Maternal gatekeeping is similar to a football team’s goalkeeper as they will both protect their territory. It is usually described as a set of mother beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors to control and encourage or discourage fathers as they care for their home and children fully. Their shared norms continue to shape mothers into primary caregivers and establish their role as gatekeepers in parenting. In this regard, a mother might negatively affect a father’s involvement in child-rearing through their “gatekeeping” behavior.
This type of behavior could appear early in the family, especially in the transition to parenthood when both couples need to designate their parental roles. As a gatekeeper, mothers can either show restrictive and negative behavior or positive and facilitative behavior toward fathers. A father’s engagement in child-rearing will depend on what kind of gatekeeping behaviors a mother will show. Restrictive and negative behaviors will decrease fathers’ engagement in child-rearing tasks while positive behaviors will reinforce and encourage fathers in these tasks.
Puhlman and Pasley designed three dimensions of behavior as an indicator of maternal gatekeeping:
Mothers attempt to hold a leadership position with the highest decision-making power concerning family functioning and supervise father-child interactions intensely. For instance, when mothers make fathers interact with children, they set the rules and watch them. Other behaviors include making the family schedule, managing finances, and coordinating leisure activities based on their preferences and desires.
Mothers gradually lead fathers to increase or maintain their participation and interaction with children. For example, mothers encourage fathers to spend individual time with children, provide fathers with helpful feedback during interactions with children, and use supportive or appreciative language.
This pertains to the extent to which mothers are disheartening and critical toward fathers and their involvement with children. It can be a mother interrupting a father’s time with the child, dissuading fathers from interacting with the child, redoing tasks completed by fathers, and some forms of nonverbal communication (e.g., eye-rolling, scornful looks).
Conditions that instigate maternal gatekeeping
Not all mothers will become maternal gatekeepers; the behaviors mainly transpire when certain characteristics and circumstances are experienced. First, mothers tend to develop gatekeeper behaviors when they perceive their marriage life as less satisfying or stable. Conflict and ambivalence are two aspects that can trigger maternal gatekeeping. The more conflict and ambivalence in the relationship that a mother experiences, the higher the possibility will be for a mother to develop a gatekeeper behavior to seek emotional connection from their children due to estrangement from their partner.
Second, mothers with higher perceived parenting self-efficacy might form gatekeeper behaviors. Mothers that view themselves as more confident and skilled at parenting would be more likely to experience frustration when a father’s care for or engagement with their children in ways that they disapprove of. A mother’s fear of their partner’s poor parenting skills could fuel their gatekeeper behaviors.
Finally, mothers with poor psychological functioning (e.g., neuroticism, anxiety, and depression) have a higher tendency to become a gatekeeper. Psychological problems might hinder mothers from actively encouraging a father’s involvement in child-rearing because of the lack of energy and motivation, as well as the inability to regulate their negative emotions. For instance, depressed mothers are likely to view themselves negatively and probably feel a stronger sense of parental inadequacy, leading to gatekeeper behaviors.
Tips to minimize gatekeeping behaviors
Eventually, we all know that gatekeeping behaviors are not deliberate and purposeful actions shown by mothers. The conditions and circumstances are factors that drive mothers to develop their gatekeeping behaviors. The practices below can help mothers minimize or even avoid gatekeeping behaviors.
- Use open and honest communication
After becoming parents, communication becomes increasingly important. Some communication skills can be practiced daily, such as practicing “I” statements, avoiding name-calling or putting down the other person, and softening tones when speaking. Keeping open, honest, and objective communication is not always easy, but it is worth the work and investment.
- Have mutual respect
Identifying and respecting each partner’s contributions is essential to improving a couple’s relationship. Some respectful actions can be practiced routinely, for instance, acknowledging others and saying thank you, addressing mistakes with kindness, and valuing each other’s opinions. There may be times of frustration towards the other person’s behaviors, but keeping respect for each other will help make everything run more smoothly and pleasant.
- Have your “me time”
Every parent needs to have time only for themselves. Sometimes, you have to focus on your own needs amidst complicated and demanding parenting life. You can do your “me time” activities, such as meditation, sleep, and journaling.
Maternal gatekeeping is a common phenomenon for all mothers, especially first-timers. Mothers can learn how to control their gatekeeping behaviors, especially the restrictive and negative ones. By having control over these behaviors, a mother can keep the father fully engaged in child-rearing as it is essential in practicing positive coparenting to help in their child’s development.