The politics of maternal gatekeeping

A majority of working mums admit they are guilty of maternal gatekeeping, not delegating to their partners if they have one, according to a poll.

The poll found 45% said they were maternal gatekeepers, compared to 24% who said they weren’t and 5% who weren’t sure. The rest said they did not have partners.

One of the women who answered the poll said: “Gatekeeping limits your time and sucks the fun out of you.”

Another remarked: “I couldn’t survive if I didn’t delegate. We were both there at conception stands to reason both of us should be able help. Though I do the bulk – that’s natural, but he is a fantastic decent helper.”

Recent books on equal parenting have spoken of the difficulties some women have to share childcare and housework duties with their partner and how these hold them back in the world of work since they effectively mean women face a double shift.

In their book, Getting to 50/50: how working parents can have it all, Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober recommend the motto ‘Let go and let Dad’. They say: “To make 50/50 [shared parenting] work, you have to remember that taking on more than your share as a parent (even though you’re the mum) will skew the division of labour, interfere with your husband’s experience as a parent, and shrink the common ground you have as a couple.”

They counsel: “Resist the urge to take over and do it all (or most of it). Resist the instinct to be a control freak. It’s normal (particularly among new mothers), but if you don’t encourage and support your husband in his efforts to do his share, then you’re undermining him and setting yourself up for a difficult solo journey.”

The book also talks about men who think their partners have overly high standards with regard to cleaning. One man describes his wife’s ‘vigilante attitude’ to cleaning. It also cites marriage expert Joshua Coleman’s research showing women with perfectionist expectations have lower satisfaction in their marriages overall. He says: “When mums have rigid standards, dads walk away from the bargaining table.”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, echoes these sentiments, saying: “When it comes to children, fathers often take their cues from mothers. This gives a mother great power to encourage or impede the father’s involvement. If she acts as a gatekeeper mother and is reluctant to hand over responsibility, or worse, questions the father’s efforts, he does less.”

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