This Sunday is Father’s Day, so in honor of all the incredible dads I know, I wanted to talk about a subject that I see come up A LOT with my clients.
It’s called ‘maternal gatekeeping‘ and it’s when moms (especially Type A, ambitious, bold women) have a hard time letting go at home and allowing their partners to step up. The end result is Dad feels shut out, and Mom feels resentful, overworked, and exhausted.
This type of dynamic can also do a real number on your sex life, because it’s hard to feel sexy and desired when you think your partner is talking down to you, or when you don’t even have time to honor your own needs or practice any form of self-care because you are so busy taking care of the entire family morning, noon, and night.
So, I was not surprised when I came across this new study which found that men’s experience of fatherhood is largely dependent on the amount of faith he feels his partner has in him.
The study, which was performed by researchers at Ohio State University, found that ‘maternal gatekeeping’ colors the way that men view their role as fathers and as partners.
The researchers found that when moms didn’t show much faith in their partners’ ability to be fathers, it greatly impacted the way these men felt about their relationships and their new family. The less faith their partners showed in them, the less satisfied these dads felt in their roles as parents and the less happy they were in their marriages.
In other words, when moms showed little faith in their husbands’ ability to parent and were strict ‘maternal gatekeepers,’ it depleted their partners’ joy and desire to participate in child-rearing.
Not only can this type of relationship dynamic harm mom and dad’s connection and intimacy, but it can also be detrimental to kids too.
It really is a lose-lose-lose situation. The moms wind up grouchy and angry because they are doing all the work, the dads feel useless and attacked for no reason, and the children don’t get to create this loving, intimate bond with their fathers because their interactions are limited and highly stressful.
So, what should couples do?
Letting go of control isn’t easy, especially when you are a new mom, and especially if you are already a Type A persona. As a recovering Type A woman and a mom of 3, I know this all too well! But, you have to sit back and realize that letting your partner help isn’t about him doing it exactly the way YOU would do it, but about allowing him the room and the right to make his own mistakes and to build that bond with his child.
In addition, showing appreciation will go a long way in helping your partner to feel supported.
Give your partner 3 appreciations a day. And I mean very specific, very meaningful appreciations, like saying you loved watching him read to the baby or that he really handled the tantrum in the grocery store well.
Most importantly, set an intention not to be a ‘gatekeeper’ but to be a conduit between your child and his father.
You don’t want to be the boundary that keeps your partner from being a parent, you want to be the bridge. Doing so will benefit all of you. The more you let your partner step up and be a parent, the more time you will have to practice self-care and ensure that your mental health is on point as well.
We all parent better when we do so with support, rest, mindfulness and the realization that we aren’t alone and we can ask for help. Parenting can be one of the most difficult stressors on a relationship, but that is actually a good thing. That is an invitation from the universe to deeply examine those dynamics and behaviors and find out where we need to grow. Discomfort is here for a reason. It has something to teach us. Don’t run from it. You got this.
Here’s my assignment to you: Clearly create an intention which will help you to steer your energy in the direction you want your relationship with your partner to go, specifically as it relates to parenting. Here are some ideas:
- I will notice my resistance to his help with curiosity. I will stay open and let myself feel that tension.
- I will be gentle with myself when I struggle to break old patterns.
- I will be open to the idea that my partner may have a better solution than I do.
- I will own my need for control–out loud–by saying something like “I am having a hard time letting you help me right now. I am feeling uncomfortable that I am not in charge. I am going to sit with that feeling but I wanted you to know it’s not because I don’t love you with my whole heart and think you are an amazing father.”
Creating new life together is one of the most incredible journeys, and it’s going to be one that stretches you both past your comfort zones….but your relationship CAN become deeper and more fulfilling as a result of parenting with your partner.
I will end by saying Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, especially my wonderful father who helped me become the woman I am today, and to my husband Sam who has helped me to release my “Type A mama” persona and become the relaxed, loving, soulful parent I always wanted to be.
It’s a day-by-day journey, but I know I am on the right path. And I never could have done it alone.