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Understanding Parental Gatekeeping in a World of Parental Alienation

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When you are a co-parent, you can sometimes feel like you always have to be on your toes, due to the looming possibility that your relationship with your child can be sabotaged at any point. You can sometimes feel like it will just take one wrong word or one wrong look and suddenly, the next time you go to pick up your child, they may be looking at your differently and or have ceased contact again.


Parental gatekeeping refers to parents’ attitude and actions that serve to affect the quality of the other parent’s relationship and involvement with the child according to the Family Court Review and can have positive or negative consequences.


  • Gatekeeping can be an authoritative way of preventing a parent-child relationship, and many questions if it is an abusive tactic.

  • Parental alienation can occur, and countless studies have shown its damaging consequences to the parent – child relationship.  


Positives of gatekeeping:


  1. For those that have a civil relationship with your co-parent, parental gatekeeping can be used to benefit the co-parent that may not have as much parenting time as the other.   Depending on the child custody situation, one parent can help facilitate interaction with the other parent and the child, who may have experienced emotional issues after a parental separation.

  2. These types of interactions can help the child open up and reconnect with the noncustodial parent.  If a child feels like they cannot reach out to the noncustodial parent, the custodial parent can help reassure the child that even though the child’s parents are no longer together, they both love and support them and that they should think of where both parents live as homes for them.


The dangers in maternal gatekeeping:

 

  1. Many children run the risk of being victim to maternal gatekeeping. This action is when a mother is utilizing her custodial position, in order to restrict access or communication to the child. While it can be used in order to protect the child in cases of abuse, neglect, or criminal behaviour, it is more often than not used in order to undercut the role that the noncustodial parent, often the father, has in the life of their shared child.

  2. Maternal gatekeeping operates under the belief that the mother has every right to limit the father’s access to their shared child. This belief encourages mothers to speak unfiltered about the father in front of the child, to limit the father’s access to information and updates regarding the child’s schooling, health, athletics, religious and social life, and to think of themselves as the authority, regarding what is and is not best for their shared child.


 

Parental alienation Vs parental gatekeeping


This type of behaviour can sometimes be confused with parental alienation. While the two behaviours can work hand-in-hand, they are inherently different.


  • Parental alienation does not necessarily imply the restrictive nature of parental gatekeeping. An alienated child still can see the targeted parent as per the court order and react like the alienating parent desires, whereas parental gatekeeping includes the limitations of access.

  • The limitations can cause false perceptions of how a restricted parent may think or feel, and that, in of itself, can cause parental alienation to occur.



The Studies

This type of behavior has been studied at length with a variety of circumstances at play.

For single, divorced, or separated co-parents with a shared child, there is an increased need for collaborative co-parenting, and the act of gatekeeping under those circumstances can foster parental conflict, according to a study published in Family Court Review. The study also encouraged the importance of collaborative efforts to make decisions as this can foster the best situation for their child when they are working in tandem.




References:

Austin, W. G. (2011). Parental gatekeeping in custody disputes: Mutual parental support in divorce. American Journal of Family Law, 25, 148–153

Austin, W. G., Fieldstone, L., & Pruett, M. K. (2013). Bench book for assessing parental gatekeeping in parenting disputes: Understanding the dynamics of gate closing and opening for the best interests of children. Journal of Child Custody, 10, 1–16.

Austin, W. G., Pruett, M. K., Kirkpatrick, H. D., Flens, J. R., & Gould, J. W. (2013). Parental gatekeeping and child custody/child access evaluation: Part I: Conceptual framework, research, and application. Family Court Review, 51, 485–501

Adamson, K. (2010). Using identity theory to develop a midrange model of parental gatekeeping and parenting behavior. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 2, 137–148.

Allen, S. M., & Hawkins, A. J. (1999). Maternal gatekeeping: Mother's beliefs and behavior that inhibit greater father involvement in family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 199–212.

Amato, P. R., & Keith, B. (1991). Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 26–46.


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