In the old days, there used to be a television show called Father Knows Best. However, as family law attorneys in Southeast Texas, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is here to talk to you about the phenomenon known as gatekeeping as done by mothers as opposed to fathers. Motherly gatekeeping exists in situations where moms believe they know best for their children to the extreme. Unfortunately, the result of this sort of gatekeeping is that moms tend to disregard the opinions and the needs of a child’s father in favor of their well-being and desires. What we see happen a lot is that mothers will purposefully try to create a divide between their children and the father. In the moment this feels like a smart thing to do but can be quite harmful for a child.
Family law cases focus on the best interests of children. That is the legal standard that a judge would use, for instance, to decide on behalf of a child. The best interest standard weighs many different factors and considers the needs of a child now and in the future. This is a well-established legal standard and one that has been in use for many years in Texas. You can ask one of our attorneys about all the different factors that a judge would take into consideration when determining the best interest of a child. You would see that those factors are varied and force a judge to look at several different things when it comes to the life of that child.
However, when a mother who is gatekeeping determines what is in the best interest of a child it is less than likely that she will consider as many factors as possible. On the contrary, it is much more likely that she will consider a limited range of factors such as her desires at that moment, her fears of the father becoming a major part of a child’s life, and other self-interested considerations. All in all, a mother who is gatekeeping may trick herself into thinking she is doing what is best for her children when she is doing what is best for herself. This short-sightedness almost always comes back to hurt the child in significant ways.
The tricky part about this situation is that many times it is difficult to determine when and if a mother is gatekeeping. Many mothers are skilled at hiding the truth and acting as if they are doing what is best for their children when, in fact, she is doing what is best for herself. At the same time, if a father is not paying close attention, he may allow the gatekeeping to occur for an extended period. The longer this gatekeeping goes on the more likely it is to occur moving forward. If you are a diligent father and observe what you believe to be gatekeeping in your life and that of your child, then taking steps to address the gatekeeping is essential.
This is what we are going to be discussing in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Maternal gatekeeping takes on many forms and can be harmful in a variety of ways to your family. Before we can address how to handle maternal gatekeeping you need to be able to identify whether gatekeeping is happening. This is true both from the perspective of a father and also as a mother. You may be so focused on doing what is best for your children in your mind that you are crossing the line and engaging in gatekeeping behavior. Mothers and fathers need to be aware of what gatekeeping is so that the well-being of their children is not compromised.
The role of custodial parent and gatekeeper
In most circumstances, your mother is named as the primary conservator of children. As the primary conservator of children, a mother has a unique role to play. She will be the primary caretaker of the children as well as the person who determines the primary residence of the children. This means that the children will be living with her on what many people refer to as a “full-time” basis. When it comes to child support the mother would be referred to as a custodial parent while the father is the non-custodial parent who pays child support each month. This is important given that fathers have a certain number of rights concerning their children as well.
Parents are frequently named as joint managing conservators after a family law case. While all the above could be true as far as moms choosing where the children live and receiving child support, fathers still have an important role to play in the lives of their children. It may be a somewhat different role than mothers but the rights and duties that a father has concerning their children are virtually the same in some cases as mothers. The main difference between moms and dads and this type of case is the ability to determine the primary residence of the kids and the ability to pay and receive child support. Otherwise, the rights and duties of parents in these situations are similar.
What a gatekeeping mother may do in this situation is to try and throw her weight around as far as when the child’s father can gain access to the children and how much the father will know about the child’s activities in school and at the doctor’s office. This is where we get the term gatekeeper from. Imagine your child’s mother constructing a gate around your child and then only allowing access to him or her when she feels that it is necessary. You may be missing out on time and information about your child that you need to know. Mothers have become quite resourceful at being gatekeepers.
Gatekeeping is directly related to parental alienation in many cases. Parental alienation is another unfortunate subject that comes up in many family law cases. Alienation involves apparent bad-mouthing their co-parent to the child. This is an especially egregious violation of trust between parents given that the parent who is being alienated is not available to defend him or herself. This means that the child receives unadulterated and usually untrue information about their co-parent. That child will then begin to think less of the parent and have reservations about spending time with him or her. It is typical for family court orders to bar this type of behavior, but it is difficult to enforce and even to identify in many cases. You as a father need to be vigilant to protect against parental alienation given how hard it can be to tell that it is ongoing.
Another way that gatekeeping can occur is when a mother does not keep the father up to date on the activities that a child is engaging in. This type of gatekeeping takes on many forms. It could be something like a mother refusing to tell a father that a child has a birthday party on his weekend of possession. What ends up happening is the child misses their friend’s birthday party and the child blames the father for this. It is the fault of the mother who purposely withheld information and did not communicate with the father about the birthday party in advance.
A more serious example of withholding information as a method of gatekeeping would be if a mother decides not to update the father on updates from the child’s doctor or school about their health and education. Your child’s teacher may attempt to set up a parent-teacher conference with you and your co-parent. However, if the school has your child’s mother as his primary contact, then the school may only communicate with her about the parent-teacher conference. This is assuming that the school believes the mother would inform you about the conference. Of course, she may choose not to do this, and you may be left in a situation where you were not able to attend a conference because you were unaware of it even having been scheduled. The same type of purposeful lack of communication can occur about something like a doctor’s appointment for your child.
Addressing the issue of maternal gatekeeping
This is ultimately where you can try to develop skills to identify and address the issue of maternal gatekeeping in your life. This is not to say that the moment you know that gatekeeping is happening you can quickly do something to get it to stop. It may be true that you can convince your co-parent to stop their behavior immediately but, in many cases, the mother has become emboldened to continue their behavior because it was left unchecked for many years. We know that boundaries do not exist in the world of some people and a gatekeeping mother is a perfect example of someone who believes that the rules do not apply to them and that they can do whatever they want if it is being done in the best interests of their child.
Addressing this subject with your child’s mother may result in her telling you that she knows what is best for the child. What she could do is bring up past examples of you not necessarily being the most present and accountable father which can put you on the defensive. Even if your child was not always cared for by you in the best way possible that does not mean that you can’t start being the proactive and involved father that you want to be. This can be the first opportunity for you to act as the dad that you had always envisioned yourself being. However, it does take some action on your part and likely some uncomfortable conversations about the issue of maternal gatekeeping.
If you have not yet completed a family law case and are working to coordinate with your child’s mother on a schedule for visitation and access, then addressing the subject of maternal gatekeeping is important early on. The amount of time that you were able to spend with your child before the family law case ends up looking a lot like what you are ordered to receive in the case itself. For that reason, you must be able to guard against maternal gatekeeping even before you have begun your official case. Keep in mind that it is usually a child’s mother who determines the visitation schedule for a child before the family law case begins. This puts you in a situation as a father where you need to be especially vigilant against your child’s mother being oh aggressive and demanding when it comes to time with your child.
For example, if you allow your child’s mother to dictate to you the terms of when and how you are going to spend time with your child then you become very limited as far as what you can do with your child once the family law case has begun. The reason for this is that a family court judge will usually be more willing to follow the possession schedule that you and your child’s mother have developed before the family law case rather than to implement an entirely new schedule once your case has begun. As a result, the way that you were visiting with your child before the family law case began will tend to look like what you all agree to in the family law case itself. Do not assume that once your family law case begins you will be able to implement an entirely new visitation schedule. Also, please bear in mind that most disputes regarding custody, visitation, and anything else in your family law case will be determined by you and your co-parent rather than a judge.
How to manage the subject of paternal gatekeeping with the help of an experienced family law attorney
The stakes are undoubtedly high when it comes to maternal gatekeeping and your relationship with your child. This is not a subject where you can assume that it will get better on its own. Or, that your child’s mother will eventually see the light and begin acting more fairly towards you. On the contrary, it is more likely that your child’s mother will become emboldened if you do not act in a way that shows you are willing to stand up for yourself and push for your rights as a father. You can expect your child’s mother to act inappropriately and to push back hard against you when you are attempting to fight for your rights as a father. That is exactly what people who have boundary issues tend to do. You should not only expect this to happen, but you should plan for it.
From my vantage point, there is no better way for you to plan for this type of scenario than to work with an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Again, our attorneys and staff are uniquely suited to be able to assist people in your situation by allowing you to game plan for the problems that you will be facing in your case. We work with fathers from across Southeast Texas and have been able to help advocate for them in several scenarios that otherwise may have seen these fathers lose time, rights, or duties to their children. It doesn’t matter what your history as a father has been to date. All you can control is your parenting approach now.
Many mothers expect that you will continue to take the situation lying down because that has been what you have done to date. If you have always been willing to back down to your child’s mother, then there will be no reason for her to expect that you would do anything different. However, hiring an experienced family law attorney may show your child’s mother that you are no longer willing to be pushed around by a gatekeeping mother. What we may find is that as you hire an attorney you can for the first time develop a strategy aimed at stopping the keeping and developing a counter strategy to build on the relationship that you already have with your child.
You may not always be able to get everything you want in a family law case but by hiring an attorney you can give yourself the best possible chance at winning on the most important issues to you. If you are a father who has never had consistent time with your children before I think working with an attorney can give you an advantage that you may not have previously been able to claim. Your relationship with your children is worth it.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of divorce or child custody cases.