What is parental gatekeeping?
One definition of parental gatekeeping is to control or limit access to something. Parental Gatekeeping and Parent alienation are terms often thrown around by parents and courts in the middle of a custody dispute. These terms have become more popular to describe a situation where a parent cannot have contact with their children.
Parental Gatekeeping is when one parent controls when and how the other parent has contact with the child. Parents who gatekeep can also control when the other parent can participate in school, extracurricular activities, or medical activities.
According to the American Psychological Association, the definition of Parental Alienation is as follows:
…a legitimate dynamic in many family situations, describing the harm done to a child’s security with one caregiver as a result of exposure to another caregiver’s unfavorable actions toward or criticism of that person.
How does it impact children?
These definitions describe behaviors in one parent that have a negative impact on their children. For example, children overhear conversations and talk with their siblings and friends, which creates stress for children.
Children come up with all kinds of reasons why their parents are getting divorced: it’s their fault for not coming home by their curfew, or maybe it’s because they aren’t getting good enough grades. Children often feel like it’s something they did to stress their parents out so much that they are splitting up.
Also, children sometimes have ideas of taking sides and finding fault in one or both of their parents. However, they are looking for answers. A child’s developmental state impacts how they perceive their parents’ divorce. If they haven’t developed critical thinking skills yet, they try to fill in the gaps as best they can. This, in turn, starts a narrative that isn’t necessarily accurate. However, they are doing their best to make sense of this.
A parent who disparages the other parent stresses a child and makes them look for why their world is turning upside down. Children are vulnerable to negativity and reactive to their families going through a crisis. No wonder they take on one parent’s narrative about the situation over the other parent’s. It’s much easier to choose a side rather than move back and forth between two homes.
Sometimes children choose sides with the parent who appears to be more emotionally fragile. This is often the parent who is disparaging the other parent. Sometimes these parents are anxious.
The idea of anxiety-driven parental gatekeeping
The parent who is having Gatekeeping behaviors can be anxious. Their anxiety is so intense that they can generalize this to their children. When parents have a heavy amount of anxiety, often the children feel that anxiety as if it was their own. In essence, the children become carriers of their parent’s fear.
These parents could be unaware of how their feelings are projecting fear onto their children. They feel anxious. They can sense that their children are anxious too. This anxiety gets’ worse around visiting the other parent. If the child is acting more anxious before and after seeing the other parent, in their minds, there is something wrong. Therefore, this parent is more nervous, and the child gets more anxious. The circle of anxiety gets bigger and bigger until they need a break.
Anxious parents and children calm down when the source of their anxiety is no longer there. This could be one reason children choose to stay with one parent over the other. But, on the other hand, if one parent triggers the other parent into anxiety and the child into anxiety, isn’t it just easier to avoid that triggering parent?
So one parent has anxiety and fear of another parent, and they confuse their feelings with the child’s feelings, then generalize what they are feeling onto the child. They go into a fight or flight mode and pull the child with them without even knowing they are doing it. So both the anxious parent and children perceive threats that aren’t there.
What’s the answer?
If we can help both parents calmly resolve their conflicts through some early co-parenting consultation or individual therapy, there would be less gatekeeping or parental alienation. When parents are emotionally reactive to each other, especially in front of the children, the child may reject one of the parents.
Our parenting class: Reconnecting and Reunifying with your Child helps to address ways that the rejected parent can, on their own, start to make a positive ripple through their family. This ripple will keep moving until one day, the parent-child relationship can return to a normal state of calm and involvement.
Sign Up for A High Conflict Parenting Class in San Diego to Address Parental Alienation
If you are experiencing parental alienation and you want to reconnect and reunify with your child our high-conflict parenting course can help. At Family Connections Therapy we use a child-centered approach to help you address the parental gatekeeping so you can be there for your child. In order to get started follow these steps:
- Click the link to indicate your interest or give us a call at (858) 776-8804
- A staff member will reach out to you and walk you through the process of signing up
- Begin classes and start the process of healing your relationship with your child
Other Services At Family Connections Therapy in California
In our San Diego-based therapy practice, we offer lots of options to support your mental health and that of your child. This includes children’s therapy for ADHD, and play therapy. As well as LGBTQIA+ and transgender therapy for kids and teens. For adults, we offer depression treatment, and more! Our caring therapists also offer online therapy, family therapy, and couples therapy. Reach out now to learn more about our counseling services!