Researchers at Ohio State University have found that mothers play an important role in determining how much fathers get involved in taking care of their infants.
The findings are based on a study, which showed that fathers were more involved in the day-to-day care of their infants when they received active encouragement from their wife or partner.
In fact, this encouragement was important even after taking into account fathers' and mothers' views about how involved dads should be, the overall quality of the couple's parenting relationship, and how much mothers worked outside the home.
Besides this, fathers' beliefs about how involved they should be in childcare did not matter when mothers were highly critical of fathers' parenting.
In other words, fathers didn't put their beliefs into practice when faced with a particularly judgmental mother.
"Mothers are in the driver's seat," said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, co-author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.
"Mothers can be very encouraging to fathers, and open the gate to their involvement in child care, or be very critical, and close the gate.
"This is the first real evidence that mothers, through their behaviour, act as gatekeepers by either fostering or curtailing how much fathers take part in caring for their baby," she added.
For the study, researchers included 97 couples in the Midwest who were married or cohabiting, and who were expecting a child when the study began.
Before the birth, the couples were asked to complete a survey that probed their beliefs about the roles of fathers in taking care of children.
About 3.5 months after the child was born, the researchers conducted an
The couples completed questionnaires in which each partner reported the mothers' gate keeping behaviours.
They were asked how often the mother responded to the father's parenting behaviours with encouragement or criticism.
Couples also completed questionnaires that examined how much the fathers were involved in childcare, and how well the couple got along when dealing with the baby.
Finally, the researchers videotaped the couple interacting together with the baby to see how involved fathers were in taking care of the baby and how competent they were in caring for the infant.
The couples were asked to change their infant's clothes together and the researchers watched to see who did the most work and how fathers interacted with the baby.
This study showed that encouragement by mothers is the key to in shape the role of fathers.
"Encouragement is very important, and really makes a difference in how much fathers participate," she said.
The study is published in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.