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An Absent Parent and Self-Esteem in Children

by Beth Greenwood

Parents are not always there for their children. In some cases, a parent simply abandons the child entirely and is never seen again. In others, the parent may be absent involuntarily because of incarceration or due to a military deployment. Some parents die at a relatively young age. No matter what the cause, a child whose parent is absent suffers a number of negative effects, among which can be a lowered sense of self-esteem.

Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is related to the way children think of and value themselves, according to child development experts at the Kids Health website. Children with high self-esteem tend to be realistic, feel good about themselves and are better able to handle conflicts and resist pressures. Children with low self-esteem, on the other hand, often struggle with challenges and may have a hard time finding solutions when they experience problems. They are more likely to be self-critical or to become passive, withdrawn or depressed. Healthy self-esteem involves feeling both capable and loved.

Absent Fathers

In one study on rural southern adolescents reported in the November/December 2005 Association of Black Nursing Faculty Journal, researchers examined a cohort of 1,409 adolescents. Children in homes where a father was not present were more likely to engage in increased sexual activity and to have lower self-esteem. There was no relationship between self-esteem and sexual activity, however. In a May 2012 article for Psychology Today, Edward Kruk, author of “Co-Parenting After Divorce,” expresses concerns that fathers' contributions to children are consistently devalued by social institutions, leading to homes in which the mother is the primary parent. Kruk reports that children in homes where fathers are not involved in their lives experience diminished self-esteem, behavioral problems, truancy, poor academic performance, delinquency and homelessness, as well as teen pregnancy.

Military Deployment

Military families regularly face the issue of deployment. In some cases, a deployment means a parent will be gone for a period of time, but in others, it means the parent is going to war. Although parents who are deployed usually try to develop strategies to stay in touch, they are still not there for important moments such as the loss of the first tooth, special holidays or a child’s birthday. Children whose parents are deployed may experience a number of problems, according to Kids Health professionals, although loss of self-esteem is not mentioned. Some -- especially infants and toddlers –may become withdrawn or clingy. Older children might experience sleep problems, nightmares and sadness.

Absent Mothers

Although much of the research on absent parents is focused on the absence of fathers, children also suffer from the absence of a mother. In a presentation for Caribbean Foster Care, clinical psychologist Judith Arndell notes that a mother can be physically present but emotionally absent, due to drug abuse or mental illness, or might have been divorced or abandoned the child. Arndell notes that abandonment by the mother causes trauma, depression and fears that the child may carry into adulthood. Abandonment also causes anger, insecurity, fear of rejection, impulsive behaviors, self-destructive behavior and poor self-esteem.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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