The Struggles of Maternal Gatekeeping
Fathers face child custody issues outside of the court. Even after the divorce decree, child custody agreement, and parenting plan all are finalized, many noncustodial fathers face challenges connecting with their children after the dust settles.
Some children can feel like because Mom got custody and they live primarily at Mom’s house, they should be loyal to Mom, which means not connecting with Dad on the same level as they used to. These children see that connection with Dad as a betrayal to their loyalty toward Mom.
This is why many noncustodial parents attempt to make their case to their co-parent for help on this issue, settling up the dichotomy of parental gatekeeping.
Parental gatekeeping is the act of one parent facilitating or limiting interactions between the child and the other parent. If you are on good terms with your co-parent, this form of communication can be used to help facilitate an easier transition with your child and help them open up.
However, if you are not on good terms with your co-parent, this strategy can be damaging to a parent that simply wishes to improve their relationship with their child.
Challenges as a father
For fathers, this form of gatekeeping is typically referred to as maternal gatekeeping. The mother can inhibit a collaborative effort between herself and the father by limiting his opportunity and ability to actively care for and rear their shared child, according to the Pace Law Review.
While mothers can take on a variety of responsibilities within their own household after a divorce, including being the breadwinner of the newly-formed single household, many mothers feel the need to be the primary caretaker, monitoring the child and granting or denying permission to anyone who wishes to interact with the child.
As a father, this can be a debilitating reality. It is one thing to have to go through the ins and outs of a parenting plan that limits the time that you are allowed to have with your child. It is another thing entirely adherent to the whims of an ex-spouse.
A recent study published in the Journal of Child Custody examined gatekeeping and how it can affect child custody evaluations. In situations where child custody is being evaluated, maternal gatekeeping may be taking place, especially if the father has left the family house. This can strain the father’s access to the child, forcing him to go to the mother for any access or information.
If the child custody situation is being reevaluated, maternal gatekeeping can be taking place, especially if the father is employing the resources of a family law attorney, who understands the plight that fathers go through, struggling for time with their child.
The study found that gatekeeping can be broken down into three categories: facilitative, restrictive, and protective. The protective category entails situations of abuse, neglect, or other types of criminal behavior that the gatekeeping parent is attempting to steer their child away from. The facilitative category is for co-parents who want to see their child’s relationship with the other parent to flourish.
Those in the restrictive category require a justification for why they are not supportive in helping their co-parent connect with their shared child. Unfortunately, the justification is not always there, due to the animosity that still may exist between the two parents or held onto by the gatekeeping parent.
These gatekeeping parents do not reveal the nature of their intentions and often are given the benefit of the doubt for their behavior. Many courts still subscribe to the ideals of the long-dead Tender Years Doctrine and allow the mother to dictate the terms of how the child’s custody arrangement will be carried out. This allows mothers to restrict access and information as they see fit.
This is not just something that happens for divorced fathers. Married fathers also face the prospect of maternal gatekeeping when they are restricted from caring for the shared child, out of the fear that they will not care for them in the same way as the mother.
This creates a power dynamic in households that can frustrate fathers for being shut out of their child’s life and frustrate some mothers that they are forced to do more work around the household.
Don’t give up
Whether you are married, single, or divorced, the reality of maternal gatekeeping is a difficulty that you may have to face in your experience as a parent.
While there may be challenges navigating these waters, fathers need to keep in mind that their children are worth it and that they should never give up on being an active parent in their child’s life.