I would suspect that many mothers would say that they would like their husbands to more involved in the day-to-day rearing of their children. And a new article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that often it’s the mother’s own fault if the father isn’t more engaged in that process.
“Of course, fathers are free to choose their level of involvement. But negative gatekeeping by mothers — grimaces or criticism when men try to change a diaper or feed or play with a baby — can block out even fathers who believe they should be involved, says a 2008 study in the Journal of Family Psychology, led by Dr. Schoppe-Sullivan. Gatekeeping can be positive, too: When mothers encourage dads, the men tend to shoulder more child care.”
“It’s usually moms who do the gatekeeping, but they’re not always to blame. Some fathers invite interference by hanging back or being irritable or anxious. ‘Moms may think, ‘He’s not well suited to have positive interactions with the baby, so I’m not going to encourage that,’ Dr. Schoppe-Sullivan says.”
“In other cases, women aren’t conscious of their gatekeeping. Some women whose sense of identity is strongly tied to being a mother may fend off help in order to bolster their self-image, research shows. Others are simply inclined by nature to bond closely; caring for a baby may be so engrossing for these women that they crowd out dads, says a 2008 study in the journal Family Process.”
When I read this story, I absolutely saw myself. I know that I gatekeep with Michael – not so much now but a whole lot in the beginning, especially with babies!
With our first baby I needed a lot of help, and Michael just didn’t know what he was doing. He would take the baby at night so I could sleep but then leave all the lights on and the TV blaring so it took like a month for the baby to get her nights and days figured out. He was trying to help but he didn’t have experience with it so he didn’t know any better. I’m sure I was vocally judgmental as well as giving nasty looks and glares if I didn’t approve of his fathering.
By the time the third baby came he was very experienced at taking care of our children — bathing them, feeding them, dressing them in a coherent fashion. He may not attend to every detail like I would but I have learned to release on that. (It’s OK if Rose’s bow doesn’t match her shirt or if dinner was pasta. Release Mom! Release!)
The main things I know I gatekeep about now is rough play and watching TV shows and video games of which I don’t approve.
The article suggests some solutions to help mom relax and let dad be more involved:
Skills training before the baby comes – Michael did attend breastfeeding classes with me, and I appreciated that. I knew in a time of stress I might not remember everything and he could be my memory. I’m not sure how you could practice soothing a baby.
Peer support – I do think they may take advice better from other dads than their wives. Also if their friend is bathing his kids or taking his kids to the park on the weekend, your husband might feel peer pressured to do so. (Is peer pressure not the same as peer support?)
Awareness of the problem - I think this is huge. If I read this article before the first baby, I’m sure I would have made a more conscious effort not to judge him and to be gentle giving advice.
What do you think: Do you gatekeep your husband? Do you grimace or criticize when he tries to help? Do you let him have free reign and just appreciate the help? How much should Dads be helping?