How does parental absence affect children?

Looking at Elise Ishimwe for the first time, it is not hard to notice that he is aloof and rarely mingles with others.

He is eleven years old; the last time he saw his mother was when he was around five. His father’s presence is on and off. He is being raised by relatives and for him, the notion of basking in the unrelenting love of parents is a far-fetched dream.


At times circumstances can make it impossible for parents to be involved in their children’s lives yet the impact of this for the young ones is disheartening.


Counsellor Damien Mouzoun says it is unfortunately rampant in society nowadays to have one of the parents abandon their children, even in homogeneous societies backed by principles which used to guard communities from this kind of situation.


For various reasons ranging from separation, divorce, profession and death, to many others, we have witnessed in our society cases of single parenting, mostly affecting mothers and children, he says.

The counsellor points out that in the book (The Secret of Staying in Love), one can read about common occasions where families may well stay together and yet their children are also victims of similar consequences caused by couple distancing.

Mouzoun explains that it is sad that sometimes children say ‘my mother or father gives me everything except herself or himself.’ Too early and too often we sow the seeds of ‘can’t you see I am busy? Don’t bother me now.’ When we convey the attitude of ‘Go away, don’t bother me now,’ family members and children are apt to go elsewhere or isolate themselves in heartbroken and painful silence.

The counsellor highlights that though he cannot pinpoint the reason behind this, he notes that the complexity of the situation is worsened by a perfectly idealised world created by social media and Hollywood films, where by people invest more in their wedding than in building a lasting relationship or covenant companionship.

This, he says, has enormous consequences, especially on how the children are raised.

“Lack of parental emotion and attachment often affects children as they become defensive and baited. Their comportment as a grown up is unconsciously triggered by their emotional childhood isolation,” he explains.

In her article The Long-Term Impact of Neglectful Parents, marriage and family therapist Karyl McBride states that neglect can be a hard thing to put a finger on, especially emotional neglect.

Neglected children often don’t realise they are being neglected at the time, and can internalise the pain and loneliness and think it is their fault. They are often told they are “too sensitive” or “selfish” if they try to get their needs met. Parents with little empathy often neglect their children and don’t even realise it, while there are also parents who don’t care. Either way, the child grows up wondering about their own self-worth and value, she explains. 

“If you were emotionally or physically neglected as a child, it can be a difficult journey to heal. Traumatic experiences like abuse and neglect have an adverse effect on children’s brain development. As the child matures, the developing brain changes in response to the child’s environment,” she writes.

Studies and clinical experience also show that childhood abuse and neglect can impact a child’s emotional development. In my practice, I see adult clients who were neglected, and most have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and significant trauma to resolve. If there was a lack of emotional attachment in childhood, this also affects relationships later in life and can make it difficult to trust others. Fear is often expressed and felt without always understanding why, the therapist adds.

Why kids need both parents?

Wilbur Bushara, a father of one, is of the view that parenting is a very challenging task which is very important in the development and growth of children.

He stresses that it’s very essential for a child to be raised by both parents without excuses because it gives them a sense or feeling of association, love and security. This way, they learn how to associate, love and be there for others.

A child is also able to learn different characters from both parents since we all grow differently and have different characters, he says.

“A child learns and acquires skills pertaining problem solving simply because like aforementioned, we have different characters. Children are able to learn both maternal and paternal cultures and norms with their families and their backgrounds, this involves learning the languages too, which in time helps them to survive,” he notes.

Diane Mushimiyimana, a single mother, says children deserve to be raised by both parents for healthy growth.

She believes that since it takes two to make a baby, it should be the same when it comes to raising them since each parent has a specific role to play in bringing up a happy and healthy child.

Mushimiyimana is of the view that children who lack parental love suffer a number of consequences.

“Because every child is unique, the effects may differ individually but generally, research has revealed that children with single parents tend to have issues such as drug or alcohol addiction.”

She is, hence, of the view that people, especially men, should change their mind-set of taking parenting for granted and fulfil their responsibility of fathering.

Also, the Government or civil society should increase awareness campaigns on positive parenting, she adds.

Aline Providence Nkundibiza argues that a child has a right to live with his/her parents and enjoy parental care.

A child can, for instance, get traits such as being emotional, nurturing, caring, loving from their mother and a persona of being focused, courageous, competitive, independent and providing from the father, she says.

She, hence, emphasises that for a child to have a chance to get appropriate direction and guidance, they need to grow up with both parents.

“Children who grow up without their fathers, (especially if they are alive) have that feeling of resentment.  And you will see those who grow in the absence of their mothers, always have emotion of sorrow and they miss that love from a mother which in turn affects their own caring act.”

How can this be overcome?

Nkundibiza is of the view that there is need to teach the young generation to plan their lives with purpose, she says.

Mouzoun says that parents are their children’s teachers, especially during the impressionable and formative years when they develop attitudes and habits that last a lifetime.

It is a tremendous task to raise children. Mothers and fathers bring different, complementary gifts to parenting. Together, they help teach their children the meaning of love and the joy of serving others, he says.

“Every stage brings new adventures and new challenges, from all the firsts of childhood to the growing independence of teenagers. Parents need encouragement in their important work and should always remember that the best gift they can give their children is a strong marriage, that is why it is important for a child to grow up with parents,” the counsellor notes.

He adds that one must be willing to forego personal convenience to invest time in establishing a firm foundation for family, and take time for communication.

“When relationships and communication in the family seems to be unstable, each individual should look to themselves for the remedy. If we would know true love and understanding one another, we must realise that love and communication are more than just sharing of words,” he says.


It is really absurd how some parents avoid the responsibilities to be present in the lives of their children. Children need role models and mentors to be inspired and get a clear picture before starting families.

During village meetings the issue of absentee parents should be raised to be discussed on thoroughly and see how it affects children and find a way to solve the problem for it is painful for children growing when they aren't a priority.

Growing up without a father was one of the hardest things I encountered in life I wouldn't wish it for any one.

Dear fathers out there, we don't want you to be perfect we want you to be present.

When being a father is hard seek help, it is very fine to consult psychologists, fellow fathers but it is never okay to give up your responsibilities.

Sharon Mbabazi, Student


Parents need to be taught on the impact their absence can have on children.

I think some of them don’t understand how grave this issue is, I believe with sensitisation, there can be a big difference.

Penina Umutesi, Mother


There should be strict laws in place punishing parents who don’t assume their full responsibility is raising their children.

People should also be responsible enough to plan well such that they enter parenthood when they are ready for it.

Robert Mugabe, Parent


What needs to be done is to build stable families, those that can provide children with a healthy home.

Couples need to be strong enough to create lasting marriages; this will avoid divorce, which in most cases is the root cause of absent parents.

Rodgers Munyaneza, Banker

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper

You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News