By Keri Kettle
As “the mom,” during your marriage it was probably assumed you had the final say on decisions related to the children. But after divorce, expectations of mothers and fathers change.
Taking a position of being “in charge” of all decisions related to your children, even when they are with their dad, could end up costing you emotionally and financially. If you find yourself constantly concerned about what dad is doing during his time with the kids, not only are you making your own life more stressful you might also be hurting your kids and your future relationship with them.
You Are Only Responsible For Your Own Parenting
I’m a divorced mom, too, and it certainly took me a while to stop trying to fix what I saw “wrong” with my ex – even after the divorce. I still wish he wouldn’t take the kids to McDonald’s every week and I wish they’d go to bed earlier on school nights at his house.
But I’ve worked hard in therapy to accept that I am only responsible for my own parenting. While I may not think everything is done how I would do it at their dad’s, I have to stay focused on my time with the kids. I also know from being a divorce attorney, that staying focused on the other parent is not healthy for moms or kids and, if it keeps you going back to court, it’s very, very expensive.
What Is A Gatekeeper?
According to child custody expert Robert Beilin, Ph.D., a gatekeeper is a term, generally used in a negative way by family law courts and child custody experts, to describe those parents (most often a mother) who attempt to control their child’s time with the other parent.
It’s considered a positive label for mothers that have a child with someone that is dangerous, such as a drug addict, alcoholic, pedophile or batterer. But if you are not in a situation where the dad is a danger to the kids and you are still trying to control everything the kids do, you might have fallen into the habit of gatekeeping just because it’s a culturally acceptable role for moms.
Gatekeepers Create Stress
Being on guard and vigilant about dad’s time with the kids can make us anxious during custody exchanges. A mother’s anxiety can be perceived by the kids as fear and danger, even if she is just under a lot of stress. This can lead to upset kids at custody exchanges, which only increases those feelings of stress and anxiety for both parents. You can end up in a cycle where your stress stresses out your kids and that stresses out their dad, who blames you and that stresses you out. See the problem?
Dr. Beilin finds that as they get older, kids may decide that mom has been overreacting and that her judgment can’t be trusted in other areas as well.
Taking an honest look at our own parenting and what we might be communicating to our children about their dad, is important not just to their relationship with their dad but also to our kids believing and trusting in us as mothers.
Signs of a Gatekeeper
So how do you know if you are acting like a gatekeeper? Here are some examples:
- If you feel that your permission needs to be sought out for activities that don’t take place during your custodial time (for example, a trip to the local theme park on dad’s weekend.)
- If you find yourself checking the court orders frequently, to make sure that he isn’t getting any more hours or days than he is supposed to have.
- If your first response is “no” to every request from your ex – whether it’s extra time when his parents are in town or a request to change the custody exchange location.
Change Your Parenting Style
Changing, or at least tweaking, our parenting styles after divorce is not only possible, it’s probably necessary.
If you think you might be acting a little like a gatekeeper, try saying “yes” more often than you say “no” for a while. Start with something small, like giving up a few hours of your custodial time for a special occasion or simply not asking any questions about what happened at dad’s house. That phone call that you want to make to your attorney to complain about the babysitter dad used without your approval? Don’t make it and save yourself $100. Treat yourself and the kids to a night at the movies instead or maybe even a massage for you on your next weekend without kids.
Try to take a step back from the urge to manage your kid’s time with their dad. He might not do the same for you. And that’s okay. If your focus is on having the best life possible for you and your kids, than it doesn’t really matter what he does. Build a life that isn’t focused on what your ex-husband is doing wrong and IS focused on what a great mom you are when the kids are with you.
As they say, the best revenge is to live a happy life.
Keri Kettle is a happily re-married divorced mom and divorce attorney who blogs at Holding Your Grace about getting your fabulous life and great love after divorce.
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