Real Moms Reveal Their Gatekeeping Ways

Maternal Gatekeeping is described by Jancee Dunn, author of How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, as follows: “If [my husband] Tom was struggling to bathe our daughter Sylvie when she was a newborn, I’d grab her and say, ‘Let me do it.’ If he tried to change her diaper, I’d direct him over his shoulder. This behavior, in which mothers limit or control the fathers’ interactions with their kids, is called maternal gatekeeping—and I did it all the time. It puts off a hesitant new dad (and who isn’t hesitant, at first?) and makes him less likely to lend a hand.” Science backs her up. Maternal gatekeeping hurts moms: “One study found that gatekeeping women in dual-earner couples did five more hours of family work per week, and had less equal divisions of labor than women classified as collaborators,” reports CNN. And it may even hurt our kids. A different study published in The Journal of Family Psychology “revealed associations between maternal gatekeeping and fathers’ parenting quality. In particular, fathers who experienced greater [discouragement] at 3-months postpartum showed greater relative declines in parenting quality at 9-months postpartum.”

So why do we do it? One theory is that motherhood can feel so scary, we exert control over whatever we possibly can, to mitigate our own anxiety—including about how much syrup goes on our kids’ pancakes (and, for the record, he poured too much). Experts also suggest the pressure to be perfect mothers (and friends, daughters, professionals, wives, etc.) plays a role. “Gatekeeping really seems to depend on how much a woman internalizes societal standards about being a good mom," Ohio State University psychology professor and gatekeeping researcher Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan tells CNN. "The more you care about being viewed as a good mom, the less likely you are to give up control over that domain." Here, real women fess up to the ways they’ve stood guard.

Calling All New Moms Are You a Maternal Gatekeeper?

little girl sitting on her bed with clothes laid out nearby
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Clothes Call

"I once went away for the weekend to visit my sister. Before I left, and after working till 9 p.m. every night that week, I laid out matching outfits for my two girls—down to the accessories and socks. While I was away, anytime my husband texted me a photo, they’d be dressed in mismatched prints and crazy color combos. Turns out he’d ignored my outfits completely and just pulled random stuff from their drawers. They had a great time. They were safe and happy. I let it slide, but it annoyed me for weeks."

mom and daughter playing indoor camping with a tent fort
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The Bedtime Blockader

“I went back to work full-time when my son was five months old. Bedtime became this sacred thing to me. If I could manage to sneak out of the office at 5 p.m., commute home, sprint six blocks in heels, and make it to our apartment in time to put him down by 6:30 p.m. (our target after a torturous sleep training journey), I felt like I was doing something right as his mom. So I became obsessed with this made-up benchmark. To this day, I still have a hard time letting my husband put our two kids to sleep without me there, even after I’ve been with them all day. I complain I have no time for myself. And yet I protest when he offers to do dinner, bath and bedtime alone. Sometimes I even sneak into their rooms after he’s put them down just to kiss them. And if they wake up and need me to soothe them back to sleep, well, I can’t say I’m disappointed.”

little girl yelling while her dad tried to feed her from a bottle

You Call That A Burp?

“In the early days with a newborn, I felt like a champion for breastfeeding. (It's hard!) But, oh my God, I was so sleep-deprived nursing my still-nocturnal baby. My husband offered to step in after the one-month mark with a bottle (something my baby easily took to) so that I could get some shut-eye and I couldn't just let him do that. I would wake up just to chide him about not nailing the right temp in the bottle warmer, or not getting a quality burp before continuing on. Because he would never figure that stuff out himself, right?”

woman trying to close an overpacked suitcae
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One For The Road

“Before we leave for any vacation, I spend a solid week complaining about how I’m the only one who can pack the family and it’s so hard and blah blah blah, woe is me. But then, should my husband offer to help, I immediately rebuff him. C’mon: There’s no way on earth he’d remember to pack the kids’ toothbrushes, let alone pool floaties.”