Maternal gatekeeping can harm father-child relationship

Researchers in a 2008 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that when mom constantly interferes with dad’s involvement with the children and housework, it can affect their relationship.

A behavior referred to as maternal gatekeeping can affect the quality and quantity of a father’s relationship with the children.

Mother knows best not always best for family

Whether consciously or unconsciously, some moms regularly get in the way of dad’s parenting and household efforts, preventing him from doing or completing housework and criticizing or failing to encourage him when he interacts with the kids.

Sharon Jayson, in her 2009 USA Today article writes, “The idea that Mother Knows Best for all things home and family is deeply ingrained and complicated by gender roles, socialization and culture, experts say. And now new research is beginning to help make sense of that maternal angst.”

In the 2008 study, researchers looked at 97 families with infant children to determine the following:

  • Beliefs about a father’s role before the child was born
  • Perceptions about maternal gatekeeping (encouragement and criticism)
  • Quality of co-parenting three and a half months after the child was born
  • Fathers’ relative involvement and competence with the child care

Results revealed what sounds like good old-fashioned common sense: The more encouraging mom was of dad’s efforts, the more involved he was in child care and household chores. Mom’s positive support also influenced the quality of dad’s co-parenting. And, when mothers criticized less often, fathers were more likely to convert their personal beliefs about his role (e.g. if fathers should co-parent) into action.

Avoiding maternal gatekeeping

Cynthia A. Frosch, Ph.D., researcher, child and family development consultant and creator of The READY Method™, suggests mothers take a look at their underlying beliefs because they may lead to maternal gatekeeping behaviors. “Becoming aware of gatekeeping tendencies in ourselves as well as our responses to our partner’s gatekeeping (or lack of gatekeeping),” says Frosch, “can help us to dive deeper into the process of knowing ourselves as individuals, parents and partners. Beneath the desire or tendency to gatekeep may be a more deeply held belief or emotion, that our partners’ competence somehow implies our “less-ness” or incompetence, that him doing more equals I matter less.”

Parents engaged in maternal gatekeeping behaviors may want to consider the message they’re sending their kids, suggests Frosch. Is dad largely out of the way, uninvolved with housework and most of the child care because he wants to or because mom is constantly in the way? Regardless of the exact dynamics, the entire family ultimately gets shortchanged.

Read about how unhealthy relationships result in troubled kids >>

Equally shared parenting to balance roles

It’s beneficial for parents to take a look at their imprinted roles in the home. Although the division of labor can’t realistically always be split down the middle, working toward an equitable balance has major pluses for the family.

Founders of Equally Shared Parenting (ESP) Marc and Amy Vachon believe sharing all aspects of child care and household labor creates not only a more equitable division in the home but a more joyful existence for the family. The Vachons define ESP as: “The purposeful practice of two parents in an intact home sharing equally in the domains of child-raising, housework, breadwinning and recreation time.”

How to marry two parenting styles in one household >>

Lisa Belkin, in her 2008 New York Times article, “When Mom and Dad Share it All,” cites a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households. Researchers found a woman’s participation in housework was two to one to her husband’s. The split for child care was even more lopsided, with women doing five times more than men. Moreover, the ratios didn’t change much even if mom worked outside the home.

“You assume people will look at relationships rationally, and if there is such inequity and such a sense of unfairness, they would end it,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo quoted in Belkin’s Times article. “When you look at this rationally, it is very difficult to understand why things are the way they are,” says Blair.

Tell us

Is the division of responsibilities evenly split in your household? How do you divvy things up?

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