Gatekeeper parenting: What is the impact?

Sometimes people engage in gatekeeping because they believe it is part of their job as parents. / Net photo

Valence’s marriage hit the rocks when he and his wife had their first child. Parenting was new for them; they would bicker and argue over everything from diaper changes to when and what their son fed on.

“She thought she was the only one who could care for him and wanted to make all the decisions. I felt like she was shutting me out of my child’s life, and this bothered me,” he says.

Co-parenting can be a source of many conflicts for couples, more so for those who are divorced or live separately.

Whereas there are mostly issues with differing opinions on how to raise children, at times there are cases where a parent can, for instance, make decisions without the other parent’s input, or withhold important information regarding the child.  

Counsellor Damien Mouzoun refers to this as gatekeeper parenting.

He says that with this kind, a parent’s attitude and actions serve to affect the quality of the other parent’s relationship and involvement with the child.‎

The term is often utilised in the legal arena to refer to a parent who appoints themselves the power to decide what relationship is acceptable between the other parent and the child, he explains.

Emmanuel Gatsinzi, a father of two, says it’s mostly mothers who tend to have this kind of behaviour.

“Sometimes mothers tend to act as the ultimate decision-makers for anything related to children, but this sometimes blocks us from caring for our children too and getting involved with them,” he says.

Vestine Uwamariya notes that it’s natural for parents, especially mothers, to at times get over-protective of their children, wanting to stay in control of how their child is raised.

“But this cannot only cause misunderstandings between a couple, but it also leads to exhaustion on the side of the mother,” she says.

Though not easy, Uwamariya says she has always made a conscious effort to involve her partner in everything when it comes to raising their children.

Effects of gatekeeper parenting

Mouzoun believes both parents have a responsibility to bring up their children.  

Depending on the case, however, he says gatekeeper parenting may have some positive effects if the prevented parent is extremely toxic to the normal development of a child.

Societies present both paternal and maternal gatekeeping. The latter seems to be the most frequent one and operates under the belief that the mother has every right to limit the father’s access to his child. This belief at times encourages mothers to speak unfiltered about the father in front of the child, to limit the father’s access to information and updates regarding the child’s schooling, health, athletics, religious and social life, and to think of themselves as the authority, regarding what is and is not best for their shared child‎, he says.

“If a child feels like they cannot reach out to the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent can help reassure the child that even though the child’s parents are no longer together, they both love and support them and that they should think of where both parents live as homes for them,” Mouzoun says.

This also can work in reverse. If a child is only opening up to the noncustodial parent, due to the infrequency in which they see one another, the noncustodial parent can be the gatekeeper for the custodial parent and help re-establish them on an emotional level in the child’s life.

Ways to address this

According to The Huffington Post, not enough is being done to address how restrictive gatekeeping parenting can be. Without any cause that validates the concerns of the custodial parent, the parent is free to prohibit the sharing of information to how a child is doing, as well as prevent the flexibility of additional overnights. They also have the ability to stop communication, incite irregular parenting time for the restricted parent and make unilateral decisions for the child, all without the law to regulate it.

Mouzoun, hence, notes that questions regarding emotional or psychological abuse that gatekeeping parenting can create are worth exploring, and for someone who is co-parenting with another individual, it is important to keep track of everything that your co-parent has done if they are one to gate-keep.

With this form of parenting, parents try to inflict their attitude and actions onto their children to affect the relationship with the other co-parent, according to a counsellor, Joyce Kirabo.

She says that this has long term effects on the child physically, mentally, psychologically and socially.

“Every child has a right to have access to both parents. Both parents should have equal involvement in their child’s life and in equal measure. Once the child has been denied access to one parent, they will definitely miss out on parental guidance from one side and the child will actually have a negative attitude towards that other parent. This affects them psychologically and in future, they may transfer the same anger to their families for they grow up wounded,” Kirabo says.

Other times, you may find that the parent may transfer the anger that they have towards their co-parent to the child, which has effects in one way or the other.

Kirabo, hence, notes that co-parenting would actually be good if both parents have a good parenting relationship.

They could have separated or divorced but for the good of the child, it can work best if both parents maintain a cooperating relationship, she says.

“So this can then affect the positive attitude of the child towards the other co-parent. In most cases, mothers normally use this as a fighting weapon and try to challenge or rather, punish the other parent by denying them access of the child which is actually not good because, at the end of the day, we are looking at the good of the child, not whatever caused their separation,” she adds.

And on this note, she urges parents in such scenarios to always put aside all their differences and work towards the good of the child.

The counsellor says there is a wide range of measures to bring calm to the situation.

“A parent with custody of the child should try so much to encourage positive practices, especially through communication and allowing access for the co-parent. Sometimes even trying to come in and mediate and encourage the child that even when they (parents) are not living together, they still love them.”

“It is always advisable to give access to the other parent, without necessarily intoxicating the child. But in extreme cases, parents can seek professional guidance such that the needs of the child are met,” Kirabo adds.

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WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO MAKE CO-PARENTING WORK?

Parents should understand that when it comes to parenting, the well-being of the children comes first. This is why I think it is best to put aside the differences and misunderstandings that couples tend to have.

Mutabazi Gakuba, IT Expert

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Communication is key. This doesn’t only require to relay information to your partner but also minding the way you relay the information matters. It needs to be done in a peaceful and respectful manner.

Wilbur Bushara, Father

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Avoid being bossy, understand that this child is not yours alone and that both of you as parents have rights to raise that child and be involved in their life.

Joan Nakazibwe, Stylist

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Patience and respect are very important aspects when it comes to co-parenting. Parents tend to have different ways of how they would want their children to be raised, but to avoid conflict; both parties need to be understanding and respectful of the other’s opinion.

Sarah Mbabazi, Mother

editorial@newtimesrwanda.com

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