, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 205-213

Reconsidering Psychoanalytic Notions of Paternal and Maternal Roles in Situations of Father-Absence

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Abstract

Traditional psychoanalytic literature describes the father as occupying a critical role in child development. The father’s loss or absence is seen as hindering development from early infancy throughout childhood and even into adulthood. Father absence is defined as any situation where the father is psychologically disconnected from his children, whether or not he is currently living in the same home. Dramatic shifts have occurred in the American family over the past several decades, which have resulted in changes for both the father and mother’s role in child development. With the increasing divorce rate and rise in single parenthood, father-absence has become common, and a multiplicity of family forms has emerged. However, psychoanalytic ideas regarding maternal and paternal roles have not been modified to encompass these changing family forms. Research is beginning to show that children can develop in families that are not the traditional mother-father unit. Two case examples are provided to examine various factors related to unresolved separation-individuation issues, and how psychoanalytic ideas regarding the paternal and maternal functions can be used in either a modified or unmodified manner in organizing the clinical material.