Parental gatekeeping: What is it and how does it affect children?

On Behalf of | Dec 18, 2023 | Child Custody

We’ve talked here before about parental alienation. While that term is controversial among some mental health professionals, it’s nonetheless commonly used to describe what happens when one parent intentionally tries to turn their child against the other parent. Sometimes, this goes as far as telling the child their other parent doesn’t love them or even convincing them the other parent has abused them.

There’s another type of damaging behavior that some parents use against each other called “parental gatekeeping.” That’s where a parent restricts their co-parent’s contact with their child and limits the other parent’s involvement in their child’s life. 

Some parents engage in this behavior out of anger at their ex. Some do it because they believe that they’re the only parent who can properly care for their child. 

Common “gatekeeping” behaviors

Parents often experience these problems with a co-parent without giving them a name. They can include:

  • Not making a child available when they’re supposed to spend time with them
  • Not involving the other parent in decisions regarding the child in which they’re both supposed to have a say
  • Not informing the other parent of school or other events involving their child

Generally, as you can see, “gatekeepers” don’t abide by the custody order and parenting plan and minimize the other parent’s role in their child’s life.

Gatekeeping can be harmful to a child

Even if the gatekeeping parent doesn’t speak negatively about their co-parent to or around their child, that child can easily reach the conclusion that their other parent isn’t capable of caring for them or perhaps doesn’t want to spend time with them. 

If your co-parent is preventing you from being involved in your child’s life in the way that your court agreements outline or, if you haven’t finalized your agreements yet, in a way that prevents you and your child from continuing to have a close relationship, a good first step is to talk with them about it, with an emphasis on how it’s affecting your child. If you have a custody order and parenting plan in place, refer to that. 

Keep track of every instance where it’s happened and present those to your co-parent. If they continue this behavior, it’s best to get legal guidance to determine how best to resolve the problem.



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