Journal of Early Childhood Care and Education
Vol. 1, 2017, 31-42
Effects of Father’s Absence on Child Growth and
Development During Early Years
Sana Lakhani
Sanober Nadeem
Presence of both mother and father are crucial for optimum emotional,
spiritual and physical development of children. The main purpose of this
study was to explore mother perceptions regarding the effects of father’s
absence on child growth and development. The qualitative approach was
used to explore this phenomenon with mothers of 1 to 8 years old
children, where father was absent since last six months. Two focus group
discussions and five In-depth interviews were conducted in three middle
class communities of Karachi, Pakistan. Each FGD involved 10 mothers
who were recruited through purposive sampling and consented to
participate. Findings of the current study have been categorized into four
main themes as father's role in child development, Problems mothers
face while nurturing their children and the support systems of mothers
and family. Study concluded that physical absent of father contributed in
negative outcome on child emotional, social, psychological and physical
development. Mother experienced stress and depression while handling
many responsibilities on everyday lives. Girl child and boy child both
suffers equally and need their father presence in social and academic
activities and daily life. While making programs for holistic child
development policy maker should consider this issue.
Keywords: early child development, absence of father, effective
Human Development Program of Aga Khan University; Email:
King Saud bin Abdul Aziz University for Health Sciences;
Lakhani & Nadeem 32
During early years children make tremendous strides in all aspects of
development, physical, linguistic, social emotional ethical and mental.
However, this development is vulnerable to adversity, risks, and critical
windows of time. (Cynthia & Harper, 2013). Both parents play an
important role in achieving each milestone of child. Where mother is
essential for love, care and affectionate, father is a key person who is
responsible to make the family picture complete by giving comfort and
belonging to their children (Shenk, 2001). In every case a father plays a
positive role in the child’s development (Mona, 2013). The father
hungering that often occurs in children of absent fathers must be
considered less detrimental to the child than the effects of a present
father in such cases. Herzog (2001) contends that father hunger is a
tragic consequence of father absenteeism.
Over the past years, researchers suggested that fathers not only
benefit the co-parent in sharing and setting responsibilities but fathers
can also bring something very specific to the parenting role. Roles that
have historically been designated to fathers cast them as protectors,
providers, and male role models. (Barajas, 2011).
If we talk about children in early years (1-8), Sons learn how to
develop masculine identity, how to become assertive and independent,
and relate appropriately to the opposite sex from fathers while girls
always take their fathers as protector and best guider (Elizeath Thomson,
2000). The father involvement is correlated with children's overall well-
being which effects their later years of life (Alam, 2013).
A variety of consequences will perceive as a result of having an absent
father children generally lacked manners and respect for their elders which
also include their mothers. Children lacked respect for traditional customs
(UNICEF, 2013). Anteon & Beard (2007) also found that children from
divorced or single parent family have higher risk behavior of promiscuity,
substance use, and crime involvement. National Fatherhood Initiative,
(2010) reported that many people intuitively believed that fatherlessness is
related to delinquency and violence. 60% of rapists, 72% of child
murderers, and 70% of prison inmates come from fatherless homes.
Research conducted in District Bunner in 2013 proved that children with
absent fathers had low academic results as well as low concentration span
in sports. The father involvement is correlated with children's overall well-
being which effects their later years of lives (Alam, 2013).
There were also some cross-cultural researches on father absence and
child development. South American girls were found with delayed
Child Health and School Sanitation across School Systems 33
maturation and were associated with late pregnancy while modern urban
Indian girls were found with early marriages and pregnancy (Shenk,
2012). On this aspect researchers debated that American girls were have
late maturation because of improper diet and Indian girl's early
pregnancy was due to less educated life partners but still absence of
father matters because without father, good nutrition and education is
somehow not possible ideally.
There is a mix of opinion regarding the absence of father on children,
some researchers identify that children of father absent are more
independent than the children who are living with the father (Anderson,
2000). Children who are living with divorced mothers are more decision
makers and early earners for their families (Shoak & Cremon 2006).
This is very important topic to be researched and reviewed because
the fatherless children spend all their lives with the emptiness of love for
their father. At one point not only a child, family affected but also
society have to paid the loss because these children will involve in the
criminal acts afterword and put thousands of lives in danger. (Sara
McLanahan, 2013). Therefore, a qualitative exploratory study was
planned to better understand mother’s perception regarding the effects of
father absence on child growth and development. The aim of this study
was to explore the role of father in child growth and development and to
identify factors that support single mothers and hindrances face by her
accounts of the parents’ experiences of a PICU admission of their child.
Exploratory research design was used to understand the experiences
of the mother in its true sense. Two focus group discussions (FGDs) and
five In-depth interviews (IDI) were conducted to facilitate the description
of retrospective parental experiences, in that way expanding the general
understanding of the mothers’ experiences of their child’s growth and
development. The FGDS and IDIs were conducted between September
2015 and February 2016. The study was approved by the ethical review
committee of the Aga Khan University.
Study Setting
The research was conducted in three colonies (Salimabad,
Rahimabad and Karimabad) of an urban area called Federal B area
located in city Karachi, Pakistan.
Lakhani & Nadeem 34
Mothers of children aged 1 to 8 years were selected by using
purposive sampling and who fulfill the following inclusion criteria:, 1)
Single mothers who were living with their children and residents of one
of three colonies located in Federal B area,2) Families where father were
absent since 6 months or more than 6 months, 3) Family where father
migrated temporary due to some reasons i.e. Job, Business, 4) Separated
parents, where child lives with mother and 5) Divorced mother and
where child custody given to mother due to legal decision. Excluded
were single mothers whose child has any type of disability, did the
second marriage or widow. Access to communities was arranged through
health board area committees. Through health centers, mothers were
recruited for FDGs and IDIs. To avoid selection bias, mothers were
given a written invitation with consent form including information about
the study, privacy, right to withdraw and contact detail of study
investigator. Participants were asked to voluntarily sign the consent
form. After provided informed consent by then mothers, researcher
planned the FGDs and IDIs on the mutually decided day, place and
timings. IDIs were conducted until the point of data saturation
Data Collection and Analysis
A semi structure guideline was used to conduct FGDs and IDIs. All
interviews were audio-taped with prior permission of mothers and field
notes were written in conjunction with the interviews for which two key
note takers accompanied the investigator for FGDs specifically; who
previously guided appropriately regarding their task preceding the
interviews. Field notes and recorded data were transcribed into MS
Word. Thematic analysis was performed by using qualitative data
analysis software, Nvivo. Version 3. All the information of the
participants both notes and soft copies were protected with a password
and the recorders were kept in a safe custody. The codes were developed.
The coded transcriptions were then used to develop themes and sub-
themes. There were no attempts to quantify the responses. The team
work and interactivity that characterized the coding process increased the
level of reliability of the data analysis process. Direct quotes chosen from
Child Health and School Sanitation across School Systems 35
the transcripts were used to illustrate the findings and support the
interpretation of the themes. Some quotes may be grammatically
incorrect as the data was not changed during transcription and
translation. The idea was to keep the expressions as close as possible to
those of the participants (Connor & Gibson, 2003).
The mothers in this study were predominately Urdu speaking with
intermediate to master level of education. The age range of the mothers
was between 25 years to 45 years. The mean interview duration was 40
minutes (range 26-55 minutes) (Table 1).
Table 1
Sample of the Study
Field site
women in
Range of
25 to 35
25 to 35
30 to 45
25 to 35
Thematic analysis identified four main themes and subthemes as: 1)
Father's role in child development 2) Problems mothers are facing while
nurturing their children 3) The support systems of mothers and family and
4) Voice of mothers who feel that father absence doesn’t matters a lot.
Majority of the mothers highlighted the importance of both parents
and described father as important as mother in the life of child and
family. Most mothers described father primarily as "Bread earner" of the
family. They believed that fathers have obligations to supply his family
with material goods and financial means, like one mother stated:
Fathers are important in child life because he is the one who is
Lakhani & Nadeem 36
responsible for earning for the whole family. He went in morning and
comes at night, father work very hard for his family”. Another mother
said, Child nurturing is a parent’s duty. Mother is responsible for
feeding, bathing, cooking and all the home stuff and father work whole
day, earn money for family and support the family financially. Fathers
are as important as mothers”.
Second emerging role of father that mother seen along provider role
is performer of caregiving activities. Mothers also highlighted that
children seen their father as “hero” who provided them emotional
support, who resolve their issues and problems in practical way and
children learn problem solving skills from fathers, they want their father
should stay with them and fulfill their need for example, Children need
father's hugs and kisses when they pass in their exams. Fathers are like
buddy to the son. Children expect the love and care from father.
Although my husband is in Africa right now, he called us daily but still
children missed them a lot”. Another verbatim of mother was, “Daily in
evening children wait for the time when their papa is supposed to come
from the office and then they want to share their whole day activities
with him. Children think fathers as a first hero for them although he
came once in a year and he spends many hours in a day with children so
they enjoyed a lot”.
Many mothers stated that child’s social development affected due to
father's absence. Many of the child’s outgoing activities are dependent on
father presence, due to his absence children faced difficulty to participate
in social activities for example mothers said: Fathers take the children
out for outings. Even one round on motorcycle with dad will make the
child’s day. Father plays a big role in socialization of child. How I gave
them ride on motorcycle? Not possible for mother”.
Researchers on fatherhood have argued that the presence of a father
is associated with positive outcomes such as children’s improved access
to resources in the community, increased protection, and higher levels of
academic grades (Richter & Morrel, 2006). Fathers are seen as bringing
monetary resources into the household as shown by Desmond and
Desmond’s (2006). Mothers also agreed on this notion and verbalized
Child Health and School Sanitation across School Systems 37
that presence of father figure decrease the financial stress and provide
comfort and peace in their lives. In this time there are many homes where
fathers are far or not present at all. A father’s physical presence alone
however, is not necessarily a desirable outcome in itself. Fatherhood
goes beyond a father’s mere physical presence because a father might
well be physically present, but emotionally absent, or physically absent
but emotionally supportive"(Richter & Morrell, 2006). Father presence
can also be negative in some cases, as is the case when it is characterized
by abusive conduct (Richter & Morrell, 2006). One mother said that in
the presence of his husband, the home environment was full of negative
vibes because he always shouted on her son on every little thing. Now
she is managing home and her career very well and home is not full of
luxurious things but there is peace and happiness. There are some
mothers who totally disagree that father presence really matters. They
said that mothers can perform all the duties very well.
The presence of responsible, caring and supportive fathers however,
can have hugely positive effects on children, families and society and
thus the high numbers of physically absent fathers is an obstacle to the
achievement of broader father involvement.
The reasons of father absent were reported in this study i.e. divorced,
separation, migration to other country for business purposes but the
effects are somehow same on children. Literature revealed that military
and arm forces jobs are also the reason of absence of father in eastern
and western world but this is not included in this study. Mother
verbalized that the children physical, social, emotional and psychological
development affected due to the absence of paternal love. Men’s
participation as father can positive for the health and well-being of
mother and child in many ways. One way is economically as research in
Central America shows that women with children are more vulnerable to
poverty if fathers are physically absent.(Peacock, 2008). Around the
world, work related to care giving of children is predominantly carried
out by women and thus efforts for increased involvement of fathers in the
lives and care of children constitute a significant contribution to the
advancement of gender equality. Women who are in equitable and
healthy relationships with men who contribute to care work experience
lower levels of family stress, are less likely to suffer mental health
problems and derive greater satisfaction from their roles as mothers
Lakhani & Nadeem 38
(Richter, 2011). One of the astonished findings of this study is that,
mother discuss their personal feelings about the absence of father figure.
Mothers verbalized that they often feel exhausted, tired and lonely
because of handling work and home single handed. They want to cry on
their spouse shoulder but he is not there for the support. Mothers feel
helpless because they couldn't cry in front of their children. Loneliness in
the predominant feeling, especially amongst single mother (Alam, 2013).
On the other hand, children need their fathers in play. Mothers shared
that in outdoor play sons specially demand the father presence. Cricket,
football, badmintons are the play where children missed their father
presence. Girls are princess of their papa. They also need their papa in
everyday life. Children who are living without the father are good in
academics but less active in sports as verbalized by their mother.
Children often get irritated and became quiet many times.
Children often heard sarcastic comments from their friends regarding
their father which made them sad and irritable. These comments made
them emotionally weak. Mother verbalized that children often kept quiet
and feel lonely especially on their birthdays. They want their father to
Fathers who are far from their families usually connect with their
children with different smart phone applications, but no technology can
replace the physical presence of father. The touch, hugs, kisses are
precious which children get from their father.
Children socialization also compromised because mothers are often
busy in job and work responsibilities. Children are with their
grandparents and they couldn't take them out for fun and enjoyment
purpose. According to Dr. Nargis, who works as an assistant professor of
psychiatry at Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, "The typical
Pakistani joint family set up can aggravate the effects on the children
who are brought by single mother parent. Despite this no one can replace
the role of ideal father". One mother in IDI stated very important point
that "Even though our expenses have risen, and things are steadily
becoming less affordable, mothers need to start concentrating on
spending quality time with their children instead of working all the
Child Health and School Sanitation across School Systems 39
No any mothers believed that absence of father give the positive
effects on child development. Thus, this area should be explored more so
the interventions can make difference in the lives of children and mother.
This study proved that physically absent father contributes in the
negative outcome on child emotional, social, psychological and physical
development. Mother experienced negative stress and depression while
handling many responsibilities on everyday lives. Girl child and boy
child both suffers equally and need their father presence.
Lakhani & Nadeem 40
Ahmad, M. S. (2013). Effects of father absence on children’s academic
performance. Journal of Educational, Health and Community
Psychology,3(1). DOI:
Shenk, M.K., Starkweather, K., Kress, H.C. &Alam, N. (2013). Does
absence matters? Human Nature, 24(1), 76-110.
Barajas, M. S. (2011). Academic achievement of children in single
parent homes: A critical review. The Hilltop Review,5(1),13-21.
Blundell, S. (2002). Fatherless sons: Psychoanalytic psychotherapy with
bereaved boys. In Etchegoyen, A. & Trowell, J. (Ed.). The
Importance of Fathers: A Psychoanalytic Re-evaluation. Hove, East
Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.
Child Development Institute. (2009). Social emotional development in
children with absent father. Child development, 671-680.
Cynthia C. Harper & McLanahan, S. S. (2004). Father absence and youth
incarceraton. Journal of Research on Adolescence,14(3), 369-397.
Cynthia Osborne, S. M. (2007). Partnership instability and child well-
being. Journal of Marriage and Family,69(4), 1065-1083.
Eastin, J. F. (2003). Impact of absent father-figures on male subjects and
the correlation to juvenile delinquency: Findings and implications
[doctoral dissertation]. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.
Ellis, B. J., Bates, J. E., Dodge, K.A., Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L.J.,
Pettit, G.S. & Woodward, L. (2013). Does father absence place
daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage? Child
Development,74(3), 801-821.
Elizeath Thomson, T. L. (2000). Family structure and child wellbeing.
Social Forces, 1(73), 221-42.
Child Health and School Sanitation across School Systems 41
Jane Mendle, C. A.-G. (2009). Associations between father absence and
age of first sexual intercourse. Child Development, 80(5), 1463–
Fomby, P. & Osborne,C. (2013). The relative effects of family instability
and mother/partner conflict on children’s behavior. Retrieved from
Jones, K. (2004). Assessing psychological separation and academic
performance in nonresident-father and resident-father boys. Child
and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21(4), 333-354.
Kimani, E. (2000). Challeges faced by nuclear familes with absent
fathers in Gadundu, Central Kenya. The African Symposium,10(2),
Mancini, L. & Briggs. (2010). Father absence and its effects on
daughters. Child Development. Retreieved from http://library.wcsu.
Svanum, S., Bringly R.G. & McLanghlin, J. E. (1982). Father absence
and cognitive performance in a large sample of six- to eleven-year-
old children. Child Development, 53(1), 136-143.
Santrock, J. W. (1972). Relation of type and onset of father absence to
cognitive development. Child Development, 43(2), 455-469.
Sara McLanahan, L. T. (2013). The casual effects of father absence. The
Annual Review of Sociology,39,399-427.
Sigle-Rushton, Wendy and McLanahan, Sara. (2004). Father absence and
child wellbeing: a critical review In Moynihan, D.P. and Rainwater,
L. and Smeeding, T., (eds.) The Future of the Family. Russell Sage
Foundation, New York, USA.
McLoyd, V. C., Jayaratne, T. E., Cebalo, R. & Borquez, J. (1994).
Unemployment and work interruption among african american single
mothers. Child Development, 65(2), 562—589.
Lakhani & Nadeem 42
Citation of this Article:
Lakhani, S., & Nadeem, S. (2017). Effects of father’s absence on child
growth and development during early years.. Journal of Early Childhood
Care and Education, 1, 31-42.