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Dictating to Dads - The Madness of Maternal Gatekeeping

Today I was put on to a great parenting term by a fellow dad blogger: "Maternal Gatekeeping." According to an article provided by Dr. Josh Misner, more affectionately known in the dad blogging community as Mindful Dad, "Maternal gatekeeping is conceptualized within the framework of the social construction of gender and is defined as having three dimensions: mothers' reluctance to relinquish responsibility over family matters by setting rigid standards, external validation of a mothering Identity, and differentiated conceptions of family roles" (Allen, S.M. & Hawkins, A.J. (1999). Maternal gatekeeping: Mothers' beliefs and behaviors that inhibit greater father involvement in family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 199-212). As a layman that confused the hell out of me, so I asked Josh to explain it in his own words. "For mothers, there is a social identity component to being a mother," says Misner, who did his doctoral thesis on the subject, "...and when that is challenged by an outsider (e.g., Dad), there can be a fierce and defensive subconscious reaction to defend the ego and identity. Many mothers do this without even knowing it." So, to put it in it's simplest terms - moms have a lot of pressure on them to be perfect from a society that tells them no one can do it better then they can and therefore they just take over without ever giving dads a chance.

Well, one man's "maternal gatekeeper" is another man's "momzilla." Call her supermom, or mom of the year, or whatever you like, but a woman that dictates how the father of her children interacts with his own kids to satisfy her own ego is simply a control freak; a dictator.

"But my husband doesn't want to do wake up for the midnight feeding, and I like doing it because I get special time with the baby." Okay, but when does your husband get special time with the baby - when you don’t want to spend time with her? “Well, I like my husband to bring home the bacon and I do everything at home so it gets done the way I like it.” Well, what were to happen if you get sick? Or he gets sick? “Well, I just don’t trust him to do things with the kids the way I would do them.” Okay, so when does your husband actually get to parent- when you don’t feel like it?

Moms all over the world are keeping their husbands from getting more involved in the raising of their kids, and they give excuse after excuse after excuse for why they are better suited to everything from feeding the baby to changing diapers to discipline. And it’s all just a rouse to keep dads in background as secondary caregivers to their own kids. Why? So moms won’t have to face the fact that maybe, just maybe a man can do as good of a job at raising their kids as they can.

Oh no! You mean a man can bring home the bacon, cook it, clean up after himself, and then take care of his kids too? What is the world coming too? You mean a man can actually clean a baby bottle without supervision? Or change a diaper, or feed an infant, or give a bath or dress his child? What kind of a world are we living in? But, what about mom’s ego- how is she supposed to account for all the single father’s in the world who do everything for their kids? Are they an anomaly; a freak of nature? “How can a man do that,” you ask,” when my man can’t even match his socks to his tie?” Well, he just does.

Ladies (the Momzillas, the Supermoms, The Controlling moms) you protest too much. You can’t say on the one hand that your husband does nothing and then not even give him the opportunity to contribute. You can’t martyr yourself and say “Woe is me. I do everything when it comes to my kids and my husband doesn’t lift a finger to help me,” and ten seconds later, under direct questioning say, “but its okay, that’s the way I like it. If I do it, it gets done my way.”

Now, I’m not saying all stay-at-home moms do this. I’m not even saying most stay-at-home moms do this. But there are enough stay-at-home moms doing this that it’s a sickness that is plaguing our country (or wherever you live). I get it. You’re told from birth that caring for the children is mom’s job. You’re told by society that dads are buffoons. You’re told at the hospital that there is nothing more important than the bond between mother and child. And that’s great and all, but it’s bullshit. The government, the medical profession, your mother, society, television, the media- they all brainwashed you in to believing you are the most important person in your baby’s life. Sure, the most important person in a baby’s life for the ten months that they carry them and possibly throughout breastfeeding, after that it’s pretty much a shared responsibility for most couples. But it’s hard, I guess, to step back and say, “hey, maybe I’m not the only one who can perfectly mix pablum or heat baby food in the microwave for ten seconds?”

This mistaken belief that you’re the be all and end all when it comes to your child’s well-being isn’t good for you, your spouse, and especially not your children. Moms raise kids alone. So do dads. Moms cook and clean and fold laundry and make lunches and schedule and shop for food and wipe babies asses and make sure their dry behind the ears. But so do dads. Maybe not your husband, but how do you know if you never even let him try? And when I say try, I mean try it his own way.

What are you afraid of: he’s going to be a better parent than you are? Are you scared that if you leave for the day that you’ll come home and everything is as you left it, or better? That your kids won’t need you more than him? That you’re not the only one who your kids run too when they skin a knee or need a sliver taken out?

Well, if you are- too bad. That’s your issue. Because if you’re pushing a willing dad to the sidelines to satisfy your own ego, so you can tell your friends how awesome you are as a parent (and how awful he is), you’re a failure as a parent in my book. As parenting is a partnership, and if you have a man who wants to be involved in all aspects of the raising of his kids and your pushing him away so you can have all the control and all the accolades, well, that’s selfish. Dads can work AND be great care givers. Dads can stay at home with the kids and run an awesome household. They are only as limited as you believe them to be in YOUR mind. But from what I recollect, that’s not really reality now, is it. It must be nice to live in a fantasy where you’re perfect. But until you wake up to see just how much you’re limiting your child’s relationship with their dad, or enabling your husband or significant other to shirk his parental responsibility because it works to your benefit, you’re nothing but a dictator serving your own selfish needs and delusions of domestic domination. And that’s not what good parenting is all about.

End Rant.


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Reader Comments (2)

This is well written and makes a great point. Go dads.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Yep. This is so me. I use the excuse that he works so much that I don't want him to be bothered with helping out. I'm a SAHM to our two girls ages almost five and 22 months. This made me realize I need to let go. Thanks for this.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTara W

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