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What is Parental Gatekeeping?

With children being born to parents later in life, mothers working full-time and fathers being actively involved in parenting their children, coupled with a high divorce rate, it is no surprise that fathers expect to be considered custodial parents, equally with mothers, when they separate. Yet the traditional view of mothers as primary caregivers often collides with this new reality. Stemming from these historical and contemporary images of parents come values and attitudes which trigger actions and behaviours that cause post-separation conflict.

Dr. William Austin and Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett explain that ‘Parental Gatekeeping’ is where attitudes, actions and/or legal positions by one parent are designed to limit the other parent’s access, contact or involvement with their child. These restrictions are often based on assertions that the other parent’s involvement places the child at risk for harm, emotional distress, behavioural problems, adjustment difficulties, or negative developmental impact.

‘Restrictive Gatekeeping’ is where one parent, usually the mother, defines the role of the father and attempts to script his attitude and behaviour as a parent. The social science explains that ‘Restrictive Gatekeeping’ is more likely to produce lower child adjustment by producing more conflict and harm to the quality of the other parent-child relationship. On the other hand, ‘Facilitative Gatekeeping’ is more likely to produce better child adjustment through higher involvement of both parents and less exposure to parent conflict. This positive version recognizes the value of the other parent, appreciates the other parent’s social capital, invites proactive and cooperative co-parenting and generates win-win-win outcomes for families, parents and, most importantly, their children.

Some causes of Restrictive Gatekeeping are gender role beliefs, insecurity in parental identity, perceived parenting incompetence and need for control.

Most worrisome is the research that shows that the risk of harm to children by Restrictive Gatekeeping is often greater than the gatekeeping parent’s perception of harm by the other parent.

So now we have a new label for disputes where one parent attempts to limit the child’s relationship with the other parent.