The Grapevine

Anxious New Moms Limit Husbands' Involvement In Parenting Their Child

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New mothers tend to examine their relationships and potentially limit their partner's engagement with their child because of it, a new study suggests. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

New mothers tend to examine their partners and decide how much they want them to be involved in parenting, possibly affecting the relationship between the partner and the child through a process called “maternal gatekeeping,” a new study published in Parenting: Science and Practice suggests.

Researchers found that when a relationship seemed to be unstable mothers tended to limit their partner’s engagement with the child. This was also true of fathers who weren’t confident in their ability to raise their child. The effects of the study aren’t indicative of a father or partner’s actual parenting, but rather a reflection of the expectations and psychological position of the mother. Upon examination of the partner’s ability to stay “for the long haul,” the mother has to make decisions in the best interest of the mother and the baby. Some of the “maternal gatekeeping” behaviors that the mothers showcased were things like redoing something for the baby that the father or partner had already done or making criticisms of their partner’s parenting.

“New mothers are looking at their partner and thinking, ‘Is he going to be here for the long haul? Does he know what he is doing with children?’” said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a co-author of the study and professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, in a statement.

The study was made up of 182 different-gender, dual-income couples. While the mother was still pregnant, the couple filled out a questionnaire in order to gauge expectations, psychological make-up, and attitudes. The couples were also asked to complete another questionnaire three months after the baby was born. “We wanted to find out the characteristics of mothers and their families that may make some mothers more or less likely to act as gatekeepers,” Schoppe-Sullivan said.

The results indicated that the mothers were more likely to push the father away in duties of child rearing whenever divorce or separation was brought to the table, or when the mother didn’t think that things were working out between the couple. Mothers also made small restrictions like not allowing fathers to soothe their crying baby. In addition, women who had issues with mental health, like anxiety or depression, were more likely to limit the father’s involvement with his child.

Interestingly, couples who held traditional gender role distinctions and were more religious were less likely to limit father’s involvement. This is likely because of the emphasis on “family” values, which would promote all aspects of the family. However, the researchers acknowledge that this is a sample of highly educated, mostly high-income couples that were studied. A different sample size may yield different results.

The researchers conclude that while gatekeeping does happen, a study such as this one should be used to break down that behavior. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, not involving fathers in the development of a child can affect behavior, achievement, and cognitive development.

Source: Schoppe-Sullivan S, Altenburger L, Lee M, et al. Who Are the Gatekeepers? Predictors of Maternal Gatekeeping. Parenting: Science and Practice. 2015.

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