Syrian mothers and children struggle in the absence of fathers searching for a better life

Women bear the responsibility of home and children simultaneously in the temporary absence of the father - December 29, 2021 (Al-Arab magazine)

Women bear the responsibility of home and children simultaneously in the temporary absence of the father - December 29, 2021 (Al-Arab magazine)


Enab Baladi – Noor Mouazen

“We left Saudi Arabia in 2020, changing our entire system for the future of the children and to secure a better life for them, and the children became distant from their father, but the situation is much more difficult today.”

Reem Fattal, a housewife (39), is one of hundreds of Syrian women compelled to be away from their husbands due to economic circumstances, now finding themselves solely responsible for their children.

Life and economic circumstances forced Syrian families to live in separate places, causing many of them to disintegrate and complicating the lives of their members.


Like other Syrian families, Reem moved from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, while her husband stayed connected to his job in Saudi Arabia to secure better living conditions, attempting to secure the economic and educational future for his children, with rising costs of living in that country, including government fees, and the monthly salary barely covering home needs.

“Before COVID-19, things were manageable, but after the pandemic, salaries were reduced and stopped for several months, making departure necessary,” said Reem to Enab Baladi.

However, Reem’s journey to Turkey and staying alone with her children was not as easy as she had hoped, “The responsibility is big and the problems many,” said Reem.

Meanwhile, Malak, aged 33, found herself bearing the responsibility of the family alone after her husband moved to Germany, starting to work in a sewing workshop to improve her living situation.

The main reason for Malak’s husband’s migration to Germany, leaving his children and wife in Turkey, was to secure a better future for the family, which doubled the daily life difficulties. Besides her work, she had to take care of her children and solve their daily and recurring problems, adding extra pressure on her.

According to Malak, the family income before the father’s migration to Germany was only enough for living expenses, including rent and school fees.

Malak’s husband worked two jobs, trying to secure financial stability throughout their life in Turkey for ten years.

Malak and her family struggled to secure a stable legal status while possessing a “kimlik” (temporary protection card), as she claimed.

Malak has three daughters, the eldest being 14, the middle one 12, and the youngest six years old. The mother did not anticipate that the children would be affected in this way, as she mentioned her eldest daughter constantly struggled and discovered after taking her to the doctor that she suffered from psychological issues, adding that the current situation “destabilized” the children.

Father’s absence affects the entire family life, especially in our society, as the father relies on more than one job or work in social life, according to social researcher Aisha Abdul Malik for Enab Baladi.

Three roles of the father

Abdul Malik divided the father’s role into three parts: he is the provider, the financial and logistical coordinator.

Secondly, the father is a source of security for the wife and children, ready to protect the family when any problem or assault occurs.

Thirdly, and most importantly, as the father holds the authority inside the house, his absence disrupts the entire family, according to Abdul Malik.

The family is considered a safe haven that encourages healthy growth and positive development of its members, and the presence and care of both parents are extremely important in this context, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report on improving early childhood development.

Children feel psychological security and self-esteem with the presence of both parents, developing mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and ethically in a healthy and balanced manner, according to WHO’s report.

With the absence of one parent, this haven changes, as the family faces new challenges that require resilience and endurance from the remaining parent.

Malak’s children’s educational level declined, and according to her, instability and psychological factors due to the father’s absence were the main reasons for this regression.

Malak is seeking a way to join her husband and leave Turkey, according to what she told Enab Baladi.

According to the latest statistics released by the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management on its official website, the number of Syrians residing in Turkey with temporary protection cards (kimlik) is 3,174,851.

Reem Fattal said that initially, the children were very excited to embark on a new experience, but after going through the experience and diving deep into it, losing the father significantly affected their mentality, but after four years, there has been an adaptation to the situations and understanding of the circumstances.

Losing the father, the role model for the male child, and the beloved parent for the female child, causes emotional deficiencies in the child, as there are restricted feelings that should reach the father but do not when he is absent, according to researcher Abdul Malik.

Due to strong attachment to parents, the child’s mental health affects their immunity and increases illnesses, under one parent’s absence, according to Abdul Malik.

Abdul Malik added that the father’s absence impacts the child’s education and future, especially since the father is the source of security and responsibility.

According to a study conducted by Harvard University, children living in an environment lacking a father suffer from psychological development issues, increased rates of anxiety and depression, and difficulties in adaptation, building strong emotional relationships, and expressing their feelings correctly.

Children living without a father face greater difficulties in academic performance, affecting their overall educational level, according to a study by the Journal of Educational, Health, and Community Psychology.

The Mother pays the price

“I won’t deny, there were days I felt weak and had moments of slight regret towards the responsibility, but I regained my strength and remember that we took this step for the children and for a better future,” Reem told Enab Baladi.

Reem added that handling family responsibilities was not an easy task; she is not only a mother but has also become a father to her children.

The challenge lies in raising daughters and working at the same time, especially with daughters in their teenage years, an age that requires more energy.


In the case of the husband’s distance or loss, the woman trying to be both father and mother to her children cannot perform both roles.

Aisha Abdul Malik, Social Researcher


Despite bearing this responsibility, Reem faces daily challenges that leave her feeling exhausted and tired as she takes on all household and family tasks from managing the home to caring for the children, in addition to dealing with all their daily affairs from upbringing, monitoring school matters, illness, and preparing household matters, according to her.

Reem mentioned that her health was affected with the increased responsibilities, as she started suffering from back and shoulder pains due to doing household chores and carrying heavy items.

Malak’s life changed after bearing the responsibility alone, whether financially, psychologically, or morally, relying entirely on herself after her husband migrated to Germany, and taking on the responsibility of caring for the children and working at the same time, an ordeal not as easy as it seems, according to her.

A woman’s personality and psychology change completely when bearing full responsibility, turning her into an authoritative figure, according to social researcher Abdul Malik. The relationship between the woman and her husband also changes as she gets used to taking control for a long period, transitioning during that time to the financial, security, educational, and social coordinator for her children.

Abdul Malik continued that it is difficult for a woman to revert to previous roles when the man returns and takes control again.

Refugee mothers and coping patterns

Mothers who bear the responsibility alone face many daily challenges, from financial, psychological, and emotional burdens to difficulties faced by children in the absence of one parent, lacking the full support and care they need.

A woman bearing responsibility in the absence of a man, whether due to travel, work, or other circumstances, is a draining and pivotal challenge in her life, according to the book “Refugees: About the Adaptation of Refugee Mothers in Istanbul”.

Under these circumstances, the woman finds herself alone facing economic, social, and psychological pressures, forced to take on the tasks of providing and fulfilling the family’s basic needs.

The challenges fall into three main patterns: the productive adaptation pattern, the aid-dependence adaptation pattern, and the negative adaptation pattern, which includes accepting the circumstances without active change. These patterns affect the refugee’s capability to positively or negatively adapt, according to the book “Adaptation of Refugee Mothers in Istanbul”.

There are three types of factors according to the book, the first related to gender, the second to the refugee herself, while the third pertains to the context of refuge related to livelihoods.

A woman’s ability to adapt is affected by various factors, including dealing with daily challenges, interacting with the surrounding community, and the general economic and social conditions.



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