I was at Chick-fil-a recently, standing near the condiments waiting for my to-go order for my family. A 30-something year old man came and stood to my right. It wasn’t clear if he was waiting or standing in line.
He started mouthing something and I looked around for whom the words were directed. A young red-headed girl of about seven years old stood in line in front of us. She was holding her near-empty cup awaiting a refill and clearly anxious.
When the women infront of her left, the girl panicked and turned away toward her father saying something like “oh well”. He took a step forward and assured her it was okay before stepping back, encouraging her to ask for a refill.
She got her refill and walked out with her father, his hand on her shoulder. The whole thing was very sweet. I had almost forgotten the terror of talking to cashiers now that I am the one behind the counter.
For some reason it was saddening as well. May have been attracted to the father and his tenderness? I also found myself a little pissed off at the girl. I want someone to care about and have confidence in me like that. That’s what I would want in a relationship if I ever decide to pursue one.
Maternal gatekeeping is the limiting of father involvement through use of some form of obstacle. According to this article from The Wall Street Journal, the benefits of father involvement in children’s lives are “well documented”. I have a lot of personal experience with maternal gatekeeping which had left me with a lot of resentment toward my mother.
When I first learned about maternal gatekeeping in my sociology course, I immediately responded with anger toward my mother. How could she have kept us from this extremely important figure in our lives? How could she hamper our relationship with our father?
This was not a new feeling. My mother’s gatekeeping extended past my father and to most of the world. I had in the past resented her for keeping us so sheltered. One thing the above article does not discuss in depth is mothers’ reasons for gatekeeping. It does touch on the fact that some mothers believe fathers are not “well suited” for “positive interactions” with their children.
Upon further reflection, I realized she had not restricted us for maniacal reasons. She protected us because she was scared the world would hurt us. More specifically, she was scared of the fights and tears that my father left in his wake. After a recent discussion/fight/emotional exchange with my father which I wrote about here, I remembered the many reasons it is difficult to interact in a positive manner with him.
Being a child at the time, it is difficult to say whether it was my mother’s gatekeeping that caused my father’s manner in interacting with us or if his mannerisms caused my mother’s gatekeeping. Whichever started first, I think they exacerbated each other.
Would my relationship with my father be different now if my mother hadn’t kept us so closely guarded? Probably. Would it be better? I don’t think so. I think I would have grown to resent my father for his didactic manner of interaction even more than I do now.
So while I think these “well documented” benefits of father-child relationships may be true for children with more caring fathers, I do not think gatekeeping is always the enemy. In some cases, I think gatekeeping might be beneficial.