Shock! Dads have a better parenting game when mums stop with the criticism

Dad holding baby

Something called ‘maternal gatekeeping’ has now been scientifically proven to affect the way dads look after their kids, but is it just another thing to blame mums for?

Maternal what?!

Maternal gatekeeping is a term used to describe mums who block or criticise their partner’s efforts at parenting.

While mums face regular criticism for the way they raise their little ones (the term ‘mummy shaming’ didn’t invent itself!) and have had to learn to reconcile this kind of commentary, experts say that dads who feel critiqued may shut down and parent less actively.

It’s not just any old criticism that’s seeing dads clock out of parenting, it’s this ‘maternal gatekeeping’ or criticism from their partner – the baby’s mum – that’s impacting their approach to their child.

“The behaviours of mothers can shape how fathers interact with their children,” lead author of the study, Ohio University’s Lauren Altenburger said.

“Mothers may not even be aware of how their criticisms of the father may end up negatively influencing how dads parent.”

Dads reported ‘gate closing’ mums taking over baby-related tasks, when they felt they weren’t being done properly, or giving irritated looks when dads were parenting their child. ‘Gate opening’ mums encouraged dads to help bathe the baby or let their partner know they appreciate his contributions to parenting.


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Dads are more sensitive?

Study co-author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan said their work shows that dads are more sensitive to critiques than mums – and that outdated views on paternal roles may be contributing to this trend.

 “Many fathers may be more vulnerable to criticism than mothers are because there is still less support in our society for fathers as active, involved parents,” she said. 

“If fathers feel their partners don’t have confidence in their parenting, they may withdraw, and become less positive and sensitive with their child,” Altenburger said. 

Ugh! This is obviously troubling news for mums (and babies and dads), but putting frustration aside it does provide some insight into how some dads behave when there’s a baby in the house. That said, it’s hard not to feel a bit cross, and wonder what would happen if mums responded in the same way.

New dad on phone

“Giving fathers the space to parent”

The study author say we can learn from their results, which point to treating dads with more compassion.

“It is about giving fathers the space to parent, too. Both parents need to keep communication open and not be so quick to criticise,” Lauren Altenburger suggests.

It’s clear that everyone needs as much support – and as little criticism – as possible when it comes to raising babies.

Here’s hoping that dads can be encouraged to be resilient in the face of micro-managing or criticism – and build their bonds with their children, rather than tap out.

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