New mothers may push fathers away from aspects of child care if they have doubts about the future of their relationship, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Ohio State University surveyed 182 working couples who were expecting their first child using a range of interviews and observational methods to gather data at different stages: firstly during the third trimester and then three months after the woman had given birth.
They found that women who expressed confidence in their ability as a mother while they were still pregnant were more likely to limit the father’s involvement once the baby was born. This was also true of women who described themselves as perfectionists and those who experienced anxiety and depression.
Study co-author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan is a human sciences professor at Ohio State. She said that mothers who are about to have their first child will often ask themselves questions about their partner’s suitability as a parent.
This leads to a process the authors called “maternal gatekeeping”. If a new mother wishes to limit the father’s involvement, or “close the gate”, this will prompt behaviour such as criticising the father’s parenting and redoing tasks he has already done.
Dr Schoppe-Sullivan said there was a “societal belief that new mothers have a natural instinct to be a parent, even though they don’t have any more experience than new fathers”. As a result, she claimed, confident women are often “seen as the expert parent, while fathers are left to be the apprentice”.
The results were published in the academic journal Parenting: Science and Practice.