Thoughtful Parenting: Gatekeeping
Parental gatekeeping occurs when one parent sees the other parent as less than competent when it comes to caring for a child and feels the need to control or restrict the child’s interaction with the other parent. This can occur whether parents are living together or apart. More often than not, it is mothers who tend to be gatekeepers, but fathers can be as well.
Examples of gatekeeping include:
• Criticizing the way other parent, spouse or ex-spouse parents
• Creating unbending or unrealistic standards in order for the other parent to spend time with the children
• Demeaning or undermining the other parent’s efforts at being an authority figure in the child(ren’s) lives
• Controlling all the organizing, delegating, planning and scheduling in the home
• Being reluctant to let go of some of the responsibility for caring for the family
• Needing a great deal of validation of their identity as a parent — be it from the other parent, spouse or ex-spouse — and from outside the marriage or parenting relationship
• Seeing the other parent, spouse, or ex-spouse as a helper and not an equal when it comes to household chores and child-care responsibilities
• Asking the other parent, spouse or ex-spouse for help and then giving explicit directions on how to accomplish a task
There is a very strong body of research showing that children do better socially, academically and emotionally when both parents have an active and positive presence in their lives. Inappropriate parental gatekeeping can have a negative impact on children because it can limit the quality and quantity of time the other parent has with them. In addition, most children are very tuned in to tension and worry being felt by their parents. Therefore, if a child senses one parent’s concern about how they are being taken care of by the other parent, it can cause the child to feel anxious — and interfere with his or her ability to experience needed quality time with the other parent.
Avoiding gatekeeping behavior can be especially difficult in situations in which parents are living apart and the child spends time alone with one or the other parent. It is important that each parent strives to let go of unrealistic expectations and respect decisions made by the other parent when the child is with them. For instance, you might not approve of your 12-year-old seeing a movie rated PG-13, but you may then decide it’s not going to make or break their emotional development, so you choose to simply let it slide.
What if you feel you feel have legitimate concerns about activities your child participates in with the other parent? In this case it is, of course, appropriate to express your concerns to the other parent in a respectful manner. Divorce expert Rosalind Seddacca, CCT, writes: “If you’re intent on creating a child-centered divorce that strives for harmony between you and your ex, you need to initiate the conversation and model win-win solutions. Without a doubt, working together effectively as co-parents as often as possible will create far better outcomes for your children.”
Susan Phillips is coordinator for the Fatherhood Program of Routt County. She can be reached at 970-870-5289 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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