It’s natural for mothers to feel a sense of ownership over the baby they carried for nine months. However, it is essential to not only acknowledge the contributions of the baby’s father, but to encourage his frequent participation in the baby’s life, according to a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.
In the study, researchers examined 97 Illinois couples to investigate the practice of gatekeeping, which "involves things that moms do that either encourage or discourage fathers’ involvement with their children," says Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an author of the study and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Ohio State University. The couples were given a survey before the baby was born to determine their views on the importance of fathers’ involvement, followed by a questionnaire regarding the mother’s gatekeeping tendencies about 3 1/2 months post-partum.
"We did find that when dads were more involved, the co-parenting relationship—how satisfied they are with their relationship as parents—was more positive," says Schoppe-Sullivan.
Moms being outwardly critical made dads less involved with baby’s care, even if both parents expressed belief that fathers play a crucial role in parenting.
"Arrange time alone for him and the baby, and ask for his opinion often," Schoppe-Sullivan says. "For example, if it might get chilly out, ask if he thinks the baby needs a hat." It’s also productive to compliment him on his parenting, both at home and in front of others.
Her advice to new and expectant mothers? "I’d let new moms know that they have some degree of influence, it seems, over what their partners do in parenting … one thing a mom can do is to encourage a dad’s involvement, and not do subtle things to discourage it."