Meanings of Words, Psychology

Keys to Parental Gatekeeping: Why The Motive Matters Most

parental situation

The Potential Positive Power of Gatekeeping in Parenting

Gatekeeping can be defined as a power dynamic in which a parent assumes and exercises the power to decide how much and what type of contact they will permit the other parent to have with a child. Child custody cases are often called “gatekeeping disputes”. Parents engage in gatekeeping behavior for a number of reasons, some of which are positive, and others which can be destructive.

According to an article written by a psychologist who specializes in providing psychological assessments for child custody cases, there are three kinds of gatekeeping. Gatekeeping can be positive or negative, depending upon the parental situation surrounding the gatekeeping behavior.

One example of positive gatekeeping occurs in a parental situation in which a primary reason for a separation or divorce is abusive behavior towards the child by a parent. In such cases, a parent participates in restrictive gatekeeping behavior with the primary purpose of protecting the child from abuse. This type of gatekeeping may entail demanding supervised visitation. Gatekeeping can also extend to other family members, such as grandparents, and friends.

Another parental situation in which gatekeeping can be positive is one in which a parent displays behaviors that demonstrate negative role modeling. For example, if a parent has substance abuse issues that cause impaired judgement and lessen impulse control, the other parent may choose to limit the amount of time the child spends with that parent in an attempt to lessen their potential negative influence on the child.

Gatekeeping can also be a useful tool in facilitating the development of a positive relationship with a parent who has been absent from the child’s life for a period of time. Brief supervised visits on a consistent basis over time can help the child feel secure while developing trust.

In a parental situation in which one parent has very little parenting knowledge or experience, gatekeeping can also be a valuable tool in helping that parent acquire parenting skills and confidence in their new parental role. Based on the parent’s behavior and the child’s reaction, the visits can then become longer until gatekeeping is no longer necessary.

The Potential Destructive Power of Gatekeeping in Parenting

Unfortunately, gatekeeping behaviors can also be punitive in nature when employed with a negative motive, which usually produces negative results for everyone involved, especially the child. In a parental situation in which there has been an emotional betrayal of some kind, parenting decisions can be affected by personal anger or resentment. If this kind of negative gatekeeping behavior occurs for a prolonged period of time, children can become emotional pawns in an adult game of emotional retribution.

Despite the importance of the continued presence of both parents in the life of the child after a divorce, many divorcing parents have difficulty controlling their negative feelings towards one another in the best interests of the child. Research shows that continued involvement by both parents results in children being able to adjust to the changes that accompany divorce more successfully. One study of divorced parents and their children concluded that children having a say in custody arrangements was an important factor in whether they viewed joint custody as a positive or negative experience.

Negative gatekeeping is not limited to restricting physical visitation, but can include anything that actively hinders the other parent’s active participation in the child’s life. A parental situation in which telephone contact is limited or information regarding important events or activities in the child’s life are withheld would also would be considered negative gatekeeping. Other examples might include deliberately scheduling other activities for the child during the parent’s regular visitation times or even speaking negatively about the parent in the child’s presence.

The Value of Effective Co-Parenting

The benefits to children of effective co-parenting are almost too numerous to count. Increasing their sense of security and sense of self-worth are among the most important. However, parents too benefit by increasing their ability to communicate calmly and effectively. Clear communication results in fewer conflicts, which means less stress for both parents and children.
Research has provided ample evidence of true value and lasting importance of every caring adult that a child is fortunate enough to have in their lives. Child development experts believe it’s so important that there are even online classes designed to help parents struggling with the difficult process of learning to effectively co-parent after a difficult emotional adjustment. Other resources include personal parenting coaches, co-parenting communication guides, and support groups.

The best gatekeeping practices create a parental situation in which all family members feel valued and appreciated for their important and lasting contributions to one another.

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