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.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
Abelin, E. (1971). The role of the father in separation-individuation. In J. McDevitt, & C. F. Settlage (Eds.), Essays in honor of Margaret Mahler (pp. 229–252). NY: International Universities Press, Inc.
Abelin, E. (1975). Some further observations and comments on the earliest role of the father. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 56, 293–302.
Abelin, E. (1980). Triangulation, the role of the father and the origin of core gender identity during the rapprochement subphase. In R. F. Lax, S. Bach, & J. A. Burland (Eds.), Rapprochement: The critical subphase of separation-individuation (pp. 151–169). New York: Jason Aronson.
Altus, W. D. (1958). The broken home and factors of adjustment. Psychological Reports, 4, 477–485.
Bach, G. (1946). Father-fantasies and father-typing in father-separated children. Child Development, 38, 243–250.
Beaty, L. (1995). Effects of paternal absence on male adolescents’ peer relations and self-image. Adolescence, 30(120), 873–880.
Beck, A. T., Sethi, B. B., & Tuthill, R. N. (1963). Childhood bereavement and adult depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 9, 295–302.
Biller, H. B., & Kimpton (1997). The father and the school-aged child. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (3rd ed., pp. 143–161). New York: Wiley.
Bishop, J., Lane, R. (2000). Father absence and the attitude of entitlement. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 30(1), 105–117.
Blankenhorn, D. (1995). Fatherless America. New York: Harper Perennial.
Blos, P. (1967). The second individuation process of adolescence. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 22, 162–186.
Booth, M. Z. (1996). Parental availability and academic achievement among Swazi rural primary school children. Comparative Educational Review, 40(3), 250–263.
Brook, J. S., Whitman, M., & Gordon, A. S. (1985). Father absence, perceived family characteristics and stage of drug use in adolescence. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3, 87–94.
Clark, A., Vandell, D., McCartney, K., Owen, M., & Booth, C. (2000). Effects of parental separation and divorce on very young children. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(2), 304–326.
Daum, J. (1983). Father’s absence and moral development of male delinquents. Psychological Reports, 54, 223–228.
Davids, M. F. (2002). Fathers in the internal world. In J. Trowell, & A. Etchegoyen (Eds.), The importance of fathers: A psychoanalytic re-evaluation (pp. 67–92). Brunner/Routledge.
Dienhart, A. (1998). Reshaping fatherhood. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Drexler, P. (2001). Moral reasoning in sons of lesbians and heterosexual parent families: The Oedipal period of development. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 6(1), 19–51.
Drexler, P. (2006). The new family tree: Lesbian, gay, parenting, boys, Latency, Oedipal conflicts, gender development, masculine identity. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 5(2), 240–256.
East, L., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. (2006). Father absence and adolescent development: a review of the literature. Journal of Child Health Care, 10(4), 283–295.
Esman, A. H. (1980). Adolescent psychopathology and the rapprochement process. In R. F. Lax, S. Bach, & J. Alexis Burland (Eds.), Rapprochement: The critical subphase of separation-individuation (pp. 285–297). New York: Jason Aranson.
Esman, A. H. (1982). Fathers and adolescent sons. In Stanely H. Cath, Alan R. Gurwitt, & John M. Ross (Eds.), Father and child (Chap. 17, pp. 265–273). Boston: Little Brown & Company.
Freud, S. (1927). The future of an illusion. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), The standard edition of the complete works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 21, pp. 3–56). London: Hogarth Press, 1961.
Freud, A., & Burlingham, D. T. (1943). War and children. Medical War Books.
Glueck, S., & Glueck, E. (1950). Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency. Harvard University Press.
Greenson, R. (1954). The struggle against identification. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 2, 200–217.
Herzog, J. M. (2001). Father hunger. London: The Analytic Press.
Hetherington, E. M. (1998). What matters? What does not? Five perspectives on the association between marital transitions and children’s adjustment. American Psychologist, 53, 167–184.
Jones, K. A., & Benda, B. B. (2004). Alcohol use among adolescents: A study of non resident fathers, assets, and deficits. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 22(1), 3–25.
Juby, H., & Farrington, D. (2001). Distinguishing the link between disrupted families and delinquency. British Journal of Criminology, 41(1), 22–40.
Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of the self. International Universities Press, Inc.
Lamb, M. E. (1987). The emergent American father. In M. Lamb (Ed.), The father’s role: Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 3–25). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Lamb, M. E. (1997). The development of father-infant relationships. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (pp. 104–120). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Liebman, S. J., & Abell, S. C. (2000). The forgotten parent no more: a psychoanalytic reconsideration of fatherhood. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 17(1), 88–105.
Loewald, H. W. (1951). Ego and reality. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 32, 10–18.
Mahler, M. S., & Gosliner, B. J. (1955). On symbiotic child psychosis: Genetic, dynamic and restitutive aspects. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 10, 195–212.
Mahler, M. S., Pine, F., & Bergman, A. (1975). The psychological birth of the human infant. NY: Basic Books, Inc.
Mander, G. (2001). Fatherhood today: variations on a theme. Psychodynamic Counseling, 7(2), 141–158.
Masterson, J. F. (1988). The search for the real self. NY: The Free Press.
McLoyd, V. C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53, 185–204.
Miller, T. (1984). Paternal absence and its effects on adolescent self-esteem. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 30, 293–296.
Mitchell, D., & Wilson, W. (1967). Relationship of father absence to masculinity and popularity of delinquent boys. Psychological Reports, 20, 1173–1174.
Najman, J. M., Behrens, B. C., Anderson, M., Bor, W., O’Callaghan, M., & Williams, G. M. (1997). Impact of family type and family quality on child behavior problems: A longitudinal study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36(10), 1357–1365.
Parish, T., & Taylor, J. C. (1979). The impact of divorce and subsequent father absence on children’s and adolescent’s self-concepts. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 8, 427–432.
Phares, V. (1992). Where’s Poppa? The relative lack of attention to the role of fathers in child and adolescent psychopathology. American Psychologist, 47(5), 656–664.
Pleck, J. H. (1997). Paternal involvement: Levels, sources, and consequences. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (3rd ed., pp. 66–103). New York: Wiley.
Popenoe, D. (1996). Life without father. New York: The Free Press.
Ross, J. M. (1982). Mentorship in middle childhood. In Stanely H. Cath, Alan R. Curwitt, & John M. Ross (Eds.), Father and child (Chap. 15, pp. 243–252). Boston: Little Brown & Company.
Pruett, K. D. (1987). The nurturing father. New York: Warner Books, Inc.
Pruett, K. D. (1998). Research perspectives: Role of the father. Pediatrics, 102(5), 1253–1261.
Pruett, K. D. (2000). Fatherneed. New York: The Free Press.
Rutter, M. (1979). Maternal deprivation 1972–1978: New findings, new concepts, new approaches. Child Development, 50, 283–305.
Seligman, E. (1982). The half-alive ones. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 27, 1–20.
Seplin, C. D. (1952). A study of the influence of the father’s absence for military service. Smith College Studies in Social Work, (abstract, Vol. 22, pp. 123–124).
Silvertein, L. B., & Auerbach, C. F. (1999). Deconstructing the essential father. American Psychologist, 54(6), 397–407.
Stolz, L. M. (1954). Father relations of war born children. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Target, M., & Fonagy, P. (2002). Fathers in modern psychoanalysis and in society. In J. Trowell & A. Etchegoyen (Eds.), The importance of fathers: A psychoanalytic re- evaluation (pp. 45–66). Brunner/Routledge.
UNICEF (2007). Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries. Retrieved from http://www.unicef-irc.org/.
Winnicott, W. D. (1960). The theory of the parent–infant relationship. In W. D. Winnicott (Ed.), The maturational processes and the facilitating environment: Studies in the theory of emotional development (pp. 37–55). NY: International Universities Press, Inc.
About this article
Cite this article
Jones, K.A. Reconsidering Psychoanalytic Notions of Paternal and Maternal Roles in Situations of Father-Absence. J Contemp Psychother 38, 205–213 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10879-008-9077-1