So here’s a term I learnt recently – Maternal Gatekeeping.
This is what psychologists refer to as a ‘a mother who’s beliefs and behaviour inhibit greater father involvement in family life.’
For me, on many occassions this rang true. I remember there were times when I pushed my husband out of the picture when it came to getting our little boy dressed, because dammit I’m going to be honest, I was just quicker and better at it! I could snap socks over those wriggly feet in an instant, I could free a rigid arm out of a vest with ease and I could put on a nappy so neat it could have been in a pampers ad. I couldn’t bear to see my baby screaming while my husband took an absolute age to get him dressed and faffed over fiddly buttons and trapped fingers, it was just so much easier when I did it.
As for the night-time, he didn’t even get a look in, I was breastfeeding at the time so it was always going to me who did the majority of 2am rocking, swaying and ‘shushing’. I might have been so exhausted I wanted to cry, and did many times, but there was no chance of me letting him take over and wake up or ‘over stimulate’ our son.
I knew just how to hold my baby and lay his head in the little spot between my neck and shoulder which he loved (and still does). I knew just how to pat his bum, stroke his hair and soothe him back off to sleep. So why was I going to let my husband take an hour longer to get the same effect when every second of sleep was so precious? What’s even worse is that I moaned about him never getting up at night to help to other mums! The poor bloke couldn’t win!
You have all these dreams and ideas before you have kids of how you are going to joint parent, share responsibilities, bedtimes and feeds but the reality is you will do everything differently to how you said you would and it will start right from day 1. This wont be everyone’s ‘different’ of course but I guess this was just ours.
I reflect back at all of this as I type on how I should of played things differently but at the time it’s so easy to fall into. A mother usually has longer off work to get to know babys likes and dislikes and have greater access to the latest advice through baby groups or professionals, so of course that’s going to build their confidence and help get to know this little human you have created better than anyone.
While dad on the other hand might have spent all day at work and only have an hour or so with baby before bed, so in turn doesn’t have opportunity to ‘read’ their child as well as mum would. You’re so low on sleep and mental function (I’m pretty sure my brain has never returned from wherever it went to when I pushed a human out of my vagina) so you just end up doing the easiest thing to survive. And for me I really did feel like I was surviving some (most) days!
My husband – Rod, (I really should of introduced him by now) once said to me during many a row “I might not do things to your standard, but they will still be good enough” and he was so right.
I still find it hard to not unfold a sock just right or twist pants a little more to the centre when dad has dressed him (although I admit I might do it when he’s out of sight) but I have to try to let him be a parent too. He’s an amazing dad and I’m pretty sure if my son could talk he would say the same!
Dad does the stories better, he plays out the actions, puts on the voices and makes reading much more fun than I do, in fact there have been numerous times now when my little boy will choose to take a book to his daddy over me simply because he does it better than I do.
When he has bath time with me he usually cries because daddy doesn’t get the soap in his eyes – I’m more of a chuck water in your face kind of mother where as dad’s much more gentle. Dad takes him out for daily adventures (even if these are just in the garden while I’m usually tidying up around them) so in many ways dad does it better.
We are both better at different things, as is any parent, so instead of closing the gate on the way dad does it, I’m going to open it a bit more and allow dad to just be dad and learn how to do it his way – find his own special rock, sway or cuddle spot.
I can’t promise I wont ‘gatekeep’ anymore but, to my husband, I will try to be better because after all ‘good enough’ is all our boy needs and together our ‘good enough’ is his wonderful.