Gatekeeper Moms, Why Some Mothers Shut Fathers Out Of Caring For Kids

A little too close?
A little too close?
Jenny Hoch

MUNICH â€" Some women block any effort by men to take part in the raising of their children. This is often more about the mother's own feeling of powerlessness than about their children's wellbeing.

Women who become possessive about their children and don’t allow fathers to take care of their mutual offspring may sound like something from a distant past. It even sounds like the kind of excuse made by modern fathers so they do not have to be the one soothing the baby in the middle of the night.

An American study conducted in 1999 first tried to quantify the phenomenon, concluding that almost a quarter of all married mothers are so-called “gatekeeper mothers.” A long-term study conducted by the German family and social researcher Wassilios Fthenakis reflected similar figures, with every fifth woman found to block the father’s attempt at engaging with his children. These mothers do not see the father as an equally competent parent. They defend their territory as a caregiver because a significant part of their self-esteem stems from it. After all, it is usually the woman who has had to neglect her career in order to care for her children.

“This is a case of problematic bonding,” says Gabriele Leipold, a Munich-based couples and family therapist. “Gatekeeper mothers” are unable to have a relationship with more than one person, often due to early childhood experiences. If a child is born into a two-parent family this kind of mother is not able to deal with this situation and tries to exclude one person from this triangular relationship â€" often the father.

“The affected woman desperately attempts to be the most important person to the child and outdoes the father because she perceives him to be a threat,” says Leipold. These mothers, therefore, put the parenting bar so high that the father is bound to fail.

This behavior arises because of entrenched traditional roles where household duties are unequally distributed. These roles are so deeply embedded in the subconscious that they are hard to shake.

“Maternal gatekeeping” has repercussions for any kind of romantic relationship. The man is made to feel removed from the spousal relationship because he sees his wife as only a mother, instead of also as a partner. He may perceive his wife’s hovering over their children as distrust or even aggression toward him. “Positive feelings towards each other cannot bloom in this kind of climate,” says Leipold.

While mothers who have a know-it-all approach may seem like they’re displaying power, Leipold argues that the reality it is the exact opposite: namely it masks a feeling of powerlessness. No matter what mothers do â€" whether they work full-time or care for their children full-time â€" they are criticized.

“Many women have strong inferiority complexes after having stayed home for a while to raise the children and worry justifiably that they will be sidelined when they reenter the job market," she notes. "At home, on the other hand, they can look at their husband as, essentially, superfluous. Which is why they often cling to their homemaker status for much longer than necessary.”

Leipold advises her clients to clearly structure household tasks and make to-do lists even before childcare comes into the picture: “You have to be demanding of men," she says. "But at the same time give them the chance to work their way into this new set of duties.”

Cornelia Koppetsch, professor of sociology at the Technical University of Darmstadt, conducted a study that found that only 30% of men actively take part in raising children and fulfilling their household duties, a figure that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s. It is a reminder that the bigger issue on gender inequality remains the same: not those women who shut out fathers who want to contribute to raising kids, but the shortage of fathers who want to contribute.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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