IDENTIFYING GATEKEEPING IN CUSTODY CASES AND AND RESOLVING CONFLICTS WITH A GATEKEEPER
Lately, I have had several cases involving gatekeepers.
In custody cases, a parental "gatekeeper" is one that seeks to control the relationship the other parent has with the children. It is most often the mother. "Gatekeeping" usually is established long before the separation of the parents. A 1999 study by BYU Family Studies Center researched the concept. Conducted by Sarah M. Allen and Alan J. Hawkings, the research revealed that 20-25% of married women fall into this definition of being a "maternal gatekeeper".
Obviously, when the marriage works, this may not be a problem. Gatekeepers are generally primary caretakers who are very attentive to the details of the children. It only becomes a problem when during or after a separation, the gatekeeper escalates this "control" to frustrate the other's custodial time. When left unchecked, gatekeeping by one parent can thwart visitations, completely alienate and destroy the other parent's relationship with their children.
So how do you identify a "gatekeeper"?
- He or she criticizes the way the other parent does something, i.e., "That's not how you change her diaper. I'll show you!";
- He or she is very black and white inflexible, setting unrealistic standards for the other parent, i.e., "You should have foreseen traffic on a Friday - you are half hour late, and now Bobby's bedtime routine is completely messed up and if he flunks tomorrow's exam, it's your fault!" ;
- He or she Demeans or undermines other parent's efforts at being an authority figure in the child(ren's) lives, i.e., "You've never held a job longer than 3 months and you want to teach her what stability is?";
- He or she unnecessarily supervises the other parent's duties and tasks, i.e., "I noticed you didn't wipe her clean, and it gave her a diaper rash. See?";
- He or she controls the calendar relating to the children's activities;
- He or she relies on his or her role as a parent as sole validation of identity, i.e., they have no other focus other than the children;
- He or she feels threatened or at a loss if the child(ren) gets hurt and runs to the other parent for comfort;
- He or she flips back and forth labeling how good you are as a parent based on your current relationship, i.e, "You are a wonderful father - thank you for taking care of him all day while I spa'ed" vs., "I can't believe you got a new girlfriend - you are a terrible father, I will never let you see him based on your disgusting behavior!"