Mothers at the Gate: How to Keep Co-Parenting Strong

You’re baby is on the way and you’re ready to get into co-parenting with your partner, right? Sometimes, it’s easier said than done…

For moms, there’s a genetic rascal in our DNA that may rear its complex head and compel us to be hyper-vigilant and critical of Dad’s parenting; it incites us to either encourage or limit his access to the baby. When we’re in this mode, we’re “gatekeeping” and our partner is left out in the cold.

Gate·keep·er ˈGātˌkēpər/ An attendant at a gate who is employed to control who goes through it. A person or thing that controls access to something.

 When we slide into gatekeeping, here’s what we’re thinking and saying:

What if he drops the baby?

Why on earth is he rocking her that way?

Those aren’t the right swaddling steps.

I can’t leave him alone with her.

For Pete’s sake, I’ll just do it myself.

Does this sound like the musings of a happy mom? Not so much…

Gatekeeping isolates Dad, sabotages his self-confidence, and negatively affects your marital relationship. It also prevents you from receiving support that’s essential for your physical and emotional well-being.

I hover and correct when I know that’s not the way I would do it. I know I’m doing it and I can’t stop myself. I remember we talked about it when I came to Boot Camp as a pregnant woman, and I thought ‘I won’t do that,’ but I don’t have a filter when it comes to correcting. So, yeah, I will leave. I know he’ll text me if he needs something. Because if I’m in another room and I hear him I will go in there and I’m right back to correcting him.
— New Mom

Okay, so now that you know it exists, how to keep gatekeeping at bay? Here are some strategies:

Gatekeeping Conversations with your partner before your baby is born will minimize in-the-moment conflict. Discuss strategies for staying supportive of one another. By staying aware of the potential for gatekeeping, you’re better prepared to resolve it together.

Create a gatekeeping code word. When Dad feels you’re gatekeeping, he uses it to let you know so you can do whatever it takes to let go: leave the room, run an errand, go for a walk, take a shower—whatever helps you relax and ease up on Dad. When you feel gatekeeping taking over your brain, use the word to let Dad know you’re in a mental spot and need time to relax your mind.

Let go of unrealistic expectations. A 2015 study analyzed the driving forces behind maternal gatekeeping and found that moms with perfectionist expectations were more likely to gatekeep. Remember, parenting is a daily challenge and you’re both learning as you go. Allow your partner to do his best and express his uniqueness; there’s no one right way to do things. And being less critical of your partner will help you be less critical of yourself.

Say yes to participation. Champion Dad’s involvement in all aspects of child care, and opportunities for him to get time with the baby. Encourage him to get out with the baby and meet up with friends or just have some one-on-one time outside of the house. It’s an antidote for gatekeeping, keeps you both focused on teamwork, and gives you windows of time to yourself, for rest or whatever you choose.

Appreciate your differences. You and Dad won’t parent in the exact same way and that’s a good thing. Your baby benefits from your differences and you balance each other out. Appreciate that Dad will have his own way of doing things, and insisting on your way or re-doing tasks he’s already handled creates negativity for both of you.

Having an involved dad is really important not just for the baby but for a new mom as well, to help her balance work and family,” she says. With this in mind, consider dialing back any perfectionist expectations that compel you to see your partner as a less-than-ideal dad and encourage an unconfident father to spend more time with the baby, so he beefs up his dad self-esteem.
— Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, Mother & Psychologist