One of my pet peeves is when people treat dads as the JV-team equivalent of parenting. Dads are parents too and are as capable of loving, nurturing, protecting, and providing for the needs of their children as are moms. However, a new study from The Ohio State University reveals that when moms are critical of the parenting skills of their spouse, dads struggled with parenting.
Researchers and psychologists have been aware of “maternal gatekeeping” for years. This current study is the first time that researchers have looked at how maternal gatekeeping negatively affects the parenting ability of fathers.
For those who have never heard of maternal gatekeeping, the phenomenon occurs when mothers dictate when and how much access dads have to their children, especially during the formative early years. While there are technically two parents in homes where maternal gatekeeping takes place, in reality, there is only one parent — the mother.
For a long time, the belief was that maternal gatekeeping played a role in helping determine how much time and interaction dads have with their kids. In other words, researchers and therapists believed that maternal gatekeeping was simply that: a gate that the mom opened and closed to allow or deny dads access to their children. This new study demonstrates that while that’s true, maternal gatekeeping also has negative consequences on a father’s parenting ability, even when allowed access to their children.
The Ohio State University researchers found that fathers did not perform as well as a parent to their 9-month-old child if they felt their partners were critical of their parenting skills six months earlier.
The study – done with relatively affluent, highly educated dual-earner couples – is the first to show how fathers’ parenting quality might be affected by “maternal gatekeeping.”
“The behaviours of mothers can shape how fathers interact with their children,” said lead author Lauren Altenburger. “Mothers may not even be aware of how their criticisms of the father may end up negatively influencing how dads parent.”
In fact, according to Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a co-author of the study, the new research underscores that when it comes to parenting in our society, mothers wield most of the parenting power and influence.
Ideally, parenting is a two-person job with no one parent doing most of the work. Dads and moms should be actively involved in the training and parenting of their children. Sadly, many helicopter moms who practice maternal gatekeeping believe that they are better suited to be a parent than the father of their children. Criticizing the parenting skills of dads proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even sadder, I’m afraid that some moms will read this study as a way to ensure that they are able to limit their husband’s parenting role.
Maternal gatekeeping deprives children of their father. And children need their father as much as they need their mother.