The Power Of Moms: Using Your Influence To Get The Help You Need

Women are powerful.  Moms are powerful. We know this.  We see it every day. Sometimes that power can feel like responsibility and be overwhelming. But power doesn’t just mean responsibility, it also means influence.  I recently came across a study that introduced me to the concept of “maternal gatekeeping“ – in families with a mom and a dad, the mom is often the “gatekeeper” of the family.  (Notice I said ‘often’…no generalization will always be true, just like not all families have a mom and a dad). The concept of the gatekeeper is an important one, though- especially for those mommas in this type of family, who feel they carry the full load of family life.

This study observed families made up of a mom, dad, and new baby and looked at how their interactions affected the dad’s involvement with the baby over time.  What they found is valuable, I think, for helping moms understand their power in the family relationship.

This study looked at how mothers “opened” or “closed” the gate to dads who tried to be involved with the newborn.  

So what does that mean? Well, think of a brand new mom, brand new dad, and brand new baby. Let’s say that baby needs a diaper change. Gate “closing” responses might be mom always doing it herself, not quite trusting dad to do it right.  Or dad trying to do it and mom intervening frequently to change or “fix” his attempts. Or, verbal or implied criticism for the way dad tries to change the diaper. So what’s important about gate closing interactions? The study found that the more gate closing that went on when baby was three months of age, the less dad was involved at nine months of age.

I don’t give you this information to overwhelm you, I give it to you to empower you.

 It is so easy for new moms to feel scared and anxious, BUT if you are lucky enough to have a partner who wants to be involved then you don’t have to go this alone!  It can be frightening to hand your seemingly frail little newborn to someone else and let them be in charge for a bit, but I promise you, this is how it was meant to be.  Your baby needs you AND is ready to be cared for by a village of capable and loving adults – and the role of villager number one goes to your partner! The fastest way to get some good help and facilitate bonding between baby and baby daddy is by “opening the gate” through encouragement and time together.  The more we mommas intervene and try to control our partners in the beginning, the less engaged they get as time goes on, making our jobs even harder.

And in my experience, it doesn’t end with the newborn phase.  It’s not unusual, whether it be in an online mom’s group, on a playdate, or in my counseling office with a couple, that I hear moms lament their partner’s lack of involvement in home and family matters.  It is amazing to me how our culture has continued to convey the message that we women/partners/wives/mothers shouldn’t ask for help, or let someone else be as involved as we in family matters. Things are changing, but slowly.  While I would never put pressure on a wife/mother to feel as though they were responsible for their partner’s behavior, I do try to educate women on how they can use their power of influence for good.

When we directly ask our partner for participation, and then encourage and appreciate that participation, the results can be surprising.  

So many factors play into this, biology, personality, and culture weave a complicated web. So of course it isn’t totally simple, but I hope you can see the value in what both the study and I am trying to convey.  The ultimate truth of it is, in any relationship, criticism shuts people down and encouragement buoys them up. You and your partner are no different.

If you, momma, are feeling like you are carrying the brunt of the family load, it’s time to have a frank conversation with your partner. (Try not to fall into the mind trap of ‘they should just know!’ that leads you down a frustrating and deeply unsatisfying road.) Express your feelings, ask for participation, and remember encouragement and appreciation can make a world of difference.

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Kate Naylor is a seventh generation Texan and has been in Austin since 2008. She and her husband live on 3 acres southwest of the city with their fearless toddler and two dogs. Kate is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and these days can be found teaching and supporting those on the ‘frontlines’ of raising and caring for babies and children - with an emphasis on childhood development, family relationships, and trauma. Her therapy website and personal blog on motherhood can be found at kategosenaylor.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Kate, this is such an eye opening post. Thank you for writing! So much truth in this, especially with my first born.

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