Let's Talk Kids: "The Gatekeeping Game"

Jul 12, 2017

Every pair of parents has a subtle competition going on most of the time.  Even when they’re deeply committed to each other, daily life with a family provides no shortage of space for skirmishes.

There’s a natural “gatekeeping” related to parents’ devotion to their child.  Each parent believes he or she knows best on some issue of childrearing, which often results in disagreement.  Mom thinks sugar should be restricted, and Dad thinks she’s being silly.  Dad has no tolerance for sass, and Mom thinks some of it should be overlooked.

These differences of opinion are usually of little consequence.  Kids adjust well to their parents’ different ways of dealing with them, figuring them out early on.  The challenge arises when one parent is sure his or her way is the only “right” way, resulting in the other parent being cut out of the decision-making process.  That’s where gatekeeping begins.

Another source of gatekeeping occurs when parents compare how much each is contributing to the family.  The resentment can grow deep whether it happens in a two-career family or a family where one parent stays home with the kids.

Here’s how the two-career dilemma plays out:  Mom and Dad both work outside the home, but one perceives his or her work is “harder” and may require longer hours.  At home, both parents feel they’re doing more than half of the child-rearing.

Exhausted by their load, they may simmer with resentment, feeling overburdened by responsibilities.  After a demanding day, one may ask the other why the laundry isn’t folded, opening the door to a cascade of complaints.  

The one-career family faces a similar challenge.  One parent’s away at work, feeling a sense of missing out on experiences with the kids.  The parent staying at home spends a draining day keeping children fed, entertained, safe, and happy.  While the working parent perceives that the stay-at-home parent is having fun with the children and enjoying time to sit and relax, the stay-at-home parent often feels underappreciated and spent.  

Kids are naturally aware of these disconnects between their parents.  But seeing their parents work out their resentment prepares them for successful adult relationships.

So if you’re a parent who worries that things are not always sunshine and roses in your relationship with your child-rearing partner, relax.  That gate swings both ways.