Absentee mothers in the Diaspora

Recently, a UK based Zimbabwean woman gave her candid views, in a video, on the subject of absentee mothers in the Diaspora, who send their children home to be raised by grandparents. The video went viral and guest blogger Rumbidzai Mugadza gives her view on the subject.

Back to Africa - courtesy of Aljazeera

Back to Africa – courtesy of Aljazeera

Aunt Rhoda’s militant stance regarding the perceived deficiencies of parenting in absentia is obviously justifiable and easily understood. It is an undisputed fact that children need their parents. No one would argue with this, but there is another side to the story of absentee mothers. If we take the time to unpack the reasons why a parent might make the heart wrenching decision to send their children away to be raised by someone else, it is possible that there might be other reasons why this becomes necessary. Quite frankly, life is not as black and white aunt Rhoda would have us believe.

Not everyone is parent material

To begin, not everyone is ready to be a parent. Not all pregnancies are planned or even welcomed, therefore if a young woman (I will focus on the single parent model as propounded by Aunt Rhoda) finds herself faced with a startling new reality in which she is responsible for another human being, she might panic. Aunt Rhoda managed to be a mum of 2 by the age of 20. Kudos to her, but not everyone has that strength. This might necessitate a turn to a caring mother back home who doesn’t mind taking care of her grandchildren. If it works, and gives this young woman a chance to do a little  more growing up before taking on the responsibility full time, then why not?


Secondly, not everyone is a good parent. The women Aunt Rhoda described who go out shopping and drinking champagne or sending their kids home because of new boyfriends really aren’t ready. There are plenty of children the world over who would rather be raised by grandparents rather than their own parents, perhaps because their parents are abusive, negligent or too busy. This of course does not suggest that grandparents are saints, but invariably, the lesser of two evils is called good. The UK is vastly different to Zimbabwe, the most obvious and painful difference being the lack of a discernible network of people to help. We have all heard by now, about the horror of “kubatanidza mashift”, that pernicious method by which parents are separated from their kids even as they continue to live under the same roof. There are, as we speak, children who see their parents walking into the house as they walk out to school, and then see them again walking out to work when they are getting ready for bed. That’s not parenting either.

Long working hours

In this UK version of parenthood, the child does not even have the succour of grandparents to speak to and cousins to spend time with the way they would if they were in Zimbabwe. They have food in their bellies, and roofs over their heads, but they also have the void caused by not seeing their parents as much as they would like. Fantastic eh? So where is the child now? Living with a mother she never sees who may be irritable or emotionally unavailable as a result of all that hard work. Who wants that? I for one would rather live with a doting grandmother, than suffer the perfunctory kisses of a distracted and stressed parent.

Vulnerable black children

Thirdly, and very much linked to the second, the latchkey kid, has an impacted childhood. Coming home to an empty house, having to cook, do homework, and spend 3-5 hours alone after school is not pleasant. This wouldn’t happen in Zimbabwe where the extended family is king. Perhaps empathetic parents see this, and make a difficult choice to avoid their children falling into delinquency, drugs, gangs or that ostensibly worse situation- just plain loneliness. Children have been inveigled into gangs, and young black boys are most at risk, especially those from single mother homes. Young black boys are dying on the streets of London while their parents work hard to give them a better life, and some mothers make a tough decision to have their kids alive, even if only at a distance.

Proximity is not intimacy

Aunt Rhoda is right, you do need to bond with your children, but proximity is not indicative of intimacy. There are plenty of ways in which parents can make it work long distance with their children, communication being the first step. Aunt Rhoda’s pain is palpable, she didn’t grow up with her parents and wanted to spare her children the same thing, but that was a different time, with different pressures, and for the single parent now there is a lot more at stake. Aunt Rhoda’s parents might have lost her metaphysically for a while, but a lot of parents are physically losing their children to things that cannot be solved by sending $100 via Western Union.


It’s not black and white, there really is no wrong or right, but I think there is a case for looking at the bigger picture.


Miss R Mugadza


Miss Mugadza is a Zimbabwean living in the United Kingdom. She has studied Psychology and Politics and enjoys seeing how the two interact. She is currently working on becoming a linguist.