When It Comes To Parenting, Give Dad A Chance

parents buckling a baby into a car seat

My wife has encouraged me from the very beginning to be as involved with our babies as she is—time off work, babywearing, co-sleeping and the like. But we've still had our rocky baby moments, and most of them have revolved around one recurring question that typically pops up just before we get into the car for an outing.

"Is the bag packed?"

If it was, it wasn't by me. But here's the thing: I never felt as if I was allowed to pack the bag. Or if I did, I could never pack it right.

It's called gatekeeping—when one parent won't let the other get involved with some aspect of parenting. Usually, it presents itself in situations where mothers don't let fathers pack bags, or watch the baby alone, or so on. It can go either way, though. Now that I'm on long-term paternity leave here in Sweden, I catch myself in gatekeeping behaviors all the time. Why One Dad Embraced A Reversal Of Gender Roles

The Wall Street Journal has this to say:

... negative gatekeeping by mothers—grimaces or criticism when men try to change a diaper or feed or play with a baby—can block out even fathers who believe they should be involved, says a 2008 study in the Journal of Family Psychology, led by Dr. Schoppe-Sullivan. Gatekeeping can be positive, too: When mothers encourage dads, the men tend to shoulder more child care. It's usually moms who do the gatekeeping, but they're not always to blame. Some fathers invite interference by hanging back or being irritable or anxious. "Moms may think, 'He's not well suited to have positive interactions with the baby, so I'm not going to encourage that,'" Dr. Schoppe-Sullivan says.

I get all worked up about gatekeeping. Just leave the men alone with their kids! What's the worst that could happen? A few meals at a fast food joint? A kid sitting in the cold for an hour? The school bake sale underserved? Dear Wife: You Make Me A Better Father

I would argue that any of those things are worth it if men are being given the chance—or being forced—to do things their own way.

As I mentioned above, we didn't have much gatekeeping going on in our own relationship. But there was that issue with who was allowed to pack the snack bag.

I eventually got my chance when I went on my first stretch of paternity leave. Finally! Bag-packing freedom! And pressure! And guess what? I did fine!

Now that I'm finishing up nine months of paternity leave with my son, I'm a bag-packing master. And so is my wife. Thanks to co-parenting, we've unlocked those parenting gates.

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