Are you guilty of maternal gatekeeping? A behaviour that Mums exhibit to stay in control of anything that impacts or involves their kids.
I learned the term “maternal gatekeeping” from Australian Michael Ray, LinkedIn Top Voice for Gender Equity. Maternal gatekeeping is a behaviour that Mums exhibit to stay in control of anything that impacts or involves their kids. When I did a little research I found that there is even an academic study on this, dating as far back as 1999. It involves three dimensions:
- reluctance to relinquish responsibility for family matters by setting rigid standards
- external validation of mothering identity
- differentiated concepts of family roles
This can manifest itself in behaviours such as:
- Smiling indulgently when a partner is in “charge” and making comments about returning to scenes of chaos.
- Putting down the input of other caregivers, including grandparents, babysitters, in-laws, and especially the child’s father.
- Micro-managing caregiving and setting rigid rules about the way things need to be done.
- Criticising the efforts of others, especially over minor issues.
- Saying it will be quicker to do something themselves.
I have definitely seen it and know I have been guilty of it myself. I’ve even experienced it as a caregiver. You may feel you know what is right for your child, but it makes it difficult for other caregivers to participate. Especially the Dad!
Reasons for maternal gatekeeping
There are a range of reasons a mother engages in maternal gatekeeping and vary according to the situation. It will depend on the individuals involved, and the circumstances. Mothers may find it hard to give up the responsibility for their children even only for an afternoon. It maybe that the father has indeed been negligent or can’t be trusted. We know that happens. Or perhaps he may simply fail to meet exceptionally and maybe unrealistically high standards.
In a podcast I did with Ian Dinwiddy founder of Inspiring Dads during the pandemic, he reminded me when Mums micro-manage (the maternal gatekeeping element) there is a risk of causing the father to back away. One line from Ian stuck with me “You only forget the spare nappy (diaper) once.”
Check out: Share the load – Online Discussion and Coaching Session with Ian Dinwiddy
Another reason is one I have observed over the years. Being the Chief Domestic Officer gives many women the opportunity to shine in a way they are denied professionally.
But what if this behaviour embeds even further gender-stereotyped behaviour in the family and household, which the kids will model in later years. The woman as the mother who balances family and career. The dad as the focused revenue generator. I have never (ever) seen a post from a man saying they struggle to balance their families and careers. @JackBarton has offered but he is too busy with 5 kids and running supplies to Ukraine.
The downside of maternal gatekeeping
You may feel you know what is right for your child but it makes it difficult for other caregivers to participate. Especially the Dad!
- It creates a barrier for fathers who as Michael Ray said on Twitter may want to be actively involved with their kids. This will of course be accentuated in situations of divorce or death of the mother.
Until we call out the BS "lazy dad" narrative & acknowledge & address the barriers men who want to be more actively involved in their kid's lives often hit from employers, media & even their wives (maternal gatekeeping) not much will change.
— Michael Ray (@MichaelJRay4) March 23, 2022
- It embeds gender roles which spills into the workplace. This is why we hear so much about “working mums” which leads to gender bias and discrimination. If women allowed men to assume more responsibility then this would share the load. Research shared in the Harvard Business Review suggest that:
Compared to before the pandemic, 47% of employees are more likely to put family and personal life over work.
People’s priorities are shifting and work is no longer the main source of fulfillment which will have an impact on the family and home life. It is also a great opportunity to #BreakTheBias
Dads should take paternity leave
One great way to do this is for the dads to take their paternity leave. I wrote about this last week. Paternity leave generally only has a 27% take-up rate. Only 8 US states offer men parental leave. No wonder they have so many “mom” movements.
As Michael Ray also said on Twitter “Mums also fall victim to outdated gender expectations & feel the need to lead in the home. Do dads parent differently to mums? I certainly hope so. Diversity in leadership isn’t only good in organisations, it’s great for kid’s developmental benefits also.”
He is right, we talk about diversity in the workplace but never at home. Time to change.
Create an inclusive workplace for all, with 3Plus’ Unconscious Bias Training Workshop.