Growing up with an absentee parent is one of the hardest things to withstand. It can be especially painful during the most significant occasions of life. For instance, the moment when you’re getting ready for prom, stretching before a big game, the first milestone into womanhood, learning how to shave, or graduating from college. The memories of these events in which you could have felt that cardinal sense of validation, love and support can remain with you for decades. Although sometimes we may feel as though we’ve come to terms with such devastation, it takes work to completely overcome this pain and hardship.
Research has shown that growing up with an absentee parent can have various effects on children. For example: “A study of 3,400 middle schoolers indicated that not living with both biological parents quadruples the risk of having an affective disorder; i.e. Bipolar, Anxiety, or Depression” (Cuffe, et al, 2005). It is important that we examine these issues so that we can better address the concerns. For this reason, mental health is of the utmost importance for children and teens of any background, but especially those growing up without a mother or father, or both.
Studies have also highlighted the effects of growing up without a father in terms of its impact on delinquency and crime: “Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds” (Harper & McLanahan. 2005). Howbeit, this in no way negates personal responsibility for one’s actions but rather, assigned to those affected in such statistical parameters.
In addition to the other negative impacts of broken homes, the following passage highlights the effect that an absentee father can have on young women and their future relationships with the opposite sex.
In a study exploring the perspectives of daughters who experienced father absence during their childhood and/or adolescent years, the researchers interviewed nine women aged 22-46. During the interviews, participants expressed difficulties forming healthy relationships with men and they associated these difficulties with their experiences of father absence. The interviewees also revealed a strong need for attention and affection from men which was also associated by the participants with the lack of affection received from their fathers. The desire for affection made these females more vulnerable to male attention which put them at higher risk of being exploited by any male who expressed any positive interest in them. Some of their poor relationship decisions were attributed to this vulnerability. One of the participants, when describing her first sexual relationship, stated that the sexual encounter with a friend’s father occurred because of her desire for affection and attention from a father figure. Father involvement was the only factor that decreased the odds of engaging in sexual activity and none of the other family processes was found to be statistically significant (East, L., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. , 2007).
I often speak about women seeking unhealthy validation online, as it is very dangerous behavior. When we grow up lacking a fundamental piece of our foundation it can be unnerving, regardless of whether or not we chose to acknowledge it. It can make us vulnerable in ways that can be jeopardizing to our very safety, which is why, these feelings are crucial to work through. The danger of exploiting women in the spotlight, where impressionable youngsters can emulate, is destructive on many levels. Perhaps most importantly, it teaches young women to be broken before they even posses an opportunity to be whole. Young women growing up with absentee parents are more likely to gain a perceived sense of validation from unhealthy attention.
It is only normal that we feel pain having to endure the effects of an absentee parent. It is important to remember that it is not your fault. You were only an child and your parent is an adult who made their own decisions. This can be hard at times to fully comprehend, but we need to release the blame we place on ourselves. You don’t need to blame yourself because of other people’s poor choices. It’s hard not knowing where you’re from, but remember that is not a reflection of who you are or what you will become. It is important to recognize these feelings and to understand that it is not your fault. We can’t control what others do, but we can, however, govern how we chose to respond. It’s important to discuss these issues as we may not be aware how they are subconsciously affecting our lives.
Nothing can quite describe the gnawing feelings of incompleteness of never knowing your parent, the fight of surviving an absentee parent, or enduring an abusive parent. The overwhelming feeling of abandonment can loom over your head at times. It’s not one of those feelings you can just turn off, regardless of how deep you may feel you have buried it. It cannot be trivialized into a “twelve day mental cleanse” because it take time to work through these issues and it is best to do so with a medical professional. Be that as it may, you should never be ashamed to take control of your mental health. Know that there is always hope, and hardships can always be overcome through education, faith, and growth.
Cuffe, Steven P., Robert E. McKeown, Cheryl L. Addy, and Carol Z. Garrison. “Family Psychosocial Risk Factors in a Longitudinal Epidemiological Study of Adolescents.” Journal of American Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry 44 (February 2005): 121-129.
East, L., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. (2007). ‘I don’t want to hate him forever’: Understanding daughter’s experiences of father absence. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 24, 14-18.
Harper, Cynthia C. and Sara S. McLanahan. “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.