Psychological Effects of Growing Up Without a Mother

Child Alone
What is well-known to science that the absence of both the parents can be highly traumatic to a child. The consequences of growing up without one of the parents are less understood. There is no doubt that mothers are special, and children growing without them are at certain disadvantages and risks.

Traditionally, most children have grown with both parents. These figures remained above 85% in most of the US and West Europe till the 1970s.

Since then, things started changing quickly. By the year 2000, there was a decline of 17% (with approximately 68% of children growing with both the parents). In most developed nations, only about half of the children now grow up with both the parents, which is a worrisome trend [1].

There are numerous reasons for such a trend, from an increased number of divorces, a decline in family values, job-related issues, to changes in sexual choices. The last few decades have seen the social acceptability of same-sex couples too.

Although more children are growing up without a father, those growing up without a mother are also increasing in number. The absence of a father in childhood is a better-studied phenomenon than the absence of the mother.

Even shorter separations from a mother could be traumatic

Before looking deeper into the negative consequences of growing without mother, it is necessary to understand that even shorter separations like that of a week could be traumatic to a child.

Such separations may happen even in same-sex happily living families due to specific reasons like frequent job-related travel. Thus, separation from the mother does not necessarily mean a complete absence of the mother.

Even, separation of a week may make a child aggressive, emotionally less stable. Lot also depends on the age of the child.

Children are more vulnerable during the first two years when they need close physical proximity to their mother. At this age, children cannot communicate effectively, and mothers are better at understanding the needs of infants.

From three years of age to five years, a child is still highly vulnerable but can understand a few things and communicate.

After five years of age, children are better at communicating, and thus trauma of separation from a mother can be reduced [2].

Why not having a mother affect a child?

Studies show that mothers are unique in providing care during childhood in many ways and better than fathers. Thus, to a degree, they cannot be replaced, and separation can have an impact on the child’s development [3]:

  • Children prefer mothers over fathers at certain times of life, when seeking emotional support, feeling hungry, sick, or going through distress.
  • Contact with the mother is more soothing than with any other person.
  • Mothers are naturally more sensitive and responsive to the particular needs of young children. They are better at distinguishing various responses of a child, like when a child is hungry and when in pain.
  • Mothers are better at interpreting the emotions of children. Thus, they can help them better. They can better understand the child’s requirements by looking at posture, gestures, and faces.
  • Children become more hostile and even anti-social in the absence of the mother.

Studies show that both mother and father are equally important for children, as they complement each other. It is something, that is not present in same-sex couples, or when a child is brought up by either a mother or a father. Fathers are good at serving as a role model for growing children, providing them security, and much more.

How does not having a mother affect a child?

Studies show that prolong absence of a mother may completely alter the emotional responses of the child irreversibly, due to changes in the brain chemicals [4].

Children not having a mother near them grow up emotionally immature and detached. Some of the well-known emotional issues with such children could be [5]:

  • Rigidity or low level of flexibility and capability to adapt to the changes.
  • Low-stress tolerance makes them vulnerable to various psychological disorders
  • Emotional aggression and instability in children lead to social issues and even suicidal tendencies.
  • They lose the ability to form healthy relationships, which may have lifelong consequences.
  • Attention seeking and many of them struggle with life.

Some of the lifelong effects of not having a mother may be:

  • Failure to develop healthy relationships as adults which leads to short and unstable friendships, marriages, emotional instability.
  • Fear of love and attachment. That may sound strange, but children who grew without a mother may struggle to engage emotionally with others. They are less likely to form a long and loving bond with others, as they have a fear of losing someone, fear of love, and attachment. They develop a defensive mechanism that prevents them from being emotionally close to anyone, trust them. Thus, they are less probable to feel happy in life.
  • Personality disorders like narcissistic personality or borderline personality disorder are more common in children who grow up without a mother. They are more probable to get aggressive, blame others, become overconfident, and self-centered.
  • That may not sound very dangerous, but it is a personality trait that prevents developing healthy relationships with others.
  • Higher risk of substance abuse or dependency, as such children, try to take out their sorrow or dull pains with the help of substance use or misuse. It may ultimately make things worse for them.
  • Lack of direction in life may prevent the development of morals, higher probability to follow the crowd, less creativity.
  • Loss of hope and joy from life. Loss of a parent, particularly a mother who is still alive and breathing may cause a dull pain, and a child may begin to lose hope and faith. A child may even become depressed, suicidal.

The absence of a mother may gravely affect a child’s emotional and mental health, and a warm caregiver may play an essential role in helping the child and minimizing the trauma.


  1. Lang K, Zagorsky JL. Does Growing up with a Parent Absent Really Hurt? The Journal of Human Resources. 2001;36(2):253-273. doi:10.2307/3069659
  2. Howard K, Martin A, Berlin LJ, Brooks-Gunn J. Early Mother-Child Separation, Parenting, and Child Well-Being in Early Head Start Families. Attach Hum Dev. 2011;13(1):5-26. doi:10.1080/14616734.2010.488119
  3. Fitzgibbons RP. Growing up with gay parents: What is the big deal?*. Linacre Q. 2015;82(4):332-336. doi:10.1179/0024363915Z.000000000120
  4. How Mother-Child Separation Causes Neurobiological Vulnerability Into Adulthood. Association for Psychological Science – APS. Accessed July 27, 2020. [Link]
  5. Hill T, MS, NCC, CCTP, read LL updated: 22 J 2018 ~ 6 min. 7 Consequences of Having an Emotionally Detached Parent. Psych Published 14:52:35-05:00. Accessed July 27, 2020. [Link]
Spread the love