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Monday, November 12, 2012

Gatekeeping and Custody


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"? 

Some examples:
  • 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!"

In custody cases, a parental gatekeeper will likely "allow" you to have more time with the children if you pacify her every demand and keep her happy.  So, you may find yourself at her complete whim and mercy.  If you have a written agreement for custody, it is not unusual for a gatekeeper to deviate from the custody agreement and "allow" more visitation time if things are going swimmingly.  However, as soon as there is a conflict, the "gatekeeper" closes the gate and disallows any further time.

If you find yourself in a custody battle with a gatekeeper, here are some pointers to keep the peace:

1.  Don't undermine her role as a parent.  That is her whole identity.  When you criticize anything related to her parenting, she will lash out and exert control using the only power she has.  Instead, always commend her on the job she has done.  She may be a control freak but unless there are immediate dangers to the child, use your compassion.

2.  Don't let her undermine your role as a parent and drag you down to her level.  She may say you suck.  She may say vile things about you and your habits and morals.  But you are still the child's parent.  Instead of eye for an eye, you stick to the facts - you were there when child was born.  You helped with night feedings.  Home work.  Bath time.  You throw the football every weekend.  You are every bit as involved as she is, and your child has benefited.  Here is a golden pointer: When the other side is low-blowing you in court, and you don't fight her way, the Judges actually respect you more.  If she is nit-picking you for failing to give the kid a jacket, or the inhaler - etc., she is showing her true colors as a maternal gatekeeper.  Without you having to say a thing.

3.  Make sure your parenting plan is specific and follow it.  NEVER have a parenting plan that say, you will have 40%.  Or 20%.  or 50-50!  Instead, fashion an agreement that works in terms of the children's activities, what the children are accustomed to, and stick with it.  Anticipate change.  Obviously, things may change.  If it does, put it in writing.  Don't expect that her happy mood will stay once you get a new girlfriend.

4.  Check in.  (Reasonably).  It drives gatekeepers crazy when they are in the dark.  Remember, this may be their ONLY identity - a parent.  If it isn't impossible, call mama and tell her kid just called to say i love you.  Call mama and say Kid just saw a horse, and it reminded her of the time that she rode a horse.  After drop-off, tell mama that Kid napped for 1.5 hours, so is good for extra cuddle time for her.     You can view it as "kissing up", but it works wonders for your relationship.  You may also find that it's kind of fun to be a "gatekeeper" yourself.

5.  The more you bond, the less she'll take.  Remember, the bond you have with your children is unique and special to YOU.  Don't ruin the bond by talking about the other parent.  If Bobby is with you, cherish that time, and never every bash mommy.  Soon Bobby will like spending time more with you.

These are obviously very simple tips when the gatekeeping is not severe.  If it arises to the level of parental alienation syndrome, I would recommend you seek counseling or help from a Certified Family Law Specialist.


Pablo VonTrapp said...

I have the best family lawyer in mississauga, and he always advices my ex-wife and I to do the exact same thing; never bash one another in the presence of our child. Great blog and great blog post!!!

Pablo VonTrapp said...

I have the best family lawyer in mississauga, and he always advices my ex-wife and I to do the exact same thing; never bash one another in the presence of our child. Great blog and great blog post!!!

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