If I had a dollar for every time a mom told me about how much more she does for her kids and the home than her partner… well, you know how the saying goes. I would probably still be helping moms (because I love what I do, and it’s incredibly rewarding to hear when a mom sees positive changes in her life and relationship), but life would be a lot more luxurious. 😂
While there is so much I can share about ways to divide up the childcare and household tasks, encouraging you to delegate and hire help where and when you can, etc, that is another topic for another blog post.
In this post, we are exploring a very specific way in which you might be unintentionally contributing to the problem- maternal gatekeeping. Not sure what it is or if you are doing it? Read on. I’ll also give some tips on how to stop doing it if you discover that you are.
Maternal Gatekeeping- What is it and why is it a problem?
Maternal gatekeeping is what it sounds like- the mom has a “gate” that she opens or closes when it comes to childcare and household tasks, meaning she either allows her partner to be involved or figuratively “shuts them out”. And, often, even when the mom does allow her partner in, she overlooks every detail of what they do and criticizes or redoes it if it’s different than the way she would have done it.
I’m sure you can think of a few examples in your own life; here are some common ones- the way your partner feeds the baby, how they prep or warm up the bottle, how they dress the baby, how they change diapers, how they do bathtime, how they do bedtime, etc.
But guess what? Typically, when we gate keep, it comes at a cost and we end up hurting ourselves. What happens? Our partner becomes resentful and/or checks out. They don’t want to help if they feel they can never do it right, and they will avoid offering and come up with reasons why they can’t when you ask.
I used to gate keep when it came to bath time. I would comment on the water temperature, the methods of washing, the time it took, the mess it made, etc. I liked to keep bath time quick and neat. My husband would give our daughter a fun time- taking out all the toys, playing around with her, and spending extra time so she could enjoy it. We each had our ways for our reasons.
When I did bath time, it was after being the one to pick my daughter up from the babysitter or playgroup, taking her on any little errands, preparing and feeding her dinner, and keeping her entertained solo until my husband came home from work. By the time bath time came around, I wanted to be “done” for the night. So I did it quickly, got her into her PJs, did our bedtime routine, and put her into her crib. And then it was “freedom”. I’m sure a lot of you can relate to that feeling! 😉
When my husband did bath time, it was after coming home from a long day at work. He didn’t get those couple or few hours to chill and bond with our daughter. So he would use bath time to do that. Chat with her, play with her, and spend time with her. I remember viewing it as a whole “production”.
Because of our different experiences, I didn’t see where he was coming from back then. Hindsight is 20-20, right?
And because of not seeing where he was coming from, I would make comments on how he was taking too long or not doing it the “right” way.
Guess what? He started avoiding doing bath time. Because I did it “better”. “Leave it to the pro,” he would think. And when we were in a rush to get her to bed before the babysitter came, if we had somewhere to be, he would tell me to do it before I got dressed. “You do it quicker, and we’re in a rush.” You know who put that line of thinking in his head? Me. I had only myself to blame.
Yes, you might be thinking, “well why didn’t he just start doing it quicker or learn how to do it ‘better’?”. But think about yourself. Imagine if your mom or mother-in-law commented on everything you did with the baby when you got home from the hospital. Wouldn’t you get annoyed, or even resentful? It wouldn’t exactly get you in a cooperative mood.
The story has a positive ending. For me, at least. 😂 When I was getting further along into my pregnancy with our second daughter, bath time got physically uncomfortable for me. My range of motion felt more limited, and I would get backaches, stomach pains, etc. So, my husband took over. And I kept my mouth shut.
You know what happened? When bath time became part of his regular routine with our daughter, he started varying the lengths. Some nights the bath time was long and fun. And some nights it was quick and neat. Because he was doing it every night, he didn’t feel like he had so little time to connect. If it had been an extra long day, he would do it faster; if he had more energy that night, he would take longer.
Out of necessity, I had to open the “gate” and let go. And it only benefitted me.
How to Stop Maternal Gatekeeping
Now that you know what maternal gatekeeping is, and what it’s costing you, the obvious question is how do you stop it.
I stopped gatekeeping bath time because I needed to, but it opened my eyes to other areas where I was hurting myself and made me learn to stop trying to control the situation.
The first step in stopping maternal gatekeeping is to get honest with yourself and figure out when and how you’re doing it.
Do you make comments about how your partner dresses the baby, feeds the baby, etc.
Now that you’ve discovered the ways you’re doing it, you need to ask yourself a question- “Is the way my partner is doing this just different from the way I would do it, or is it not safe (or not aligned with our values of how we want to raise our child)?”
If what your partner is doing is just different from the way you would do, then learn to bite your tongue. Leave the room if you have to, if you feel you won’t be able to help yourself. Trust me, “future you” will appreciate it.
If what your partner is doing is not safe, like they’re not cutting the grapes the right way or the bath water is too hot, then educate them in a respectful and loving way. Express appreciation to them for pitching in, explain why the way they’re doing it can be harmful, and then explain the right way to do it.
“I really appreciate you taking care of Beth’s snack time. I’m not sure if you realized, when grapes aren’t cut in half lengthwise, they are a major choking hazard and can get stuck in the baby’s throat. In the future, when you feed her grapes, please make sure to cut them this way.”
Can you imagine how the reaction to that will be different than saying, “Ohmygod, are you crazy?! Beth can choke like that! Just forget about it, I’ll take care of snack time.”?
If it’s not aligned with your values in how you want to raise your child, then figure out if it’s a one time thing that you can let pass and isn’t worth making a big deal over or if it’s a recurring thing that you want stopped. If it’s the former, let it go. If it’s the latter, again, have a respectful and loving conversation about it.
A one time thing would be like letting your kid have a special treat at grandma’s house that you typically don’t want them to have. A recurring thing would be like disciplining in a way that isn’t aligned with the way you want to parent (which is a topic for another blog 😉). Something like that, you can have a conversation with them to explain why it’s not aligned and share how they can do it better.
Maternal gatekeeping is when the mom controls her partner’s (or others’) involvement with child care and things around the home. She may not let them get involved or critique when they do.
Gatekeeping hurts more than helps the mom, as their partner stops offering to help, avoids helping when asked, and may feel resentful.
Get honest with ways you may be gatekeeping and ask yourself whether what your partner is doing is different than your way or unsafe. If it’s just different, let it go; if it’s unsafe, then educate them how to be safe in a respectful and loving way and express appreciation for what they did.