Father Absence and Parental Alienation: How Children Suffer Without Both Parents, an Interview with Edward Kruk

Edward Kruk is a professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, with a focus on child and family issues. He is also an author of several books, one being “Equal Parent Presumption: Social Justice in the Legal Determination of Parenting After Divorce.” Today he answers a few questions about the absence of fathers and its affect on developing children.

In your Psychology Today article “Father Absence, Father Deficit, and Father Hunger,” what does this title refer to?

“The absence of fathers from the lives of many children, and forced removal of fathers from children’s lives, and the effects of father absence on children.”

In your opinion, how does the absence of a father affect developing children?

“It causes physical and mental health problems, and exposes many children to situations of child abuse.”

Does this father absence affect adults too?

“Yes, the most depressed adults are parents who are separated from their children, and there is a ‘suicide epidemic’ among fathers who have been removed from their children’s lives by family courts, in the absence of violence or abuse concerns.”

Would you say that children of same sex parents are affected by a similar absence?

“The children in these families are additionally affected, in that they are often separated from one of their biological parents (genetic orphans) AND from one of their primary caregivers. They are affected by the absence of two key people in their lives.”

How are fathers (or mothers) alienated from their children?

“Mainly by a harmful legal system that removes a parent from the life of a child, and an abusive parent who instills both hate towards the other parent and self-hate in the child.”

Why do you think it is important for a child to have a relationship with both parents?

“For their physical, psychological/emotional, social and spiritual well-being, and for their optimal development in each of these areas.”

Why do children act out when there is a parental separation?

“Sometimes they want to keep their family together, but often it’s a reaction to being exposed to parental conflict and/or being threatened with the loss of a parent.”

What can generations to come do to prevent the negative consequences of parental alienation?

“They can share the care of their children, before or after divorce. Our laws also need to change to recognize parental alienation as a form of child abuse, and protect these children from this form of abuse.”


For more information about parental alienation, visit the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization.

To read more from Edward Kruk, click here.

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  1. Completely emotional over this piece, I definitely agree with him on points, but other points I’m worried it could send a harmful message towards single parents, same sex parents, and children with abusive, or toxic parents.
    I’m not in the developmental, child psychology, or social services field in the least bit, so I’m sure my opinion can be attributed towards ignorance on my part.
    What I agree with, is that children need strong role models in their lives, and having both parents (or more), just people there for them. I’m not certain I agree with him stating that a separation from their biological parent is any more detrimental than being without adult role models and guardians. Growing up with out my dad, in and out of my life, has definitely affected me. So I know he has a point. But I feel like this statement is a slippery slope towards getting adoption rights and parental rights towards same sex couples, “The children in these families are additionally affected, in that they are often separated from one of their biological parents (genetic orphans) AND from one of their primary caregivers. They are affected by the absence of two key people in their lives.”

    I do also agree that the legal system should be fixed when it comes to child custody and consider parental alienation as an abuse tactic, and that parents of divorce really need to learn co-parenting strategies.

    I would be interested to know if his opinions are based on his observations or has he been involved or is conducting research on families without father figures.

    The piece intrigued me, has me feeling cognitive dissonance all over the place! I feel there is something missing though. I feel the questions were great, but his responses seem so short and lack enthusiasm about his field.

  2. This particular interview caught my eye because I personally had to see my parents go through separation at an age where I got the gist of everything. And seeing my parents go through separation after being married for over 30 years, it was something that I didn’t want to go through and until this day I am still trying to accept the fact that my father has moved on. I am 22 years old, and my parents went through separation when I was around 19-20, so pretty much 2 years ago. And I can see why this has such an affect because after many years of seeing my parents together and having to adjust to the sudden change is traumatising. Not only personally, but financially it is hard to stick it through.

    Another thing about this interview is, I totally agree with children going off the rails because they didn’t receive the love from a father figure. My partner who was abandoned by his father at a young age and until now, his father doesn’t really put in the effort to contact my partner, and I can see that has really affected his life in a negative way.

    So overall, I do think it’s important for both parents to be mature about the situations that life throws at them, and try their best to put their children first. I know self love is important, but not when you have a family.

  3. This article was very informative and was in my opinion well composed and concise; the use of images works nicely and the types of questions asked were thought out and organised in an efficient manner, with an introductory and conclusive question at the beginning and end.

    But in my opinion I think you could improve by giving a bit more of an introduction to the specific article you’re referring to in the interview, to give the audience a better idea of the context of your article, for example, the year it was written and what prompted Edward Kruk to write it.

    After reading the article I also found myself thinking it would be interesting to hear why he choose to focus on the effect of the absence of a father in a child’s life, rather than a mother.

    All in all, I enjoyed reading the article because it was easy to read and educational.

  4. I see parental absence and father alienation a lot, and to have this brought this topic to discussion was really good because it’s something important that every parent should read and take into consideration. I really enjoy how straight to the point everything was from the questions to the answers, but I do wish there was more information given. Where has he done his studies and research? From what ages does it affect kids? How long does it affect them? I really would have loved to read some scenarios of what could potentially happen to these kids physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is such an interesting topic, and didn’t want to stop reading. Overall though, content was really great and informative, I just wish there was a bit more information provided.

  5. Straight to the point and an easy read, so thumbs up for that. The reason this article drew me in was the title and my first thought was that it was going to be very informative (which it was) but on a very surface level type of informative. The questions you asked were great, in the way that they all flowed together, especially on the last question where you asked what we can do to solve this and it was a good question to end the interview. Little bit disappointed that Kruk’s response were so short and didn’t offer alot of explanation on his answers, so it kept me wanting more or learning more about this issue (which can be a good thing). Overall, great interview with good questions that could lead to more discussion.

  6. Based on the knowledge I have gained in my psychology courses, having caring and responsible paternal figures in a child’s life is one of the most important things, especially for younger children.

    I have personally grown up with both my parents, but I have worked several children who have either lost one or two parents. One little girl I worked with has two great grandparents who are raising her, but the effects of an absent mother and father are there. The girl holds a lot of resentment and anger towards her parents for leaving and it’s going to be something she struggles with. Another girl is being raised by her grandmother and has issues with attachment. If she bonds with another person, she will not leave them. Her grandma will literally have to tear her away from that person. While I can’t absolutely say her parents leaving caused this, based on what I know, I suspect it at least plays a role.

    My question for Edward would be: in your research and work, have you found the effects on children from their mothers vs. their fathers leaving to be different? What would you suspect is the reason for a difference, if there is one? If they have similar effects, why are they similar?

  7. The first thing readers take away from an article is presentation. The question and answer aspect of the article is one of the cleanest I’ve seen so far, but the photo of Edward Kurk is low quality– possibly try shrinking it? –and the bold title underneath contains distracting text and spelling errors.

    The questions you ask are broad, but they do not allow for elaboration on the interviewee’s part. Try branching out and asking several key points that engage them to agree or disagree with your analysis (without the use of single word responses), for example: “In your Psychology Today article “Father Absence, Father Deficit, and Father Hunger,” what does this title refer to? What did you wish to emphasis? How did you want others to envision the topic when they read it? Is the order important– is one effect more crucial than the other?”

    You ask a lot of questions that imply opinion, and while this is perfect as readers want to know exactly what a professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia thinks, some factual based studies would be appreciated. A way to elevate this article would be, for example: with questions like “In your opinion, how does the absence of a father affect developing children?” you could add a “Why? What support do you believe represents this conclusion?” at the end to prompt further discussion of his ideas.

    Considering that was a lot of criticism, I would like to point out that this article has a very eye-catching topic, a sem-reliable expert on the subject, and discussing new information I have not come across anywhere else. It is very unique. I do not agree with a lot of the ‘expert’s’ opinions, mostly because his conclusions are simply that: his own opinions. I would have loved to see him explain what he means by children of same-sex parents being affected by separation from their “biological parents (genetic orphans) AND from one of their primary caregivers.” What does he mean to imply when Kurk says “primary caregiver?” Are same sex parents not capable of caregiving? Is he implying that in a male-male relationship, a child suffers because they lack a mother–someone stereotypically viewed as a caregiver? Does he mean to imply that all adopted children separated from their “biological parents” will have negative affects due to the lack of genetic connection? Where is his research that supports this?

    I would have loved to hear your own opinion on the subject either at the beginning as an introduction or in the conclusion of the article as well. Thank you for posting this!

  8. This topic is very important and dear to me because I study Criminal Justice and the way that children are affected by the legal system and our corrupt criminal justice system is extremely saddening. There is much reform to be done and it is clear that these children are greatly affected psychologically. I read a book about children of the incarcerated and there are several situations that these children go through. Some of these children will follow their parents and become incarcerated, and some will even blame themselves for their parents being away. This kind of self-blame at such a young age is extremely damaging. Parental alienation is terrible regardless, but it is extremely hard on the family when it is not in their power to do anything about it such as the case when parents become incarcerated. These children can grow up with stigma and self-hatred which is extremely detrimental for a child. We do a lot of important development very young in life, and it is important to do something to help these children out.

  9. I actually liked how easy to read this interview was but it was a little too easy as in if I was a teacher I would give my third grade class to read this and tell me what it was about…. as a warm up. Although it was to the point, it was ‘really’ to the point that I literally did not gain any new information other than just reading basic common sense. This was the least intellectual thing I have read due to the lack of substance. The questions the interviewer asked were just plain mediocre because any person without a PHD could answer those questions and give an almost identical answer. I do not doubt that this Edward Kruk is as knowledgeable as he is made out to be, being a professor and what not, but he definitely could have elaborated his answers substantially better. His answers were so basic it’s as if he googled the interviewer’s questions; I mean he should have given an a somewhat lengthy explanation to prove he actually knows his stuff. I do not even constitute this as an interview, how could anyone? This interview consists of 8 broad questions answered by 8 broad replies. I think anyone who has lived a life longer than 13 years has seen all these circumstances through either first hand experiences (themselves), second hand experiences (their friends confiding in them), and the media (movies, tv, etc.). I’m so thoroughly dissatisfied with this excuse of an interview that it would literally take forever to dissect everything wrong with it. There should definitely be a person who has the power to veto these things before it gets published to the public or at least proofread it.

    This interview only focuses on the negative attributes accompanied with divorce and separation. My parents are actually going through a divorce after 23 years of marriage. They have been fighting violently all my life, with my siblings and me always caught in the crossfire. My parents believed that they should stay together to raise us because of this common misinterpretation that children need to have both parents present at the same time. I strongly disagree with this because not all families are the same and sometimes parents cannot act civil with each other due to their irreconcilable differences. Now that I am 19 and my older brother is 21, we see that we could have benefitted from their separation a long time ago. Their relationship caused them so much discomfort that they took out their anger on their kids for hindering them from doing what they really wanted. My mom recently became fed up with her family situation (being with her husband, my father) that she started started traveling a lot more and meeting other men, despite still being married and also leaving behind her 4 year old son.

    I think the interview could greatly benefit by touching base on positive attributes of divorce and negative attributes when separation is not done properly.

  10. I find this a very interesting subject that doesn’t get talked about a lot. I am personally very aware of the pain and sufferance children go through losing one of their parents, but especially their father. They are left with a sense of fear and danger, but also instability, that follow them throughout their development. It is a wound very difficult to heal, as I have experienced myself. I enjoyed reading this article that explains the causes and effects of this problematic. I would have liked to read about possible solutions, for example in court, where fathers are juridically separated from their children. Maybe it is more of a social work-related subject, but I definitely think it should be discussed and explained and I am glad to see an article that succeeds in doing so.

  11. I have heard that it is often better to get divorced than to remain in a relationship “for the child” due to the aversive effects of arguing and bickering in front of said child. Fortunately, this interview did not attempt to make the argument against divorce, but instead was aimed at detrimental and harmful laws that often alienate a parent from their child or children after a separation. However, I wonder how these issues can be prevented when one parent is a danger to their child. Does parental alienation have the same effects when the parent who is no longer allowed around the child was harmful? Also, I recall reading an article in Psychology Today regarding the potential for stepparents to kill their children. This phenomenon is called the Cinderella effect, and it certainly complicates the issue of parental alienation and care-giver replacement (Kanazawa, 2011). It seems the issues surround parental alienation, as well as its potential solutions, and extremely complex and require additional research. Hopefully this issue can be remedied not only at the legislative level, but at the biopsychosocial level as well.

    Kanazawa, S. (2011). Why are stepparents more likely to kill their children? Are stepfathers more likely to be criminals in general? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/201101/why-are-stepparents-more-likely-kill-their-children

  12. As someone whose father was in the military, this article is particularly interesting. It would be interesting to know if the effects of not having a father would be worse if the father is around unpredictably, because while the child would have a father part of the time, family structure would always be changing. Children don’t seem to do well with instability, so knowing if unstable is better or worse than something consistently harmful could be cool.

    1. That’s a great question Ryan. Hopefully, we see more of a discussion on this over the coming days.

  13. This interview was very intriguing, it started off very well introducing the person of interest, his purpose and his credentials. However, it failed to include its audience. The interviews format was based as a Q/A, while this is the purpose of an interview it failed to maintain the readers engaged as they were ONLY questions and answers. I suggest adding some commentary, what is your personal opinion? How can others relate to this? Are there any studies that have been done in this field? What did you learn from Edward Kruk? How can people benefit from this? Nevertheless the interview was intriguing as a matter of fact I have noticed various ideas that parents fail to take notice in their children. I don’t have any children of my own but I do work with children ages 4 to 11 and being in constant contact with them throughout their day brings out certain traits that are responsible in building their character. Children are affected in such a negative way by the smallest things in their lives, things that can appear to be irrelevant to an adult can be incredibly important to a child. Many of my first grade students tend to bring these negative vibes that they gather from their parents into the classroom which eventually not only affects them but their classmates as well. Working with children everyday allows you to recognize these characteristics as one can come to tell a child who is well treated at home apart from those who are neglected. Most parents now a days work long hours to support their households, they leave their children in school from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm which has a negative impact on their psychological development especially at such a young age. The confusion of divorced parents leads to more trauma for the child, as they say “I don’t know who is going to come to my conference my mom and dad were fighting about it,” (Student, 6 years old). These children are neglected and the lack of communication between the parents lead to the child’s lack of learning, disrespect towards adults and/or authority figures as well as low self esteem. In my personal opinion after working so long with children I have come to the realization that not everyone can be a parent. Some adults are not equipped to be proper parents they cannot look after a child while some may be able to provide for them financially they tend to lack personal affection. The lack of a father figure in a household with young children has the strongest impact. Earlier this year a male child was moved from one classroom to another due to the fact that the child’s mother believed that having a male teacher would provide a sense of authority and guidence for the child as he didn’t have a father figure at home. I definitely believe in the fact that laws should be revised so that children are placed in better living situations. Some children face worse issues in the foster care system, maybe their could be a training exercise that provides parents with the proper skills to address delicate issues with their children. Additionally parents should be more informed towards the resources that are available for their use whether it’s counseling, monetary/food assistance, home assistance etc. If teachers and parents are able to maintain a positive communication between themselves and the child who is facing a similar situation then their is no reason that the child cannot develop a positive attitude towards life itself. A little more excitement and postive attitude towards this area of study would be great!

  14. I found the topic of this article, and the subject matter very interesting since I myself grew up without my biological father. Although I did not have my biological father present when I was younger, I feel like my grandfather who I was very close with was able to fill in the gap for the most part where a father figure would have been needed. I think it would be interesting to explore more about if the effects of having an absent parent is lessened if a step- parent, role model/mentor or family member fills in for the missing parents role. I think it would also be a good idea to explore the differences in development between a child who has never known their absent parent versus a child who has had contact with the parent.

    Overall I found the article to be insightful, but it could use some revisions to help the reader gain more knowledge about the psychological effects that may result from a missing parent, and also just an addition of more dialogue could aide in the flow of the article. I enjoyed reading the article, and it has encouraged me to do some more research on the subject.

  15. Reading the interview title at first glance heightened my curiosity and urged me to read the whole interview, but as I continued to read through the questions, I cannot help but notice that the discussion revolved in the general aspects of parental alienation, and a little bit of how children suffer in such circumstance. I was kind of hoping to know more about the how it really affects children from a certain perspective. Nevertheless, the interview was still informational on a certain level, but I do hope there had been more discussion involved on a topic as important and timely as this.

  16. Just reading the title of this interview made me very curious. I know someone who wasn’t raised by his biological parents. He was given away after his mother gave birth to him. While reading the article, more specially the part about the child’ mental health. I realized it is very true. The friend that i know has some mental health issues. I like how he said “Our laws also need to change to recognize parental alienation as a form of child abuse, and protect these children from this form of abuse.” but i would’ve liked if he went more in depth with that. Most of his answers are very straight forward, and he doesn’t go more in depth with his answers.

  17. This was short and to the point. I agree with most of the points of view but I do not feel as though alienation causes negative results such as physical and mental health issues and child abuse.
    In many cases including in my life growing up. There are parents who divorce and sometimes the domiciliary parent left with the soul responsibility for the children becomes” enough parent” for the children on his or her own. There are many mom’s and dad’s who refuse to allow their children or child to feel the loss of a parent and do more than enough to fill the void.
    I don’t know about suicide epidemics with alienated parents father’s or mother’s, I’ve never heard of it mainly because I feel as though our court system in this country does not take rights away as much as they should from bad parents. It’s incredibly hard to take parental rights away from a parent. I’ve personally been told that the parent of child would have to be in danger of harming the child or themselves inorder to have the parental rights taken away. This differs in each state I understand. But as a child of divorce being raised by a single parent due to the other parent simply not giving a damn and opting out of duties altogether I see so many missed opportunities due to abandonment. It’s a simple choice to be around for the life you made or not. The judicial system will protect and honor that bond if parents do. The alienation cannot occur when a parents strongly stand by their commitment to their child.

  18. I think this is a great article. Every parent should realize that a childhood without one of the parents (in this case the father) could cause some serious mental damage.

    I was raised by my mom because my parents got divorced before I was 2 years old. I’m very interested in the consequenses and did my own research.

    Turns out that children that grow up without a father turn out more anxious, suffer from insecurity and are more likely to have a depression. A father figure provides self-confidence for young children, they need both parents.

    People who want children should educate themselves about the responsibility that comes with it, alot of children grow up without the love of one of their parents..

  19. I think the article is too short to cover the whole topic on this matter. But I have to say that it was quite an eye opener for me as it also mentioned how the absence affected the children with the same-sex parents where it is very uncommon from where I from now. While it mentioned that the absence may cause the physical and mental health problems, I don’t think that’s entirely correct as it really depends on how the person personality itself; I also grow up without the father figure but I turn out to be perfectly fine, while there’s actually someone in my acquaintance that always acting out due to ‘I grow up with no father’ issue. I believe putting some numbers or fact-sheet regarding this issue will be appropriate to support the statement.

    What I think needed to be added is actually how the parent share their care for the children. While it is obviously there’s a law regarding this matter, but then again people sometime does not follow it. The moral obligation supposedly become the basic element on how they’re going to share their children’s care. Binding the regulation to take care of the kids still will not be effective if one side of the parent feel left out or does not even care about the kid anymore. I understand perfectly that there’s no definitive answer for question: When are you ready to be a father? But then again, it takes a commitment to procreate, thus if the person is not ready then don’t as not only it will affect your partner, it surely will affect your kid in the future.

    Overall, I think that article was solid good despite being short. I really want to see as well if there’s actually a positive outcome for a kid with separate parents.

    #Kindly replace the image with a better resolution

  20. I know a lot of women in my life who happened to be in abusive relationships. Not only it’s devastating to see what these women (most of the time the men are the abuser) have to go through, but the children sometimes become the target as well even if they did not do anything wrong.
    Parents should be good role models to the kids and this kind of things can affect the children in many ways. For instance, it can be a motivator for the children to not be like the abusive father in the future, but most of the time that is not the case. If a child is heavily influenced to negativity in his/her life, it might not come as a surprise if one day they will follow the same steps as their parents did as well.
    I’m not saying that all kids with family related issues will not be a good person, but there’s only a tiny chance that they would look at the bright side despite all the traumatizing events that are happening in his/her life. The parents’ relationship can seriously affect their children in ways one could ever imagine.
    A child is like a blank canvas, and it’s up to their parents to colour their lives.

  21. I find it very interesting that you made sure to note the difference between the effects of parental absence with both children of same-sex and heterosexual couples since there is a difference in the parental structure and can lead to different data. The interview was very short and succinct but I think that the main point came across very well. It gave out the basics and also gave the reader additional resources at the end to do their own research and become and active participant in this topic. One point that I would like to add is that when children act our due to parental separation it could be because the foundation that they are meant to grow and develop from is being shattered. Our parents are supposed to be our rocks and guide us through life and when that rock is unstable, it can lead to very negative results for the children involved.

  22. The interview was brief yet, informative. The thing that I came for when I saw the title was how the absence of a father affected the child like if they are gone for long hours due to work or have passed away. This interview focused on situations where parents are divorced and not enough on fathers who are absent.

    Children do act out when they see conflict and if it is between their parents the reaction is even worse. The important aspect and the one which is often ignored is of the non-reactive child who has an ignorant parent, in the case of this interview the father. This perspective of a absent father-child relationship should have been focused in the interview.

    I know someone in my family who went through the same situation and even though he can provide his kids well, there is this certain amount of emotional reassurance and support that he can not give his children which creates a strained sort of relationship between him and his kids.

    Overall, the article is well written and easy to understand. Also, keeping it bite-sized was a total plus.

  23. A very intriguing piece indeed, however, I would like the answers to be more elaborate. I don’t think the questions are entirely satisfied by the given answers and lack information that helps understand the topic in a little depth. Matters on how children suffer, actions that can be taken and alienation form the mothers side could have be explored. However, it was nice to see the topic of same-sex marriage was brought up.

    Also, the writer could have given the link to the article from “Psychology Today”where the interview is based from or written a summary or an introduction to help cover for the short answers. Though, I appreciate the links given at the end of the article.

    Moreover, the author’s bio could be further improved upon as it feels a little out of flow. The authors picture should be reduced in size, preferably placed on the side of the bio, with a general family picture as a main image.

  24. This is great interview and very easy to follow. It’s straightforward neatly presented to the readers.
    However, this is such a complicated topic that would probably need more information to conclude all children with absent fathers experience these problems. It is important to consider other factors such as father figures which could be another family member, step parent, friend, teacher, or any adult for the child. Also, you could consider the context behind the absence of a father. In some cases, such as domestic violence, it may in fact result in more positive effects if the father is removed from the child’s life.


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