Tag Archives: burnout

“Maternal Gatekeeping” Can Destroy Our Relationships

Maternal Gatekeeping Sandra gets home from work and finds her husband bathing their toddler. She marches up to him and said, “You’ve got water all over the floor! Stop! Let me do this!” Her husband fires back, “Fine!”

Traditionally childrearing is considered a woman’s job but the world is changing. Today women are excelling in education, succeeding in careers and entering into relationships holding their own weight. Men are also stepping outside of their social gender role, and are 3x more involved in their children’s lives compared to their father’s generation. Most mothers rejoice over this trend, yet a good 21% consciously or unconsciously engage in “maternal gatekeeping” that may dissuade fathers from taking on more childcare tasks.

Whether due to natural instinct or societal expectations, many mothers identify themselves as the primary caretaker of their children and hold this value dearly. Maternal gatekeeping happens when mothers believe fathers are not as competent in the caretaking tasks due to the same set of societal expectations, and behave in a way that discourages the fathers’ effort, thereby obstructing collaborative parenting.

It is understandable that mothers want to do what’s best for the children. We need a small dose of maternal gatekeeping to keep us parents organized and get things done, but too much of it can hinder father-child bonding and affect couples relationships. Having it keeps mothers overwhelmed and experience maternal burnout. Raising children is a tough job and mothers need support, especially those who are working outside of home.  More men are willing to step in nowadays so moms, you can allow yourself some rest. You deserve less stress.

How to prevent yourself from being a “Maternal Gatekeeper”?

  • Notice it – Sometimes our maternal instinct is so ingrained that we don’t even notice we are being the “gatekeeper.” Having an awareness of our behavior can help us make conscious decisions as parents.
  • Let go of high standards – Your partner has his own style of parenting. It’s unrealistic to expect your partner to do everything within your standards.
  • Focus on the big picture – Your kids will not remember the water splashing on the floor, but they will remember the fun times when their daddy made silly soapy hairstyles for them. (If the kids are old enough, you can coach daddy to have them clean up the mess together.)
  • Communication sandwich — If you need to communicate with your partner on how he can do things differently, consider talking to him after the fact when you two are in a good mood, and use two compliments to buffer one criticism.
  • Talk to a professional — Therapy can help you gain some relaxation skills so you can be happy even with soapy water on the floor.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

(Image source: GettyImage)