and to the child. In this regard, Strohschein (2005) points out that there are various campaigns that encourage women to leave their abusive partners, and even the UK government has been sending messages, stressing that children are better placed without their abusive fathers, owing to the fact that reality assures that children feel better when they are will their caring, and loving single mothers, rather than abusive fathers, who tamper with their development.


The author goes ahead to confirm that in high-conflicting families, the children’s well-being was higher when their parents divorced or separated, as compared to children whose parents had conflict, but still remained married. However, Kelly & Emery (2003) disputes this opinion and notes that children raised in fatherless families face a risk of experiencing longer term erosion, and loss of significant relationships with their close family members, especially their fathers, and close friends. As such, despite Strohschein’s (2005) that they may be facing less conflict, they lose the vital relationship, which diminishes the importance of their father in their lives, and erodes the closeness that should be meaningful in the development of a child.

Kelly & Emery (2003) note that when children aged 3 to 9 years live in the custody of adequately functioning and competent single mother, they have positive outcomes in their development. When such a parent provides the child with warmth, emotional support, sufficient monitoring, as well as discipline, they experience positive adjustment as compared to other children whose divorced or separated parents are inattentive, and also less supportive. In line with this, Amato (2010) seconds the provision of Kelly & Emery (2003) and as such, he claims that low parental conflict following divorce poses as a protective factor for children aged 3 to 9 years. Children having low conflicts between their parents are noted to be less depressed, and having few psychological symptoms as compared to those who are raised by both parents, though experiencing continued high conflict. In addition, the author also indicates that once parents are divorced, the conflict between them often diminishes, owing to them being disengaged, thus, purposing to establish their separate lives.

Negative development/ well-being for children (3 to 9) raised n fatherless families

In contrast with the opinions of the above-mentioned authors who stress than children raised in fatherless families have a positive development, Amato (2010) argues that children aged 3 to 9 years with divorced/separated parents score lower as compared to those raised with both parents, with regards to their emotional, behavioural, academic, as well as social health outcomes. In agreement with this fact, Strohschein (2005) found out that children raised in fatherless families exhibited high levels of anxiety, anti-social behaviour, as well as depression as compared to those whose parent remained married. Kelly & Emery (2003) also notes that a child aged 3 to 9 years may experience a continued series of disruptions, as well as changes of emotional relationships, especially when a single mother introduces a new social, or sexual partner with an intention of remarrying, cohabiting, or re-divorcing. Strohschein (2005) points out that the effect of these serial attachments, as well as losses may prevent children from having mature and intimate attachments.

In addition, Frank et al. (1987) also agreed to these claims and also noted that in most instances, most fathers purpose to retain their children’s custody and non-custodial fathers also decrease their engagement with childbearing. The author stresses that this attributes to developmental disabilities, majorly caused by father absence, thus leading to economic, as well as social consequences for both single mothers and their children. Research by Strohschein (2005) points out that most non-resident fathers are unwilling to provide child support and approximately a third of single mothers are receiving regular child-support from non-residential fathers. However, Frank et al. (1987) further stresses that their contribution is quite small as compared to the contribution of residential fathers. Noteworthy, lower levels of child support are noted to be typically accompanied by lower levels of contact

Kelly & Emery (2003) stress that children raised in fatherless families experience inept parenting. Whereas an intensified marital conflict entail negative impacts on the adjustment of children, its effect is mostly portrayed in significant problems associated with the parenting of the parents. Particularly, it is evident that single mothers are less warm, use harsh disciplines, and are more rejecting, whilst on the other hand, fathers often withdraw from and are noted to engage in intrusive interactions with their children, as compared to fathers who raise their children.

Frank et al. (1987) point out that paternal absence, and irregular contact of a child with a father impedes the adaptation of a child to divorce. These authors note that children deprived of fatherly contact may be brought up without a secure male model, and as such, they may receive less parental supervision, as well as support, and in most instances, they are raised by single mothers are may be under great stress. This then implies that these children do not fare well, as compared to those raised whilst their parents have maintained an ongoing relationship. However, in a bid to reducing the dispute the intensity of the negativity brought forth by this sentiment, Kelly & Emery (2003) point out that there are divorce education programs that can act as an intervention, which primarily focuses on positively enhancing the behaviour of parents towards their children, thus leading to their positive mental health development. In concurrence with this fact, Strohschein (2005) notes that children aged 3 to 9 years often show little change or improvements regarding their well-being if they are separated from their fathers and results into the end of a high-conflict marriage. On the other hand, the well-being of children declines if they are separated from their father, yet their parents had a low conflict marriage. This then implies that a fatherly presence in a child’s life is of great significance to the child’s general well-being.

In accordance with the writings of Strohschein (2005), he also states that children raised in fatherless homes have a deep interaction with their single mother, owing to the fact that they perceive her as to be more available, and also dependable, as compared to their peers being raised in father-present families. However, it is notable that fatherless children do not experience maternal warmth, as most single mothers report that they often feel depressed, especially when they have severe disputes with their partners prior and after divorce. As such, this author makes it evident that the social and emotional development of fatherless children is often negatively affected.

According to Kelly & Emery (2003), they note that the development of a child is further threatened by the fact that parents often remain in conflict even after separation or divorce, and as such, children are exposed to continued conflict, and violence. In this regard, it is evident that in some families where children are raised by their mothers only, conflict is evidently ignited by divorce itself, and as such, the children involved are burdened by continued and intensified conflict, whereas those that are living with their fathers and experiencing less conflict will be noted to have a positive development (Strohschein, 2005). However, this could be prevented when both a mediation intervention is adopted, owing to the fact that it can reduce parental conflict, as well as improved parental support and communication for a longer term, thus leading to a child’s positive development.

In summing up the above-mentioned arguments, Strohschein (2005) notes that even prior to divorce or separation, the lives of children aged 3 to 9 years may differ substantially, as compared to children raised in intact families. It is then plausible that the differences are the source of mental health problems in children. Moreover, they depict signs of disengagements, which begins at the onset of a divorce or separation. As parents get into the divorce or separation path, their ability, as well as motivation towards investing their time, resources and even effort into their children’s lives become increasingly compromised, and as such, the mental health of children is affected. Amato (2010) concurs to this idea and also points out that in order to ascertain the impacts of parental divorce or separation on a child’s well-being, researchers should be obligated towards including all pre-existing parental resources, which influence the likelihood of separation, which are predictive of problems related to mental health in children.

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Based on the evidence provided above, it is evident that parental divorce or separation is becoming an increasingly common experience, especially in children aged 3 to 9 years. Owing to these, there have been increasing trends that have lent urgency regarding the ongoing debate, which questions whether parental separation or divorce damages or contributes to a child’s development. A presented reasonable assumption is that divorce entails varied consequences on the development of a child aged 3 to 9 years. This is owing to the fact that some children show improvements in their well-being, whilst others show little or even no change whereas others show a great decrement, which gradually improves, and yet other children develop problems, which may persist to adulthood. The evidence provided above then makes it clear that parental separation has positive, as well as negative effects to a child’s development. However, the negative effects outweigh the positive ones; thereby implying that it is of importance to parents should not break their marriages, in order for fathers to raise their children, thus providing the fatherly care and importance.


  • Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of marriage and family, 72(3), 650-666.
  • Frank. F. Furstenberg, Jr., Morgan, S. P., & Allison, P. D. (1987). Paternal participation and children's well-being after marital dissolution. American Sociological Review, 695-701.
  • Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children's adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family relations, 52(4), 352-362.
  • Strohschein, L. (2005). Parental divorce and child mental health trajectories. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(5), 1286-1300.

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