A new study conducted at The Ohio State University shows that new mothers decide how much they want their partners involved in parenting and women who are particularly confident about their child care skills are more likely to discourage the father's involvement in child care.
On the other hand, fathers who are less confident in their own ability to raise children may also face barriers to child care, the findings showed. The study found that mothers also limit the father's involvement in child-rearing when they perceive their couple relationship to be less stable.
"Maternal gatekeeping" is the term the researchers use to describe the behaviors and attitudes of mothers that may support or limit the father's involvement in child-rearing.
The bottom line is that new mothers are assessing their partner's suitability to be a parent, said co-author of the study Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University in Columbus, US.
"New mothers are looking at their partner and thinking, 'Is he going to be here for the long haul? Does he know what he is doing with children'," Schoppe-Sullivan said. "This assessment by mothers is really what is most critical in gatekeeping among the couples we studied," Schoppe-Sullivan noted.
The researchers used data from a long-term study investigating how dual-earner couples adjust to becoming parents for the first time. In all, 182 couples participated in this study. All the couples were assessed twice: once during the third trimester of pregnancy and again three months after the baby was born.
Results showed that mothers were more likely to push fathers away from child-rearing at three months if they reported during their third trimester that they had considered divorce or separation and that they did not think things were going well with their partner.
Mothers also were more likely to "close the gate" on fathers who reported during the third trimester that they didn't feel confident about their parenting skills, such as the ability to do things like soothe a crying baby.
Mothers who were perfectionists or who were more anxious and depressed were also more likely to limit the father's child care involvement. The study appeared in the journal Parenting: Science and Practice