Mother Abandonment & the Effects on the Child

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Maternal abandonment leaves the children to deal with significant emotional, mental and psychological aftereffects. A mother doesn’t have to pack her bags and physically leave the house in order to abandon her children. It can take place emotionally and psychologically, as she withdraws, either because of her own childhood issues or from other mental health issues.

Definition of Maternal Abandonment

Abandonment occurs when a mother physically, emotionally or psychologically removes herself from her children. She does this by ending or ignoring her responsibility to parent her children, or ending her relationship with her children, according to Peter Gerlach, MSW.


The child who has been abandoned by his mother develops low self esteem. His thinking is, “My mom didn’t love me. She left me, so this means I’m not lovable.” He experiences confusion and asks questions about why his mother left him. He feels guilt, believing that he did something “so bad” that it made his mother leave him behind.

He is fearful of developing bonds with other adults--teachers, stepparents or caregivers. The child believes that if he begins to love the new adult, that person will also leave. He grieves for the lost relationship. As he grows older, he starts grieving over any hopes he has had for a happy reunion with his mother, according to Gerlach.


The most common form of maternal abandonment is physical, when a mother physically leaves her child behind. This kind of abandonment is sudden and unexpected, causing the child to feel shock that her mother has chosen to leave her. The child experiences grief and guilt over the lost mother-child bond and believing she did something that was so horrible that her mother didn’t want to be associated with her any more.

Another form of abandonment is psychological, and occurs when the mother treats her children with coldness, apathy or indifference. Sometimes, this is unintentional. If a mother is dealing with past traumas of her own, she is often not able to make herself available to her children, says Gerlach. When a mother has an emotional illness, such as clinical depression, she is unable to meet the psychological or physical needs of her child. Because she is sunk in apathy, she unintentionally separates herself from her child.

Social Effects

The child who has lost his mother to abandonment experiences sadness and confusion when he hears his friends talk about their mothers. It is difficult for him to see other children experiencing a normal life with an intact family, according to Bella Online.

As he gets older and he has seemingly resigned himself to the continued absence of his mother, he learns to explain to his friends that his mother is not a part of his life.


All children who have been abandoned by their mothers, either physically or psychologically, wonder what they did to cause “Mommy” to leave. They ask themselves if they did something wrong; if they did, they want to figure out what it was.

These children also wonder if they are lovable. If the mother goes on to have additional children, they ask, “Why are they more ‘special’ than I am? Why doesn’t she want me?”

Some children who have experienced a maternal abandonment will come to the mistaken conclusion that they are better off protecting themselves from any more hurt. They also decide that it’s better to do the abandoning than to go through the pain of being abandoned again.