What makes a new mom encourage her partner to be an involved parent — and what compels her to push him away? A new study has answers. (Photo: Stocksy)
Ask any new mom, and she’ll probably say that as soon as she had her child, she began sizing up the world differently.
But new mothers also size up their male partner differently as well, casting a critical eye on his suitability to be a good parent in the months just before their baby is born.
If he isn’t confident about his dad skills, he doesn’t live up to her high expectations, or she thinks their relationship is on shaky ground, she’s likely to push him away once the baby arrives, according to a new study published in Parenting: Science and Practice.
It’s a practice known as “maternal gatekeeping’: the behaviors and attitudes new mothers use to decide whether to encourage or discourage a father’s involvement in raising their child.
“Evidence shows that maternal gatekeeping is something new moms do,” Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, Ph.D., lead study author and professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, tells Yahoo Parenting.
It’s best when both parents play an active role in raising their child, but too often, fathers aren’t as involved in parenting. Schoppe-Sullivan and her research team wanted to find out what makes a mother open the gate or shuts it, thereby shutting out her partner.
Her team studied 182 dual-earner couples expecting their first child, most of them married but all in long-term, live-in relationships. During the third trimester, they questioned the moms- and dads-to-be about their attitudes and expectations about parenthood. Then, three months after the baby arrived, they asked the parents about the mom’s gatekeeping behavior.
Turns out that the moms closed the gate when they had perfectionistic expectations of their partner’s parenting, poorer psychological functioning (for example, a diagnosis of anxiety or depression), or the mother viewed her relationship with her partner as unstable, reports the study.
Confidence levels played a role in maternal gatekeeping as well. Moms who were super confident about their parenting ability were more likely to push dads away — as were moms whose partners were not so confident about their fathering skills.
The researchers were surprised to find that women who were religious tended to open the gate to the new dads — perhaps because their beliefs made them more family oriented, theorizes Schoppe-Sullivan.
The findings gave researchers deeper insight into what drives maternal gatekeeping. But Schoppe-Sullivan believes new parents can glean something from the study results as well.
“Many young couples say that they want to be equal partners when it comes to raising their child, so it’s important to be aware of when you might be closing the gate, for example, criticizing a dad when he does something concerning the baby you don’t approve of,” she suggests.
“Having an involved dad is really important not just for the baby but for a new mom as well, to help her balance work and family,” she says. With this in mind, consider dialing back any perfectionist expectations that compel you to see your partner as a less-than-ideal dad and encourage an unconfident father to spend more time with the baby, so he beefs up his dad self-esteem.