I’m a dad, and even though fathers are more involved in parenting than ever, I’ll be the first to admit that moms run the parenting world. I’m not here to bash mothers, because I think they have the toughest and most thankless job there is, but I hope you’ll hear me out on this.
As you experience the joy, frustrations, pressures, and fears of motherhood, oftentimes there’s a dad who shares the same joy, frustrations, pressures, and fears that you do. Additionally, he’s trying to find his way and solidify his identity as a father. He wants to be helpful, nurturing, and a true parenting partner.
But then it happens.
Dad hears snickers from mom as he’s attempting to style his daughter’s hair. Mom hovers over dad like a hawk while he changes his baby’s diaper ensure it’s done “correctly.” Mom leaves a handwritten five-page instruction manual for dad when she leaves the house for a few hours.
You get the idea.
Does every mom act this way? Of course not. But everyone reading this probably knows of at least one mom who does. It’s usually not because her man is a complete idiot (and if he is a complete idiot, that brings up a whole new set of issues to discuss), it’s because of good old-fashioned maternal gatekeeping. Yes, that’s an actual thing, defined as the behaviors of moms directed at dads, and those behaviors play a role in how involved fathers are with their children.
When I worked in corporate training, I understood that an extremely big fear of adult learners is to look foolish in front of their peers. Whenever that happens, oftentimes these grown-ass men and women go into a shell, and it damn near takes the jaws of life to get them out.
So if Joe from Accounting went into a shell when the instructor for the billing-system-training class snapped at him for providing the wrong answer, how do you think a man would react to getting snapped at repeatedly — by the woman he loves — for doing something “wrong” in regards to parenting? Unlike Joe from Accounting, these men are students in the most important class ever: being a dad. And if their partners ridicule their abilities to do the job, oftentimes these men will just back away completely and harbor a load of resentment as well.
I’ve lost count of the number of dads who’ve reached out to me since I started writing just to vent about this issue. One dad told me that his desire to be a father has waned significantly due to his wife’s incessant micromanaging. Another dad expressed that he’s so unhappy with his wife’s parenting critiques that they’re currently in counseling in hopes of saving their marriage. The constant second-guessing, fear of messing up, and feeling like an idiot on a daily basis can become too much to take.
Is maternal gatekeeping the only factor that influences a dad’s behavior? Absolutely not, but it certainly is a factor to be taken seriously, and a study showed just that. Moms who offered encouragement to dads had a much stronger impact than criticism (duh, I know).
My wife is similar to most moms in the sense that she’s not a demon hell-bent on crushing the spirits of new dads all over the world; she just wants what’s best for her kids. But there were plenty of times when I had to remind her in no uncertain terms that “I got this.” Because (you guessed it), we dads want what’s best for our kids, too.
Men and women do almost everything differently, so it’s to be expected that dads may tackle parenting tasks a little differently than moms do. That’s okay. He may allow your son to munch on more junk food than you would normally allow, he may dress your daughter in an outfit that doesn’t perfectly match, he may allow his daughter to take more risks at the playground, and he may be the world’s worst hairstylist, but at the end of the day, does any of that really matter? Unless your kid’s life is in danger or there is serious risk of injury, please back the hell up and let him connect with his child. The world needs more men who are intrinsically motivated to be great daddies, not fewer.
The best part about letting a dad be a dad? The bond he will form with his little one will be impenetrable, he will be a more engaged partner, and most of all, he will be happy. That’s a gift that keeps on giving, and your family will reap the benefits.
This post first appeared on Scary Mommy