How an Absent Mother Affects Children

Discover why a maternal figure is so important in children's mental and emotional development.
How an Absent Mother Affects Children

Last update: 25 February, 2018

When it comes to child development, an absent mother is not a trivial matter. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what can happen in this situation.

From the very beginning of a child’s life, the mother is the most important figure of attachment. When a mother is not present in the life of her children, this can bring major consequences for their development.

A child’s overall development is shaped by different aspects, from their physical needs to their emotional life. The relationship between a child and their mother or father is a vital part of their mental and emotional development.

A parent may be absent due to many different circumstances, some of them tragic. Not all children are lucky enough to grow up with a mother.

In other cases, although the mother is present, she is not able to spend enough time with her children, whether due to work commitments, relationship breakdown or other factors.

The absence of a mother figure can have a significant impact on the development of the child. However, the extent of the harm will depend on their environment and how the situation is managed.

What a mother gives her child

When we think about motherhood, the first word that comes to mind is protection. And with good reason.

A mother is the person who brings us into this world, and who nourishes and cares for us from the very beginning. This bond is an indispensable part of human existence.

As we grow older, our mother is there to comfort us whenever we feel down. She is there to soothe, calm and encourage us and chase away our fears. When we are nervous, scared, angry or in pain, she is the person we look to for unconditional support.

How an Absent Mother Affects Children

Feeling loved and valued by their mother will help a child to develop healthy self-esteem and build self-confidence.

An absent mother, therefore, can lead to deep insecurity in children. This is especially true when other adults in the child’s life do not take action to address the situation.

This is one case where the support of a professional counsellor is indispensable.

Consequences of an absent mother

From the very start of a child’s life, their mother is their most important figure of attachment. The lack of a mother figure can have major consequences.

Here are some of the main ones:

  • Negative feelings. The child may experience feelings of loneliness or worthlessness, given that they don’t receive the care and affection they need. This, in turn, can lead to anger or frustration.
  • Poor behavior. This includes not responding to instructions, making unreasonable demands or hurting themselves or others. In more general terms, the child may seem to be constantly in a bad mood. These are common responses to the absence or loss of a parent or similar figure. Patience and affection are vital when it comes to helping children go through this phase.
  • Problems with social relationships. Along the same lines, the child’s other social relationships may also suffer. Whether due to lack of trust or because they have not learnt the necessary social skills, children with an absent mother figure tend to have trouble connecting with others. They may also develop a dependency on the people who are there for them.
  • Emotional imbalances. This means irritability, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, lack of motivation and more.
  • Health issues. Faced with the loss or absence of their mother, some children may lose their appetite. Coupled with the emotional issues described above, this can lead to problems with the child’s physical health. This should be addressed immediately by a professional.
How an Absent Mother Affects Children

How to help a child cope with an absent mother

Despite all of the above, there are ways to help a little one cope with the loss or absence of their mother and its after-effects.

Here are some tips for parents or guardians:

  1. Be their mother figure. Although this is far from easy, a father or any other guardian can fulfill the role of mom and dad. Tact, understanding and affection are critical, but this can be a good solution for all those involved. This way, you will fill the gap in their lives, at least partly.
  2. Find a substitute. With the help of aunts, grandmothers or any other close family member, you may be able to find someone to take on the role of a maternal figure. As in the previous case, it is important not to force the relationship. The bond will need to form gradually, on a basis of trust and love.
  3. Explain the situation to them. The truth will always find its way out. Tell your little one why it is that their mother is not in their life. Sooner or later, they will need to know.

If the child’s mother is not completely absent, but, for example, works long hours away from home, the situation may be much easier to resolve.

Many studies have shown that the quality of shared time is far more important than the amount of time spent together.

It is important to give your child your full attention when you can. Remember that these moments help considerably.

What you do together is less important: play, take a walk or help with their homework. Just spending time with your child will help them to feel valued and supported.

Children understand when their mother takes an interest in them, loves them and supports them. It is this day-to-day presence that is critical for their development.



All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.