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It's been a while since I've written about maternal gatekeeping, but this case pretty much demands it (Washington Post, 10/21/11).
Police said a former criminology professor fatally shot her 7-year-old son and then killed herself on Friday as police waited outside with her estranged husband, who was there to pick up the child after receiving court-ordered custody.
Less than an hour before the shooting, a jury granted Rodney McCall, 42, of Wylie, sole custody of Eryk Hayslett-McCall and terminated the parental rights of 43-year-old Karen Hayslett-McCall, The Dallas Morning News reported.
It's been a while since I've written about maternal gatekeeping, but this case pretty much demands it (Washington Post, 10/21/11).
Police said a former criminology professor fatally shot her 7-year-old son and then killed herself on Friday as police waited outside with her estranged husband, who was there to pick up the child after receiving court-ordered custody.
Less than an hour before the shooting, a jury granted Rodney McCall, 42, of Wylie, sole custody of Eryk Hayslett-McCall and terminated the parental rights of 43-year-old Karen Hayslett-McCall, The Dallas Morning News reported.
McCall obviously anticipated trouble from his ex-wife when he came to get their son, so he called the police to be on hand just in case.  But no one could prevent Karen Hayslett-McCall from putting a pistol to the head of a seven-year-old boy and pulling the trigger.  Neither could they prevent her from doing the same to herself.
"I think there was some thought that there would be a problem with the transfer,' Sachse Police Chief Dennis Veach said, though he said there was no expectation of the level of violence that occurred.
Police said in a statement that officers outside the house just before 11 a.m. Friday heard three shots inside. They forcibly entered and found Karen Hayslett-McCall and the boy dead in an upstairs bedroom. Police said it appears she shot the second-grader, then killed herself.
Veach said three officers responded because they all happened to be in the area. Two officers were at the front door and one was at the back.
The police chief said the father and the officers arrived at the home at the same time. The father knocked loudly on the door but got no response.
Lisa Griffith, a neighbor, told the newspaper she was heading out to walk her dogs when she noticed the commotion next door. She said she saw McCall in front of his house, screaming, "My son is dead!'
It was Hayslett-McCall who filed for divorce back in March of 2010, and the proceedings quickly turned ugly, as this article says (WFAA, 10/21/11).
A nasty divorce and bitter custody battle ended Friday with a mother and her seven-year-old son dead. Sachse Police say she shot her son and then turned the gun on herself.
The town's police chief said his officers have been to the house before, mostly for what he called "routine divorce related incidents."
Now, there's nothing to suggest that Hayslett-McCall had been diagnosed as mentally unbalanced and she clearly wasn't stupid.
Until June, Hayslett-McCall was an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. Before coming to UT-Dallas in 2002, she was a research analyst at Penn State, and before that had worked as a clinical psychologist and law enforcement officer.
But to me, the case fairly screams "maternal gatekeeping."  Essentially everything we know about her points in that direction.  Hayslett-McCall is the one who filed for divorce.  And we know from research conducted by Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen that the factor "that swamps all others" regarding why mothers and not fathers file for divorce is that they know they won't lose their kids.  So it's reasonable to conclude that one reason she filed for divorce was that Hayslett-McCall believed custody for her would be a slam-dunk. But that's not what happened.  Indeed, over the 19 months of the divorce and custody case, and possibly before, Hayslett-McCall proved to the satisfaction of her husband, a jury of 12 of her peers and the judge that she not only should not get primary custody, but in fact should have her parental rights terminated.  She almost certainly convinced at least one mental health professional of that as well given the fact that parents seldom have their rights terminated without the input of a psychologist or social worker. In short, although no article I've read on the subject goes into it, my guess is that she did some truly disturbing things.  To go from Mom who thinks she should get primary custody to Mom with no parental rights, all in the course of less than two years is quite a feat. Then there's the fact that Rodney McCall knew full well that her handing over the child to him would be fraught with difficulty.  Plus, the police knew it too. That all adds up to the most tragic case of maternal gatekeeping, as far as I can see.  Karen Hayslett-McCall wanted their son all to herself.  She filed for divorce to get him.  The more that effort went wrong, the more she dug in her heels.  My guess is that she stopped at nothing to sway the judge and jury to her side.  Did her tactics include false claims of abuse by Rodney?  I wouldn't be surprised.  She probably did worse than that, although I can't imagine what. Maternal gatekeeping is the behavior by mothers with which they dictate (or seek to do so) the involvement of the father in the upbringing of their child.  It's a very common phenomenon that's been studied by several different researchers.  Usually of course, it takes the form of "Honey, don't put the diaper on that way.  Here, let me do it."  But it can extend much beyond that to actual sidelining of the father in most or all of the child's care and activities.  Worse, it can take the extreme forms of child abduction and even the murder of the child, the father or both. That's what I'd say happened in the Hayslett-McCall case. Here's what else I'd say:  it's high time the mental health community started recognizing maternal gatekeeping for what it is - a form of psychopathology that results in child abuse.  As such it needs to be diagnosed and treated before someone gets hurt.  And by "hurt," I don't just mean physical injury or death.  I mean, above all, a child's deprivation of its father. That of course is the nut of maternal gatekeeping; it's a mother keeping a father from his child and the child from its father.  As such, except in the most minor of instances, it constitutes child abuse.  Children benefit from paternal presence, love, protection, etc.  Preventing that is abusive.  Parents who engage in the practice are abusers. But the term "maternal gatekeeping" appears nowhere in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.  Mental health professionals may or may not know it exists and they may or may not be encouraged to intervene if they do.  But I've never seen a case in which a therapist or counsellor or social worker diagnosed maternal gatekeeping and tried to treat it.  My guess is that they consider the behavior as largely benign and therefore fail to see it's possible consequences. Was there a mental health professional involved in the McCall/Hayslett-McCall case?  Probably.  Why wasn't the diagnosis made?  I can't begin to guess. Whatever the answer to that question is, no one in a position to do so stopped Karen Hayslett-McCall from murdering a seven-year-old boy to prevent his father from having him.  Someone should have noticed, but no one did. Mental health professionals need to be trained to identify maternal gatekeeping as the pathology it is.  Children's lives depend on it. Thanks to Paulette for the heads-up.

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