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USA Today Recognizes Maternal Gatekeeping

New research into the idea of "maternal gatekeeping" shows how attitudes and actions by the mother may promote or impede father involvement.

USA Today Recognizes Maternal Gatekeeping

Men's News Daily
14 May 2009

USA Today Recognizes Maternal Gatekeeping
By Robert Franklin, Esq

Well knock me over with a feather.  I would never have guessed that a publication as mainstream as USA Today would get around to recognizing, understanding and reporting on maternal gatekeeping.  But they did and here it is (USA Today, 4 May 2009).

The article quotes the sources you'd expect on the subject and points out that, when mothers take on the gatekeeping function, men tend to abandon the field of childcare.  It also describes how culturally ingrained that behavior can be.  One woman is quoted as saying that giving up the power of the bermtter requires far more than just standing back and "letting" the child's father do childcare; it means accepting that, when the child falls on the playground he/she may come running not to her but to her husband.  And not only that, it means dealing with feelings of peer pressure.  After all, there must be something wrong with a mother whose child would do something like that, right?

The article rightly points out the societal and cultural obstacles to truly shared parenting.  It brings the concept of maternal gatekeeping into public discourse as it's never been before.  USA Today is about as mainstream as media get, and I'd wager that few of its readers have ever heard the term.  I'd also wager many of them have seen maternal gatekeeping in practice and will register a 'click' when they read the article.

All that said, the piece is not without its shortcomings.  Most glaring is the caption beside the photo at the top.  It quotes one man saying, "'my mom strongly identified with the feminist movement,' Silas says, which is why he easily identifies with equal parenting."

Cough.  So now feminists support fathers' rights in family courts, which they'd have to do if they're to support equal parenting?  No, in fact, NOW (National Organisation of Women) and other feminist organizations miss no opportunity to actively oppose fathers' rights.

As but one example, just last week, New Jersey NOW held a demonstration claiming there's a "national crisis" of family courts awarding child custody to abusive fathers.  The claim is nonsense; there is essentially no evidence to support it and each example its proponents offer to support it has fallen of its own weight.  But NOW and other feminists keep making the imaginary claim whose sole aim is to keep more fathers from their children and more children from their fathers.

In defense of the article and the man (Silas) it quotes, the feminism he grew up with did support fathers' rights, as a look at quotations from former NOW president Karen DeCrow shows.  But no more.  It's one of the great hypocrisies of feminism that "gender equality" has come to exclude, for them, the right of a father to have access to his child and the child's right to grow up with its father.

And the USA Today piece doesn't deal with the extreme forms of maternal gatekeeping like kidnapping and murder to keep the father from the child and vice versa.  But that's OK with me.  That the practice of maternal gatekeeping has made it to such a level of attention is a giant stride toward making sense of our gender relations.


More parents share the workload when mom learns to let go

USA Today
5 May 2009

More parents share the workload when mom learns to let go
By Sharon Jayson

Silas, Catherine and Emerson Zobal
Picture: Silas Dent Zobal, his wife Catherine Zobal Dent and their son Emerson Dent Zobal, 3, sit down for a meal at home in Shippensburg, Pa. "My mom strongly identified with the feminist movement," Silas says, which is why he easily identifies with equal parenting.

Equality is gaining ground at homes across the USA, but the move toward parity leaves some mothers in a quandary; they're ready to share the workload with their partners, but to do that, they'll also have to come to terms with the loss of hierarchy at home.

"Women who want to create this sometimes don't appreciate the level at which they must let go," says Amy Vachon of Watertown, Mass. She and her husband, Marc, have become the standard-bearers for a philosophy called "equally shared parenting."

"It's not so much the stereotypical 'Let my husband dress the kids in things that don't match'  that's the surface, easy stuff. It's more the deep-down letting go  being just fine when your child runs to your husband instead of you when she falls down on the playground," she says. "My first reaction is, 'I hope the other mothers didn't notice because maybe they would judge me.' "

The idea that Mother Knows Best for all things home and family is deeply ingrained and complicated by gender roles, socialization and culture, experts say. And now new research is beginning to help make sense of that maternal angst.

"There are a lot of pressures that keep reinforcing the division of responsibility in parenting that leaves moms in the control position  the 'expert parent' role," says demographer Catherine Kenney of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, who has studied how mothers' beliefs affect fathers' involvement.

New research into the idea of "maternal gatekeeping" shows how attitudes and actions by the mother may promote or impede father involvement.

"For women who insist they have the gold standard around parenting and housework, men just tend to walk away," says Joshua Coleman, a clinical psychologist in San Francisco and Oakland. "They feel their own ideas about how the house should look or  how the children should be raised aren't given equal share."

Kenney presented research she co-wrote at a meeting of the Population Association of America over the weekend. The study of 1,023 couples from 20 large cities in the USA found mothers were protective of their caregiving and educational engagement with the child but were less so for playtime activities that "were not considered threats to the mother's caregiving identity," the paper says.

"Maybe he's not more involved because mom is holding him back," Kenney says.

Through interviews at the child's birth and at ages 1, 3 and 5, mothers and fathers reported about their own parenting expectations and beliefs as well as the time personally spent in various caregiving activities.

Dad needs woman's support

Other gatekeeping research co-written by Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an assistant professor of child development at Ohio State University in Columbus, is significant because it studied actual behaviors rather than just beliefs, and of the 97 couples participating, fathers were more involved in daily care of infants when they received active encouragement from the wife or partner.

"This study provides perhaps the best evidence to date that the phenomenon of maternal gatekeeping exists and that, under some conditions, it may have the potential to affect fathering behavior," says the study, published last year in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Corinna Buchholz, 34, of Portland, Ore., says "gatekeeping is real because you love your child so much and want to say, 'Wait, do it this way.' I try very hard not to because it's somewhat counterproductive."

At the Shippensburg, Pa., home of Catherine Zobal Dent, 37, and Silas Dent Zobal, 35, equality has reached a greater level of sharing.

Both are college English professors who recently left their respective campuses and will share one tenure-track faculty position this fall at Susquehanna University, about 80 miles away. They have a son, Emerson Dent Zobal, 3. A daughter, whom they plan to name Lake Zobal Dent, is due in two weeks.

"My mom strongly identified with the feminist movement," Silas says, explaining a fairness mentality that sometimes even surprises his wife.

Says Catherine: "I have this image in my head of my mother preparing and serving the food and my father being the social conductor. When Silas and I are entertaining colleagues or friends, sometimes I find myself wanting to revert to that position. I'll stand up to clear the table and think it's OK if he continues to sit, but he doesn't. He stands up, too."

Other names for the same approach include "co-parenting," "peer parenting" or "shared care," but the concept "equally shared parenting" the Vachons adopted was first suggested 10 years ago in a book by psychologist Francine M. Deutsch called Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.

They've created a website, equallysharedparenting.com. Their book, Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents, will be published in January.

Not 'just a hired hand'

"There are those that absolutely want equally shared parenting. They want a true equal partner who wants an equivalent say," Amy Vachon says. "But I also hear a huge group of people focused on these task divisions. They want a better helper at home, and that is not equally shared parenting."

The Vachons are both 46, and each works outside the home 32 hours a week. She's a clinical pharmacist. He works in information technology for a market research firm. They have two children, Maia, 6, and Theo, 3.

"I want to be an equal partner here," Marc Vachon says, not "just a hired hand."

He says planning a birthday party for their daughter starts with his wife's list of what has to be done  to which he agrees or disputes  before they decide how to divvy up the jobs.

"I don't want to be nagged or reminded," he says. "If I'm watching TV or going to play tennis, she has to trust me as a person living up to my responsibility. I'll get things done. She does not need to worry about it."

That's not what happens in many homes, says Andrea O'Reilly, associate professor of women's studies and director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University-Toronto.

"She might delegate to her partner, but if you have to do the remembering and the organizing, the planning and the worrying, that's not equality," she says. "The intellectual labor of running a household  that work is still done predominantly by women."

Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo, studies division of labor in families. He says decades of research have found a "very sharp gender divide of 'his work' vs. 'her work.' "

For the same-sex couple

Negotiating roles is somewhat different in same-sex couples, says Esther Rothblum, a women's studies professor at San Diego State University.

"It's unusual in same-sex couples that one person does everything and the other person does nothing," she says.

Psychotherapist Anne Coyle, 45, of El Cerrito, Calif., says she and her partner of almost 16 years have "divided it more like a traditional, heterosexual couple" as they parent a son, age 8.

"I pick up Isaac and tend to do more of the cooking and cleaning, whereas Linda tends to work more and bring in more of the income. We're choosing that, and it's each of our preferences," she says.

Schoppe-Sullivan, 34, says that although she and her husband try to share parenting of their 3-year-old equally, she understands what mothers have at stake.

"I have certainly felt ambivalent about relinquishing control over what my daughter wears or eats. There are times when my husband dresses her in an outfit and I think, 'What is he doing?' I try to bite my tongue," she says. "The way your children look, a lot of mothers feel like it reflects on them.

"The way I would describe it is, in the end, society is still not going to come down on the father," she says. "Society is going to come down on you."

GENDER CONVERGENCE: Family life, roles changing as couples seek balance

Q&A: Can we be married but independent?

READERS: How do you and your spouse split parenting duties?

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