There are a million different issues that come up in coparenting. One of them – or, at least, one of the ones I hear about the most often – is gatekeeping.
As a mom myself, I can completely relate. All of the information coming at you about the kids at all times can feel insane. Almost every single day, little sheets come home from school about what is happening, what you need to bring, or some special event or other. In your email, too, you get updates about basketball skills assessments, baseball team pictures, and sign ups to help behind the scenes at the upcoming dance recital. There are school pictures and report cards and parent teacher conferences. There are competitions, games, and meets. There are recitals, rehearsals, and concerts.
And so, so, so many birthday parties.
It can be enough to drive you mad, and then you find out at the last minute that a science project is due tomorrow while you’re in the middle of making the pink playdough you ALSO need tomorrow, oh, and you forgot that there’s a birthday party this weekend that you never bought a gift for.
There are doctor’s appointments, too – not just the sick visits, but the regular well-child checks, the dentist, and specialists.
All that on top of regular pick up and drop offs, packing lunches, unpacking lunches, and making sure that they eat something other than chicken nuggets. (They don’t.)
And then there’s your coparent, who – it must be said – gets the emails for the baseball team, too, but never signed up to receive the ongoing text messages about the game schedules, so now it’s raining and he’s texting YOU to find out whether the game is canceled. Even though you specifically provided his contact information, and even though he had all the same opportunities as you to receive the same communications, he decided not to. Why should he? After all, he has you.
You can point him in the direction of the league’s Facebook page, or to the program’s director so that he can get added to the text message chain, since he apparently can’t find the original email with the information to get group texts. But, nah, he says – he doesn’t really need it anyway. After all, he doesn’t need to know when to bring snacks and, as far as the schedule, he can just ask you.
It’s infuriating. The mental load that we face as mothers is insane and it doesn’t get better as the kids get older – it gets worse, not to mention that much more expensive. To some degree, it’s our own fault. We try to give the kids so many experiences and opportunities for enrichment that we wear ourselves down to the ground to do it. And all the different methods of communicating between different organizations – texts, emails, special apps – means that you’re constantly inundated with information from their various schools, activities, and programs about all of the information you need to personally keep track of.
Do I have to provide him with this information even though he can get it himself?
I know – being a mom is hard enough, without adding your ex-husband to the mix. The fact that men cannot take the opportunities given to gather the same information that we all have equal access to is one of the more infuriating parts of parenting generally, and I don’t think that’s just limited to divorced/divorcing/separated families. In general, men rely on their wives/ex-wives/children’s mothers to manage these more overwhelming details for them, and it’s not fair.
It’s not fair, but it also is what it is.
Sure, you don’t have to provide this information to him. As far as whether or not you’d get in trouble, if you can show that you did what you could to provide him with access to the same information you had, you’re probably fine as far as the court is concerned.
The thing is, though, that it’s often not just about whether or how the court is concerned. If your child’s father is determined NOT to seek access to that information himself, not only is he more likely to litigate in the future but he’s going to keep bugging you about the details he doesn’t have. He may even complain to friends and family about how you don’t provide the information, putting everyone you know in an awkward position.
Problem 1: He’s more likely to litigate.
Dads love to complain that Mom is gatekeeping information relating to the kids. It happens all the time. It’s probably not likely that he’d go to court on this charge alone but, if he believes that this is happening, it’s likely to come up when you’re already in court.
In a lot of ways, it doesn’t really matter whether he has evidence of this or whether he’d prevail; once you’re in court, you’re already in court. So, you’re dealing with all the stressors associated with court; the uncertainty, the fear, the expense is all there regardless of whether he wins or loses. So, avoiding court is generally a good goal to have in the sense that, win or lose, you still have to go – which makes life extra difficult. (And, on top of everything else, who needs that?)
And, in any case, there likely ARE some things that only one parent has access to. Not everything is sent out in a format that is designed to keep two separate coparents apprised of each detail; most organizations rely on parents to share some of that information, or don’t even consider the challenges associated with communication generally.
I find that a lot of stuff comes home in the backpack and isn’t necessarily mutually communicated. In the event that you and your child’s father have some kind of shared custody (and sometimes even in cases where you have primary physical custody), it’s possible that these types of communications would reach him on his time. In that event, you’ll want to make sure there’s a framework in place so that you are made aware of the stuff that you don’t see, too.
Problem #2: He’s going to keep bugging you.
Minimizing the problems is important. To the extent that he is likely to continually bug you about getting information related to the kids, you increase the likelihood that you’ll continue to fight. Even if you aren’t fighting, it’s annoying to have to be bugged even more by your child’s other parent. You don’t need to be getting the kids out the door in the morning and struggling to answer unnecessary questions that he should already have the answers to.
You don’t need to keep having these interactions; they set you up for more disagreements in the future.
Solution: Shared Calendars and Coparenting Apps
Chances are that you already schedule the kids’ activities and schedules anyway. It’s probably worth your while, especially if he’s already made an allegation that you’re gatekeeping, to create a shared calendar or use a coparenting app to share this information back and forth.
I’m not familiar with all of the coparenting apps that are available these days, but you can certainly check out the App Store and do a quick Google search for comparison information so that you can make sure to select an app that works for your needs and with your budget.
I am familiar with OurFamilyWizard, though, which was the original coparenting app. It features shared calendar, a messaging function, and even a space where you can share digital files (like if you scan and upload a report card, birthday party invitation, or random backpack insert). It has a lot of other features, too, so definitely worth checking out if gatekeeping is a common problem that you’re experiencing.
Another thing that I like about OurFamilyWizard is that it allows you to add your attorney (and his attorney and the Guardian ad litem, if you have one) to your account, so they can review the coparenting communications that have gone back and forth. This is unlikely to be something that you need all the time, but it would be a great way to be able to defend against an allegation that you don’t give him all the information he needs. If you can see, on the app, in black and white, that all the information has gone back and forth, then you can remove that from your list of concerns.
It’s one more extra step, but it’s one that keeps everyone on the same page with respect to coparenting obligations, and that can make all the difference in the world. Many of the things you were probably doing anyway – like creating a calendar – but creating one shared repository to gather all that information can be helpful, too, because then there’s no question of where, exactly, he should be checking to get the information that he needs. (And, no, the default should not to be to text you for an update!)
Gatekeeping allegations are infuriating, mostly because they always exist in situations like this – where he has all the tools he needs to get the information, he just doesn’t do it. Rather than responding to him each and every time he goes looking for more information, creating a shared space to communicate that information can alleviate the burden on you, prove to the court (and anyone else who cares to look) that you are doing everything you can to make sure that he has the information that he needs, and even empower him to take some initiative himself.