Why Do So Many Fathers Abandon Their Children?

Dad said he was going to the store. The trip should have taken an hour or two, tops, but he never came back. 

Nelson Muntz, the big bully in The Simpsons, claims his dad went to get cigarettes, and he’s still waiting for him to return 35 years later. Good Charlotte sings, “Then one day on Christmas Eve, dad went to the store. We checked his room his things were gone, we didn’t see him no more,” in their hit song Little Things

The trope exists everywhere in pop culture for a reason: fathers abandon their children without remorse, leaving single mothers who struggle to raise the kids while facing the brunt of society’s ire. 

How Many Fathers Abandon Their Kids?

According to the Census Bureau’s 2023 estimates, over 15 million children live without a father in the home. In comparison, only 3 million children live without their mother. However, not living with a child doesn’t mean parents aren’t present in their lives. Many of these fathers could be fully involved co-parents, providing guidance, financial support, and love from a different household. 

A 2019 study found that slightly over 20% of all fathers are considered “absent dads,” defined as fathers who appear to have nothing to do with parenting. In comparison, only 6% of fathers are “solo dads,” who do the bulk of the parenting.

A more recent survey found that 80% of all single parents are single mothers, and only 45% of those receive full child support. 

Why Do Fathers Abandon Their Children?

The data begs the question: why do so many fathers abandon their children? 

We scoured internet forums, read case studies, and studied research papers to find an answer. 

Many of the responses came from people who were abandoned as kids. Most never discover the true reason their father left, but some get a response straight from the horse’s mouth, while others figure it out for themselves. 

Here are the top reasons why fathers abandon their kids. 

Children Aren’t Useful

Some parents only care about their kids if they’re useful. Dad will stick around if the kid boosts Dad’s ego or helps him keep a job or relationship. 

These fathers leave the second the kid no longer serves a purpose. But their selfishness only gets worse. Dad magically reappears when their children are financially stable and can give him some cash. 

It’s Easier

Many dads don’t want to do the work of parenting. They leave because things are too hard. They don’t want to spend time changing diapers, helping with homework, or cooking and cleaning for another person.

These life-on-easy mode dads often reappear when the kids are teenagers or young adults – after all the work of child-rearing is over. 

Straight Up Selfish

Some fathers simply refuse to prioritize a child’s needs. These dads won’t accept that they can’t do whatever they want with their time and money. 

He leaves so he doesn’t have to sacrifice his wants for his children’s needs. This dad lives his life as though he’s child-free; without giving the children, he ignores a second thought. 

King of the Castle

Some fathers receive the shock of a lifetime after the birth of a child. They’re no longer the most important person in the house.

These men can’t handle the competition for “their woman’s” affection. As soon as the world stops revolving around them, they leave in an attempt to find another woman who will always put them first. 

Not Ready To Parent

Fathers run because they aren’t ready for the intense responsibility of parenting. Society glamorizes parenthood, but the reality is far different, especially when the children are little. 

Young mothers typically aren’t prepared either, but they don’t have the option to run, and with more and more laws restricting access to reproductive care, we’re likely to see an increase in single mothers. 

Terrible Person

Some men are just terrible people. They have no qualms about impregnating someone and leaving her to deal with the consequences. 

The kids are probably better off without these awful folks in their lives. 

New Wife

A subset of fathers only care about access to a woman. If the new lady in his life doesn’t want his kids in the picture, he’ll ditch them in a heartbeat to keep her happy. 

Society often demonizes the woman in this scenario, calling her “wicked” for forcing him to ignore his children as if he has no agency. The truth is he cares more about getting laid than the kids he’s already fathered. That’s on him – not her. 

Society Lets It Happen

There are few repercussions for dads who abandon their families. While some have to pay a small portion of their income for child support, many get away scot-free. 

In many jurisdictions, mothers get jailed for reckless abandonment if they leave their kids. A Florida woman was arrested for leaving her kids with their mentally ill father because society holds mom accountable and gives dad a free pass. A single mother in Ohio was arrested for child endangerment because she had her 14-year-old babysit younger siblings while she worked. In this case, dad was involved enough to call the police but not enough to watch his own kids. He didn’t face any repercussions. 

The news abounds with stories of mothers held accountable for child endangerment or neglect while making no mention of the fathers. 

Men as Providers

Society pigeonholes men into provider roles rather than caretaking roles. Even men who stay don’t help much with the kids; they think providing money is enough. 

Dads who leave take it just a tiny step forward by providing money (sometimes) from a distance. 

Mom’s Fault

Many men who leave will blame their actions on the mother. They’ll claim she broke his heart by breaking up even though the breakup was mostly his fault. He either cheated, wouldn’t work, got into legal trouble, or struggled with addiction, but it was all her fault for not standing by his side while he brought them both down. 

Others will claim the mom is mean and wouldn’t let them have custody. However, these men never even attempt to get custody. They sign it over because they don’t actually want to parent; they want to get sympathy points by pretending she keeps the kids from him.  

Men who abandon their children love to tell tall tales about how the mother keeps them away, but studies show that 92% of men who ask for custody get it. These guys don’t want custody; they want to play the victim while living a carefree life. 

Bored

The routine of parenthood is boring. Mom’s too worried about caring for the kids to keep the excitement alive in the marriage, and Dad can’t be bothered to help. 

So, he seeks excitement elsewhere, and when he finds it, he abandons his stable, predictable family for something new and exciting. 

How Can We Prevent Dads From Leaving?

Kids do better when they have two parents actively involved in their lives, yet single motherhood is on the rise. 

What can we do to shift this trend?

Here are some ideas. 

Change the Way We Raise Boys

Many of today’s men’s issues stem from the way society raises boys. We coddle them while telling them they’re entitled to everything they want. We refuse to teach them responsibility, shrugging our shoulders and claiming, “Boys will be boys,” whenever they mess up. 

We raise boys to believe they deserve everything without working for it, that their wants come above everyone else’s, and that they should be in charge of everything. Then we wonder why they can’t handle parenthood. 

If we want men to change, we must change how we raise our sons. We teach our daughters responsibility, accountability, empathy, and self-reliance from an early age, and we must do the same for our sons. They’re being left behind, and it’s our fault. 

Hold Men Accountable

Next, we need to hold men accountable for their actions. Fathers get to abandon their kids because it’s easy. According to a 2017 study, only 28% of single parents received child support from the non-custodial parent. The average child support payment is less than $500 a month. 

Society barely makes an effort to make fathers pay for their children; when they do, it isn’t enough to cover daycare.

Support Single Mothers

Single mothers bear the brunt of society’s ire for absent fathers. The misplaced anger makes no sense. Why do we ridicule the parents who stayed?

Studies show that children raised by single mothers have worse outcomes. The public latches onto the talking point and claims it’s the mom’s fault. 

But when you dig into the data, you learn that poverty, not single motherhood, causes the problems. These mothers are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have. 

It’s not good enough, but that’s not the mother’s fault. She’s trying to juggle childcare and work with little help from the father or society as a whole. 

If we stopped blaming single mothers for all of society’s woes and started assisting them, the children would have better outcomes. 

Support Parenthood

Many fathers leave because they can’t handle parenthood. Society makes it as difficult as possible to rear children. If we made it easier, perhaps fewer fathers would leave. 

We could implement programs like affordable daycare, paid parental leave, paid sick leave, affordable healthcare, and low-cost family planning, making parenthood less stressful and more affordable for everyone. 

Some fathers may leave because they’re struggling with depression, addiction, or other ailments that make parenthood impossible. They would stay if they had access to mental health resources that helped them manage these mental health struggles. 

Absent Fathers Are Society’s Problem

Absent fathers cause many societal problems, and society needs to step up to fix them. Unfortunately, most of the discourse points fingers at the single mothers who stay, and that needs to change. 

We need to explore why so many fathers abandon their children and develop solutions to ensure the next generation has the emotional and financial support it needs for success.

Author: Melanie Allen

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Pursuing Your Passions, Travel, Wellness, Hobbies, Finance, Gaming, Happiness

Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation and is a certified happiness life coach. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life. 

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