A mother may abandon her child for several reasons. She may not have been prepared for motherhood, and feel overwhelmed by those responsibilities. She may be psychologically wounded, suggests Peter K. Gerlach, who holds a master's degree in social work, in the article, "Perspective on Fear of Abandonment," on "Break the Cycle!" Gerlach is also on the expert council of the National Stepfamily Resource Center. In some cases, a marital breakdown, addiction or mental illness may cause a mother to disappear from her child's life. The effects of an absent mother figure can be long-term, and in some cases, severe.
The Impact Depends on Early Maternal Bonds
The child's age, gender, and strength of other family relationships all influence the effects of an absent mother figure. The stronger a child's bond was with the now-absent mother figure, the more severe the effects of her absence will be, according to Gerlach. If a child benefits from highly loving, nurturing, positive relationships from other relatives, he may not feel the effects of a mother figure's absence so greatly.
A child who does not have a mother figure in his life may suffer from feelings of shame, leading to a lack of confidence. He may conclude that he is unlovable, or not worthy of love, explains Gerlach. This may lead to a fear of developing bonds with other adults, because he is scared they will abandon him, too. Adolescents who have not had a mother figure may use unhealthy activities, such as promiscuity or criminal behavior, to find love, acceptance and security.
Possible long-term consequences of an absent mother figure includes antisocial behavior, emotional problems and juvenile delinquency. Psychoanalyst John Bowlby believed that children arrive in the world biologically pre-programmed to form strong bonds with other people, as a means of survival. In his article, "Bowlby's Attachment Theory," on "SimplyPsychology," psychology lecturer Saul McLeod discusses Bowlby's belief that the relationship of a child and her mother between birth and 5 years of age is the most crucial to socialization.
A mother may be both present and absent in that she remains physically close to her child, but she may be unloving, controlling, hypercritical or cruel. If so, she is emotionally absent. In her article, "Daughters of Unloving Mothers -- 7 Common Wounds," for "Psychology Today," author Peg Streep suggests that a woman whose mother withholds love may suffer from low self-esteem, trust and boundary issues, and may have difficulty forming healthy adult relationships.