Beware the Gatekeeper?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Last week, Time Magazine raised an interesting obstacle to involved fatherhood: "Gatekeeper Moms." According to Time, new moms acquire parenting skills more quickly, and -- as the de facto kid expert -- then begin cutting dad out of the day-to-day care rather than watch him fumble with the bottle/diaper/bedtime routine. It's not generally portrayed as a sinister, intentional thing, but rather a natural consequence of the economics of child-rearing: Let the expert (mom) handle it.

There are all kinds of smart objections to the "gatekeeper" idea. It emphasizes the dads-can't-parent canard, it blames moms for poor father involvement, it suggests that biology is destiny because breastfeeding is often the gateway to gatekeeping, it reinforces gender roles and so on.

What's worse, gatekeeping is nearly impossible to measure, so it's tough to draw any conclusions about the extent or history of gatekeeping. Indeed, I'd wager that this is a phenomenon in decline -- are there really that many new fathers out there who can play dumb when it comes to changing diapers, compared with a generation or two ago?

Still, it's worth bringing the topic up because gatekeeping does exist, though I'd prefer to think of it without all of the gender baggage and finger-pointing that Time dredged up. In my former life as a primary caretaker, I have been accused -- quite correctly -- of unconsciously swooping in to do kid-related tasks, so I don't see this as a mom-only thing.

The piece acknowledges fighting gatekeeping can be drag on an otherwise-efficient household. It can be quicker and easier to just cut one parent out of the loop when it comes to stopping the screaming/whining/biting/defiance; holding a family meeting to discuss the problem seems like overkill. But shining sunlight on the problem, cumbersome as it may be at the exact moment of the tantrum/crisis, is crucial to building a family unit where everyone can effectively parent.

Time has a bunch of smart solutions for those self-aware enough to recognize gatekeeping in their household: responsibility and commitment on the part of dads, trust on the part of moms, maybe even the "cold-turkey" step of leaving the house to the non-primary-caretaker for a few days. Makes sense to me, but I have to wonder: Is that enough to address the challenge, or is this an intractable problem?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  August 17, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Dads , Division of Labor
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Are Dads prevented from the joys of childcare by gatekeeping uber-mothers? Hmmm, rebel dad has an interesting topic the day after "Are Moms prevented from the joys of being the Big Cheese, C of E of O?

hahaah collusion in our midst. This question brought to mind the breast belt feeding device that was demonstrated in "Meet the Fockers."

An intractable problem? Not. Have a nice day.

Posted by: Fo3 | August 17, 2006 7:11 AM

Sadly, I was a gatekeeper mommy without realizing it. Now, nearly 4 years later, getting my husband to be an equal parent has been extremely difficult. I've been calling it learned helplessness; he can't do anything without asking me what/how to do it first. Makes me crazy. I do think we were predisposed to mommy as "gatekeeper"/daddy as "helper" early on. In most of our workaday life, I'm much more assertive and he is much more passive. I think he takes the easy road by making me make all the decisions. When he and our son go out together, I am still the one packing the backback with lunch, suntan lotion, change of clothes etc. Even if he were to do, he'd ask me at every step what he needed to do.

So, I think gatekeeper mommies and helper daddies are an issue. I'm not sure which came first though, since in our case it's just a continuation of one of our relationship patterns.

Posted by: Mommy2aQT | August 17, 2006 8:11 AM

A friend of mine with a new baby initiated the new dad to the joys of baby-caring by telling him "I have to go back to work, take care of her". Rather than telling him every little detail, she lets him figure out what works best for himself. That way she gets time off from caring for the baby, and he gets to bond with his new daughter. Seems to me to be a very wise and logical way to handle what could be a stressful situation for both parents (her 3rd baby, his first).

Posted by: John | August 17, 2006 8:18 AM

Yes, it's a problem, and I do it. I think. I'm home with the kids and my 7-month-old has an acute case of mommy-itis. Really. She cries if I leave the room or hand her to anyone else. So, am I gatekeeping if I take her when she's sobbing in Daddy's arms? She stops crying instantly.

Posted by: inBoston | August 17, 2006 8:50 AM

"...gatekeeping does exist, though I'd prefer to think of it without all of the gender baggage and finger-pointing that Time dredged up."

Lets hope we can minimize the gender baggage and finger-pointing today, as Brian suggests.

My wife played gatekeeper for several months and I stayed in the support role. This had a really bad effect, not only on the distribution of labor but also on my relationship with my son. He did not seem to be comforted by my presence at all.

Happily, the "cold turkey" routine worked for us. The toughest parts for us though was (1) it took members of her family to convince her it was a good idea -- she didn't want to hear the suggestion from me and (2) it took a couple of full father/son only days before I felt comfortable that I could handle any/every situation.

Now, it's not a problem. I really hope that parents can see that neither Gatekeeping nor a constant backup/support role are in their interests. One of the worst things I've felt as a parent is not being able to comfort my little one and then having him calm down immediately when mom takes him.

Posted by: Proud Papa | August 17, 2006 8:59 AM

I see tons of women only criticizing their husbands, so the husbands think: okay, if I'm only going to get criticized, then why bother? Then the moms complain that dad doesn't help out - when if they just let him do it his way (without criticizing), then he would help.

As for picking up the kid and she stops crying (inBoston): You're only teaching her that she can get what she wants by crying. You need to be away from the situation at times - and she'll stop crying. It was heartbreaking with no. 1 when we'd leave him with a babysitter (or his grandparents) and he cried, but once we were gone, he stopped - it was just a show for us.

Posted by: atlmom | August 17, 2006 8:59 AM

inBoston wrote: "So, am I gatekeeping if I take her when she's sobbing in Daddy's arms? She stops crying instantly."

You aren't gatekeeping, but you are sending Dad a powerful message that he isn't good enough when it comes to taking care of her. Let her cry for a little bit, even if it means you leave the house to get a cup of coffee or something. She'll settle down and stop crying with Daddy. It'll be harder for him than for you!

Posted by: Dad of 2 | August 17, 2006 9:04 AM

This is a very good point for new Moms. We tend to get so full of parenting advice that we spout it off, and are percieved as critical. The new Dad gives up before he's even gotten started.

We had a boy, and my husband got it into his head that taking a bath with the baby was a good idea. So he was in charge of baths. My job was to provide towels. It worked out very well for me.

The baby didn't get a bath every day, and he lived (although as a teen he could be a bit cleaner!).

So I say, Moms - be quiet. If it's a true safety issue speak up, but otherwise keep your mouth shut and go do something else while Dad learns for himself!

Posted by: RoseG | August 17, 2006 9:05 AM

Great topic!! Should be considered by all parents-to-be. Mom stopping cold turkey -my husband calls it "benign neglect" and thinks it's the best way for dads to be involved right off the bat!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 9:05 AM

"are there really that many new fathers out there who can play dumb when it comes to changing diapers, compared with a generation or two ago"

I thought you preferred to discuss this without the "gender baggage and finger-pointing"? Seems to me that by assuming that a new father who allows this to happen is "play[ing] dumb" you are bringing quite a bit of both to the discussion.

Posted by: Centreville | August 17, 2006 9:06 AM

My wife is the gatekeeper because she wanted to do it all her way. That's fine with me. But it really is more who has responsibility for the task. My wife knows what goes in the backpack, so she packs it with the necessary items. I know how to get everything into the car, so I pack for trips. There is nothing wrong with that.

Her biggest mistake was not allowing me to have a hand in putting our son to sleep early in the first year. Her philosophy was that the baby should never need to cry when going to sleep, or any time really. Guess what...he still can't go to sleep by himself. When he wakes up in the middle of the night it's ALWAYS her turn to get up.

My advice to new mothers is to listen to your SOs every once in a while in the first couple of years. That way he will be more willing to take on the responsibility of the poor decisions in the later years.

Posted by: Working Dad | August 17, 2006 9:10 AM

"Seems to me that by assuming that a new father who allows this to happen is "play[ing] dumb" you are bringing quite a bit of both to the discussion."

As a guy, I need to call BS on this. We do more difficult stuff every day without a thought. We can't then act like this is hard. (Though it does get a little tougher at that age where they hate the changing table and you are trying to keep them from jumping off.)

It's an exercise in holding two feet and tacking two velcro-like tabs onto a surface that will hold them.

Playing Madden 2006 on the "all-madden" level is much, much harder. :-)

Posted by: Proud Papa | August 17, 2006 9:11 AM

Wow what a stimulating topic--not. This is something that would have been more interesting in the 1970s. Bye bye

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 9:18 AM

this is a great topic. i had a friend who who was thinking about going out a couple of months after she had a baby but she was concerned about leaving her daughter at home with her husband because as she told me "what if he makes a mistake?". i pointed out to my friend that her husband had already had 1 child by his first wife so while her daughter was her first child she was her husband's second.

i also had a child who was my first child but my husband's third so i very definitely defered to my husband on child care issues because he knew more than i did. that being said... he never got the diaper bag thing. when we take the diaper bag to the day care it should have 6 diapers, 3 changes of clothes, and a package of wipes. not that hard to remember but my husband never got it.

Posted by: quark | August 17, 2006 9:20 AM

Great topic. This is always my only piece of advice to new moms. Let dad take care of the baby and don't criticize his efforts. My ex was only 22 when our son was born but he jumped right in changing diapers and bathing. I was breastfeeding, but my husband would get up and bring the baby to me. My son was always equally happy with either parent. Which made it much easier on me when I had to be away. My husband didn't always do things the way I would have done then but so what? I was always very proud of his parenting ability and bragged about him constantly. When I had to deploy for 6-weeks, my mother in law stayed with my husband to help him care for the baby because husband did shift work. Mother in law later complained to me that my husband wouldn't let her care for the baby. He insisted on doing everthing. I was so proud of him.

Posted by: Military Mom | August 17, 2006 9:20 AM

"I see tons of women only criticizing their husbands, so the husbands think: okay, if I'm only going to get criticized, then why bother? Then the moms complain that dad doesn't help out - when if they just let him do it his way (without criticizing), then he would help."

How true! Before we had children our dear friends had their first. I would watch (in horror) as they went through the same argument over and over. SHE had to do everything for the baby. HE could never do anything right (her way). My husband and I talk about it a lot and decided that we were not going to fall into that pit. What a great lesson for us!

Posted by: SLP | August 17, 2006 9:34 AM

Excellent topic! Every new mom needs to be told that she shouldn't assume the role of sole childraiser because her SO "just doesn't get it". New parents are both clueless - childcare is a skill that can and should be learned by both parents. Not allowing dad to take part in the beginning will set a bad precedent for the relationship of the father with the child in the future. "Benign neglect" by mom is a great idea.

Posted by: fabworkingmom | August 17, 2006 9:36 AM

So there I was, wrestling with the baby on the bed. I poked her in the ribs with my finger, tickled her cheeks, played peek-a-boo, counted piggies. Then I laid on my back and lifted her above my chest like she was an airplane and "ZZZzzzz" coming in for a crash landing on my chest, "Kawhomp"! I really had her going making all those cute giggling and cooing sounds like babies do. Then I did her favorite thing and lifted her upside down by the knees and swumg her lightly a few times over my chest before flipping her over.

My wife walked in, saw what I was doing, and wet her pants.

She snatch the baby from me and stomped out of the room. The baby began to cry.

GateKeeping!

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 17, 2006 9:37 AM

I saw the same situation as SLP. My friend hovered over her husband and criticized everything he did -- from changing diaper to belting her into the high chair. It really pushed him away and made him mad, and I saw them argue about it. Funny thing was, it was her first child and his third.

Posted by: CL | August 17, 2006 9:44 AM

I can definitely see myself becoming a gatekeeper. My boyfriend only had one younger sister. I'm the eldest of seven, so I have much more experience with everything child related. When I lived at home in high school and during my breaks from college I would stay up with the baby to give my parents a break. I've participated in everything from potty training to learning to tie shoes to teaching how to ride a bike and do math problems. Hands down I have more experience watching and even raising a child than my SO has. So, how do I stop myself from excluding him should we get married and have kids?

Posted by: 215 | August 17, 2006 9:45 AM

I really respect the honesty of Mommy1aQT. Control-freakery (which can run both ways, incidently) is behind a lot of gatekeeping. But maybe what feeds the problem is perceived expertise, the idea that there is one right way to do things, not to mention the impression that you can become an expert on child rearing by reading instead of doing. I read all kinds of child-care books and they all sounded quite plausible at the time but with experience I've found that a surprising proportion of the advice is garbage. Then there's the aspect of the role of all these books and articles in wildly escalating expectations of motherhood -- but don't get me started with that. Anyway, when I gave up on the latest-and-greatest theory and started muddling through with my partner my decisions felt more real, and occasionally, fun.

Posted by: Yes, I'm a Feminist | August 17, 2006 9:52 AM

As others have suggested, easiest thing is to just remove yourself. Literally leave the house and leave your husband with the baby. Baby will have to learn to deal with daddy, and daddy will have to learn to deal with baby. As long as you are there, it is too easy to step in/supervise, and too easy for him to let you, so just leave, often, for a substantial period of time (e.g., long enough for a feeding, change, nap, and playtime). They will survive if you spend 6 hours out of the house every Saturday. Only downside is once they get good at stuff, they may start criticizing YOUR diapering/burping/feeding/bathing technique!

Posted by: to215 | August 17, 2006 9:55 AM

Should have added...even if you are breast-feeding, I think pumping and using bottles is really important. I pumped and my husband did the midnight feeding. I could sleep from 9 to 4, and he had some responsibility for waking up/staying up, calming the baby, preparing the bottle, feeding/cuddling, and getting the baby back to sleep. Even if you BF, you don't need to exclude dad from these key aspects of infant care and I think it does help in the long run of making them feel included/bonded. If you're only pumping one or two bottles a day you can get a $40 hand pump and a few bottles, it's not a big deal.

Posted by: to215 | August 17, 2006 9:58 AM

215: Just let him do it his way. It may not be how you would do it, but he'll find a way. The only way you learn this is through experience, which is trial and error. As long as it doesn't kill the kid, it'll be better for both your SO and the baby.

Fo4: I had almost forgotten that. I did all kinds of acrobatic things with my son, much to the horror of my wife. But when she realized that he was giggling the whole time, she let me go. The toss in the air, 360 degree spin was his favorite.

The only thing we stopped was putting him on the linoleum floor in his onesie and spinning him around like a game spinner. He liked it a lot, but then we saw his eyes wiggle back and forth really quickly once. That scared us. It's like my son said after tumbling down the stairs the first time at 2.5 years, "I'll try not to do that again, momma."

Posted by: Working Dad | August 17, 2006 9:59 AM

We had the opposite problem. My husband was more of the gatekeeper. He is a stay at home dad. From the very beginning, he was very involved in caring for our son, and often had stronger opinions about how to do things. I would defer to him about our son's care, especially after going back to work. Sometimes, it would get embarrassing, when the baby started crying in public, someone would often say, "Oh he needs his mom" I would try to comfort my son, but eventually have to give him to his dad because I didn't know quite what to do. I did feel like a loser mom! But, as my son has gotten older (18 months) he has become much more attached to me, and now things are more equal. In our case, the gatekeeper phenomenon was just a natural outgrowth of who spent the most time with our son.

Posted by: new mom | August 17, 2006 9:59 AM

to215, your suggestion about pumping and leaving is a good one, as long as Mom can pump. My DW could not produce anything with our first, no matter how hard she tried. With our second, I could get my coffee creamed just by looking at her.

Posted by: Dad of 2 | August 17, 2006 10:00 AM

To Mommy2aQT: You're right: gatekeeping is certainly the "easy road," usually for everyone. But the short-term gain is cancelled by the long-term effects ...

To John and Proud Papa: It's amazing how well "cold turkey" works. It doesn't take much hands-on experience to learn that the day-to-day kid care ain't rocket science.

To inBoston: I've found it hard to trace any single kid behavior to a single parental style (if I could, I'd write one of those must-have parenting tomes and get on the Today Show all of the time). You may be seeing a consequence of gatekeeping, or you may just be seeing a mommy-centric phase, or it may be something else completely. As a baby, my eldest pinged back and forth between periods of intense mommy-centrism and daddy-centrism, confounding both of us.

To atlmom and Dad of 2: Thanks for sharing your suggestions. I love the community here. Usually.

To Centreville: I'll won't cop to the the gender baggage, but I'll admit to a little finger-pointing in the direction of fathers who claim that they're no good at changing diapers. Kidcare, with the singular exception of breastfeeding, is a job parents of either sex can do equally well if given the chance.

To Proud Papa: Wait. You have time for diapers *and* PlayStation? I need to work on my time management.

To quark: He doesn't get the over-pack-the-diaper-bag thing? Man, I made that mistake a single time with my newborn (at the doctor's office, no less) and learned my lesson immediately. I don't think I'll go out underprepared again for a long, long time. Thank goodness I buy Purell by the gallon.

To 215: 1) You get bonus points for thinking about this so far in advance and 2) Sounds like you have a lot to offer in terms of expertise. If and when the time comes, tell your SO that you have a lot of experience and will gladly help with any question he has, then hand off the baby and see what happens. If he's stumped, he'll ask.

To new mom: Thanks for confirming my belief that gatekeeping has nothing to do with having two X chromosomes.

Posted by: Brian Reid | August 17, 2006 10:02 AM

I knew my wife would have these tendencies, so the key for me was that the best defense is a good offense. I took charge immediately, and then we proceeded to butt heads until we settled into quite a comfortable arrangement of each of us doing what he or she does best.

Posted by: Wheaton, MD | August 17, 2006 10:10 AM

"I see tons of women only criticizing their husbands, so the husbands think: okay, if I'm only going to get criticized, then why bother? Then the moms complain that dad doesn't help out - when if they just let him do it his way (without criticizing), then he would help."

altMom nailed that one in a big, big way.

Several years ago, I took a management training course which used the line "No employee can do the job as well as you" as a mantra (almost) to wake people up to the difficulties involved in teaching skills you had mastered to someone else. The reality is that all people have a learning curve that you have to allow for. Moms need to allow Dad to get up that curve.

Posted by: Rufus | August 17, 2006 10:20 AM

to 215,
you may have had more experience with your younger siblings but your own child will be different. every child is different. what works with one child won't necessarily work with another. let your husband figure out how to do things. like everybody said, it won't necessarily be the way you do it but it will work. the other thing you could do is get books that you could both read together. while discussing the book you could throw out a comment like "well, when my brother was little i did this or that" also recognize that you will have a different style than your husband. i was a much more "pick your battles" or a "i'll say yes most of the time but when i say no i mean it" type of parent. my husband thought i was way too lenient. maybe i was. i think he is way too strict. we present a united front to our child and we never undermine each other's decisions but sometimes we compromise. my son knows that i'll let him pee outside and daddy won't and he's adapted.

Posted by: quark | August 17, 2006 10:22 AM

I'm going to disagree with everyone else thusfar.

First of all, you're not gatekeeping if you comfort your child. This will likely cause a lot of comments about raising dependent, clingy children, but remember that you cannot spoil an infant, and it is better to comfort them rather than to walk away - except in extreme cases like post partum depression where it is a question of your own health and sanity.

You have a wonderful gift - the ability to comfort your baby. Why on earth would you want to deny her that? The mommyitis will likely be short lived and will be "outgrown" within a few months. Every single person I know, including myself, who had a baby who wouldn't be held by anyone other than their mother ended up with a independent child. Demonstrating to your daughter that you're there for her when she needs you is far more important than making sure dad is able to give her a bottle.

The time will come, likely in the near future, where she will be just as comfortable with him as with you. Keep trying, and don't cut him out, but don't buy into the "she'll get over it, just leave the house" situation. She's 7 months old - she should not have to "get over it."

Posted by: to 215 | August 17, 2006 10:25 AM

that last post was supposed to be in reponse to your situation, not 215's.

Posted by: to inBoston | August 17, 2006 10:29 AM

>>She's 7 months old - she should not have to "get over it.">>

Um, that is BS. The moms I know that always stepped in rather than letting the baby cry a little while Daddy calmed her now regret it. A seven month old absolutely can deal with mom being gone for a while, and so can dad. Statements like that are what drive new moms crazy and make dads feel useless. Sometimes babies cry. Sometimes mom can't be there. This does not mean you are harming your baby. Learning to "deal with it" is the first step in growing up.

Posted by: What? | August 17, 2006 10:30 AM

In my experience, I can comfort my son 75% of the time. Mother has the trump card where she can comfort our son an additional 25% where I can't.

I don't know how common that is, but it sounds like it should be heading toward the universal. (I'm sure there are some babies who cry around everyone but Mom, and I'm sure that some baby's don't take a nap or calm down at dad's touch)

But in the generalized cases, let the dads comfort when they can, but knowing that sometimes Mom is the one one who will turn off the crying switch. Dad will definitely get his chance.

Posted by: Fo1 | August 17, 2006 10:45 AM

Yes, it's tough to hear a child screaming, but sometimes it is good for them. If they are in danger or hurting themselves, it is not okay, but otherwise, they'll be okay. As long as they know they have loving people around them, they'll be fine.
Sometimes there is NO consoling my child, except to let him do something he's not supposed to do, so we put him in his crib. Should we allow him to do things he is strictly forbidden to do? To appease him?

Posted by: atlmom | August 17, 2006 10:47 AM

DW is gatekeeper, I am keymaster. Zool and Gozur working in harmony.

Seriously, letting the keymaster hold and try to comfort crying gargoyle is fine - but when scream goes to defcon six - certainly return same to gatekeeper. Shiggetty snark.

Baseball on the TV is the best way to get DC#3 to chill out, start early-pays dividends. She's three now:
Daddy are the Yankees losing?
Yes dear.
Oh good, can I watch with you?
Yes if you drink your milk.
OK.

Posted by: Fo3 | August 17, 2006 10:55 AM

FYI, the eye movements you observed are perfectly normal. It's caused by the vestibular system's reaction to the rotation/spinning. It can even be measured by scientists/doctors as a diagnostic tool to determine the health/function of the vestibular system. If you spun yourself long enough, stopped and looked in the mirror, you'd see the same eye movements.

Posted by: To Working Dad | August 17, 2006 10:59 AM

Oh, I let her cry a little while, but when Daddy is cursing with frustration and baby is turning red and hiccuppy (she cries so hard she throws up, sometimes), it's just easier all around to take her.
I totally agree with those who say to let Dad give a regular bottle. If you can't pump, one bottle of formula a day is worth considering. With our first, Dad gave the midnight bottle and I got to sleep. She took a bottle, was comforted by Dad and I wasn't so stressed. This time, well, I'm home, Dad's working like crazy and playing with the older one, and only tried twice early on to give a bottle. Now she won't take one, I don't get enough sleep and he feels less useful and competent. We bad, but she'll take a sippy cup soon enough. Not quite worth the stress of cold turkey when we're so close to the end of the tunnel.

Posted by: inBoston | August 17, 2006 11:07 AM

Re: Dad's who play rough. Oh yeah, I remember the days. I was afraid my husband was going to give the baby "shaken baby syndrome" tossing him up in the air. I used to show him articles about it. He ignored me and continuted to toss the baby around. The baby is 19 now and doing well in college so I guess his dad didn't do any damage. Regarding letting babies cry, I belonged to the comfort baby immediately crowd, until I was driven almost nuts with sleep deprivation, then I changed to the let him cry himself to sleep philosphy. He was a high maintenance baby but we both somehow survived. I will concede that I think newborns should be comforted, fed on demand. I know opinions range widely on that one.

Posted by: Military Mom | August 17, 2006 11:16 AM

Shiggety snark vestibular?

My head is spinning.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 11:17 AM

When we had our daughter, I was resting from my c-section and the baby started crying. Husband comes running in, saying "what do I do?!?" I reply "the hospital gave you the same baby manual they gave me", turned over, and closed my eyes. That was the day that husband discovered how baby loved to be wrapped like a burrito and carried in the sling.

I do think many people have a tendency to be gatekeepers. I even had a coworker whose wife encouraged their son to cling to her, so that when he was alone with his dad he would just freak out. I do think a lot of gatekeeper parents get a subconscious thrill from knowing that only they can make baby happy.

Posted by: MplsMom | August 17, 2006 11:19 AM

Brian,

I just hope when I have my own child to take care of there won't be any of these gatekeeper issues between my wife and I. She is an only child and I'm the 3rd of 4, so neither of us have much experience in baby-raising. I guess in this situation ignorance is bliss!

My friend said she didn't try and tell her new dad partner how to take care of the baby, other than the general basics. Other than that he was on his own, and it appears to have worked out well enough so far.

Posted by: John | August 17, 2006 11:26 AM

Absolutely it exists, women get scared that perhaps dad can do it and they won't be needed. They then have their ego and self worth injured and do whatever they can to protect their fragile feelings. I know my wife and I have had this battle. It is just part of the emotional chaos of women.

Posted by: Patrick | August 17, 2006 11:29 AM

Thanks for the info, commenter on vestibular functions. Wish I had known that a few years ago. I wouldn't have worried about messing with his brain too much. But hey, I have a few more years to mess with his brain. ;-)

Posted by: Working Dad | August 17, 2006 11:29 AM

You go, Welsey.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 11:34 AM

My advice to all men is DO NOT LET YOUR WIFE ROB YOU of your rights as a parent. Insist that your way is just as valid as hers and do not fall into the trap that because she has a vagina, she knows anymore than you.

Posted by: Wesley | August 17, 2006 11:36 AM

To Wesley: If you ever want to experience your wife's vagina again, better just nod discreetly and say, "Yes, Dear" to whatever perceived ill you have committed. Then, just curl up in the corner until you have atoned.......

Posted by: Dad of 2 | August 17, 2006 11:43 AM

I'm a bit of a gatekeeper dad. I didn't plan to be. But my wife had severe PPD after the birth of our first and it took all her strength just to keep herself going during the first four months after birth. I did about all of the feeding, diapering, playing, appts, etc. while working from home. I got to know our daughter's personality and tastes much more than my wife did.

That was six years ago. She's recovered from the PPD but still deals with depression (she's had it since she was a teenager). She is actively involved in our daughter's life, but is the first to admit that the daily details escape her. She knows that the bus comes at 8:15, but can't think through all the steps that need to be done between breakfast and going to the bus stop. She knows that our daughter will need summer care, but doesn't realize summer is only 2 months away and camps are filling up.

So I took over these activities, and I'm now the gatekeeper, because if my wife were to do it, or to split it with me, there would be problems. My wife knows her limits and is happy to delegate a lot to me. When she gets involved a lot of the details falls through the cracks so I take it on myself to do those things. But I approach it differently. I don't assume that my way is better, or criticize, or swoop in to save the day. When we share responsibility for daily planning and doing, and it doesn't go well, I just shrug and say that it'll go better next time. I know I'm not perfect, nor do I expect that I will be. My wife's self esteem took a big hit because she felt she wasn't successful at "mom" things, and I'm conscious of that. She excels at work and when focused on her job is quite happy. I have a knack for making things run smoothly at work and home. I make sure the gate is always open though.

Posted by: Gatekeeper Dad | August 17, 2006 11:44 AM

OK, here is the question--if Dad is *trying* to comfort the baby and that is not working, why does that count less than having mom do it? If the point it to make the baby feel safe and secure....as long as one parent (caring adult, whatever) is holding the baby, does it totally not count if the baby continues crying? Again, I think part of the point is that babies need to learn that *someone* will attend to them (so that they can feel secure), but I don't know why that should be exclusively mom.

And there is "feeding on demand" and "feeding on demand." A lot of people assume that all cries are relating to hunger and pop in a boob or bottle at the first cry. This is how you get fat kids. It's not a bad thing for a baby to learn what it's like to have an empty tummy for a little while, or to have to wait a few minutes. (I'm not talking about the crazy forced schedules, and of course account for things like growth spurts where they do eat a lot more frequently.) Learning how to read cries is important for both parents. If one parent is always snatching up the baby and feeding them when they fuss, it's not good for the baby or the other parent.

Posted by: conforting babies | August 17, 2006 11:45 AM

I think you also have to factor into this discussion the dynamics between every couple. In my case I'm a know-it-all Type A oldest child (or so my siblings would tell you) and my husband is a laid-back youngest child, pretty deferential to boot. In most ways we have a pretty equal and balanced relationship, but in child care he tended to defer to me as some kind of expert. I loved BEING an expert, or at least acting like I was!! I had to force myself to ignore that in pursuit of "equal parenting."

Posted by: SFMom | August 17, 2006 11:50 AM

I really need to give my ex-husband his due: he was an amazing father when our child was young. I was not a gatekeeper mom because I loved to see him care for his daughter (an incredible turn-on for me). I cannot even begin to comprehend the idea of "gatekeeping" with such an intimate experience between a man and his child.

My advice to any woman out there who has gatekeeping tendencies: unless the man is putting the child in mortal peril, stay out of the way!

Posted by: single western mom | August 17, 2006 11:56 AM

Single Western Mom:
What do you suggest for the mom who thinks that letting him running down the sidewalk puts our son in mortal peril? Because ... you never know when someone is going to pull out of a driveway or even into a driveway and not see him. And in a single-garage townhouse development, there are a lot of driveways. I would seriously like to know of any gatekeepers who have this issue and what I can say or do, besides restrict my son's activity.

I let my son run down to the mailbox. He knows he is not supposed to go any farther than that, and he doesn't. She doesn't want him running past the next driveway, 20 feet away.

Posted by: Working Dad | August 17, 2006 12:09 PM

Once again, I don't know if it's a DC area thing or not, but the gates in my neighborhood are jointly guarded by both mom and dad.

Except for the children of single moms, playdates are conducted by written invitation only. Gone are the days the doorbell will unexpectingly ring followed by a kids voice, "Can Johnny come out and play?"

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 17, 2006 12:10 PM

working dad:

How old is your son? Is he old enough to know to watch for cars backing out of driveways? This is a real danger (I used to teach fire and lfe safety to kids in Prince William County elementary schools, and I discussed with them to watch for cars backing out of driveways while riding their biks. People in cars are not always watching for kids: they are tending to their own kids, talking on cell phones, eating).

Keep in mind: the leading cause of death for children under age 14 are accidents. Check out the National Safe Kids Campaign on stats and safety tips, www.safekids.org.

But...I would not keep your child from you because you let him run to the mailbox! I would say keep a close eye on him if he is under six or seven years old.

Fo4: you are so right on the money about play dates. I'm thrilled to be living where kids come to my door and ask if my daughter can come out to play. We didn't have that in NoVa.

Posted by: single western mom | August 17, 2006 12:19 PM

To "to 215/to inBoston": It's worth drawing a distinction between "comforting" and "gatekeeping." The how-to-deal-with-a-fussy baby debate is interesting, but that's different from the should-dad-get-to-take-a-crack-at-it discussion.

To Fo1: I agree. Some days, I have the touch. Some days, my wife does. Not having the calming touch isn't an excuse not to try -- you only develop the skills that you use.

To Fo3: If your three-year-old is already rooting against the Yankees, you're doing a stellar job as a parent. Keep it up.

To Working Dad: Ain't this an informative discussion?

To Gatekeeper Dad: Every family is going to have different dynamics, and the problem doesn't come from one parent doing the bulk of the work, but from one parent keeping the other from getting kid experience. Sounds like you guys have figured out what works best for you.

To SFMom: Like Gatekeeper Dad, if the system works for both you you, kudos!

To Father of 4: Seriously? Written invitations for playdates? I don't know if I would trust a parent who communicated via the mail. What's next? Must you drop off your calling card with the butler before being shown to the parlor?

Posted by: Brian Reid | August 17, 2006 12:37 PM

Father of 4: LOL! You poor thing. Your wife probably thought you were going to break that baby!

I don't know if the new mother's actions and attitudes are really gatekeeping or being very protective of her baby. I think protectiveness is instinctual, although some mothers take it too far. But cut the mothers some slack. They go through labor, pain, body distortion, baby blues, jacked up nipples from breastfeeding, etc. So they are a little protective. Some nurturing, patience and attentiveness from Dad to Mom might soften up the so-called gatekeeper.

If she's snuggling with the baby, go over and snuggle with them both in a gentle, loving way. What is the mom going to do, growl?

I was certainly protective with both my babies, especially my first. But I did let my husband help with diaper changes, bringing the child to me for breast feeding, warming the bottle, etc. A good trick -- after I fed (or he fed with a bottle), he burped. Good bonding (and I do not turn down a break when I need one).
Disclaimer -- he helped care for nieces and nephews, so he was good at caring for babies. We did have a snarl exchange once over the proper way to wipe my son's butt during a diaper change. Hey, no one's perfect.

There were limits, of course -- I felt comfortable with bathing, it took me a while to leave them alone with Dad, and feeding solid foods (what, when and how) had to be done my way because I was paranoid about choking.

Where I was the gatekeeper sure enough was when my husband's sister got pushy and wanted to take my 3-month-old son for the weekend. I said no. Both husband and SIL were offended and objected. SIL said new mothers were paranoid. Which made me mad, but I didn't let up.

Posted by: momoftwo | August 17, 2006 12:38 PM

Am I wrong, but if you are a gatekeeper mom, you have to do everything for your child. (Feedings, changings, nighttime runs, etc.) I am sure I will love my child when I have one, but I don't want to do everything for him/her. I want to have a pedicure, cup of coffee or shower without worrying about his/her care. Isn't that why people have children in pairs? So you can take turns?

Call me selfish, but I want to enjoy time on my own post-baby, and so should my husband. Children are wonderful, but I am sure I will need some me time, and time alone with my husband, post-child.

How do those of you with children stike a good balance?

Posted by: Thought | August 17, 2006 12:40 PM

From observation, the fathers that I've seen who are more involved are the ones where the mom isn't worried about being a Supermom and doing everything "right". A couple I know is doing great with their 8 month old, and the mother had never even changed a diaper until she had her own baby. They have read a few books but mostly they "figure it out" together and are having a blast as new parents. I contrast that with the other couple I know where the mom pushed the dad away (controlling) and he started doing less and less childcare, and of course she got upset with him!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 12:43 PM

These posts remind me why I prefer having a dog to having a child. I am just not a worrier and would certainly do a million things "wrong" with a baby. Not harmful, just not persnickety correct. And from what my friends who are parents tell me, other people do not hesitate to criticize over the smallest things. Why did a total stranger need to tell my friend, "that baby needs a hat" on a day when it was 95 degrees outside?

Posted by: Mel | August 17, 2006 12:47 PM

GateKeeper Dad: If it werent for the fact that my daughter is only 15 months, I would swear you were my husband.

I definitely had a difficult time adjusting to the birth of our daughter, and so daddy got used to doing a LOT more than most fathers do. We figured early on that without a consistent amount of sleep, my depression got really bad - so he started getting up with her, and not me. Then, because she was used to him getting up, he became bedtime person too. And with our work schedules and my insistence that I be home with her for dinner, I go in early and he gets her ready for the day. Now I struggle to convince him that its okay if hes in the bathroom and she wanders out to the bedroom with me - I really do know how to watch her.

Even if I hadn't had trouble adjusting, though, we did a few things early on that allowed him to develop his own routines. He stayed home with us for 2 weeks right after she was born, and when I went back to work at 12 weeks, he stayed home with her alone for 2 more weeks. So he had 2 weeks of me not being there to figure out how HE could calm her and how HE feeds her and how HE diapers her. It helped his confidence extremely. It also helps that I am extremely laid back and have never subscribed to "gender roles", so I never doubted that a man can care for a child as well as a woman.

Posted by: Jolie | August 17, 2006 12:54 PM

"How do those of you with children stike a good balance?"

Learn to "read" the baby and whether he/she is doing okay in each situation. The pediatrician will help, you just have to ask for the advice.

If the baby is developing okay (learning/emotionally) and isn't fragile, don't hesitate to trust third parties to care for the child either during the day or for the occasional date night. Single spouse night-on-the-towns are essential for one spouse to have friends while the other builds essential bonds with the baby. Last but not least, as long as you and you pediatrician are reading positive developmental signs from the baby, ignore extremist commentary about how spending every possible second focused on the baby is best. You and the Dr. know what's best....

Posted by: Proud Papa | August 17, 2006 1:05 PM

Luckily, we avoided the gatekeeper thing, partly because we are both fairly unconcerned about doing things "right," and partly because I was not going to let myself get sucked into the position of doing it all. My husband was definitely intimidated at first, since he'd never had much of anything to do with babies. But I struggled with breastfeeding, which meant I would feed her, then pump, then sleep for 30 mins. until she was up again -- got old REAL quick, so within 2 weeks he was handling the night feedings/diaper changes while I pumped, and we've never looked back.

Only a few things where there are notable differences. First, my husband was worried about diaper changes and rashes with our daughter, since he hadn't grown up with female "parts," so I had to tell/show him what to do. Of course, when we recently had our son, the situation was reversed.

Second, as some others have mentioned as well, I have a much lower tolerance for rough play. But I restrain myself, as the kiddos enjoy it. Except for the time he tossed her up in the air and missed the ceiling fan by 1" (no tossing in the bedroom after that).

Finally, we've noted that both kids have gone through "mommy" and "daddy" phases. Where possible, we go along with that, but not 100% of the time, as we don't want a phase to develop into a habit. The one area we have failed is in my daughter's bedtime, once she got to be about 3 -- that is all mommy, all the time. The problem is, I started singing her a song before bed to soothe her as an infant, and now it's a habit. Alas, the only songs my husband knows are "Rock-a-Bye Baby," "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," and "Ironman" (not even the words -- just "dah-dah Ironman, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah Ironman."). So, much to my dismay, his services are not requested for bedtime that frequently.

Posted by: Laura | August 17, 2006 1:22 PM

...because the baby really *should* be wearing a hat in 95 degree weather. Or be in the shade. Or both. ;)
I agree that having a child on your arm shouldn't be an invitation for comments/advice from total strangers

Posted by: To Mel | August 17, 2006 1:26 PM

to Mel:
1. I prefer having a dog to having a child.

2. I am just not a worrier and would certainly do a million things "wrong" with a baby. Not harmful, just not persnickety correct.

3. And from what my friends who are parents tell me, other people do not hesitate to criticize over the smallest things.

Why did a total stranger need to tell my friend, "that baby needs a hat" on a day when it was 95 degrees outside?
===========
Umm, where to start:
1. I would think picking up the poop of a four legged friend would get old real quick, and children dont shed. If I asked you not to let your snooky schmuckum puppikins run off leash in the park would you get miffed?

2. Why do you have to be a worrier to be a parent? Sounds to me like you ARE worried about other people's opinions of your potential parenting skills. But maybe I misunderstood. If your not ready to have kids, dont want to procreate - fine. Then you dont get to have sex! If you only want to have pets, you dont get to have sex. Its a rule - look it up.

3. Stranger clearly had the child's best interest at heart. It takes a village. No question the baby needed a hat if in direct sunlight and its 95 degrees. Kids get dehydrated fast. Appreciate the advice, everybody makes mistakes. If they were rude or snotty making the suggestion that's another issue entirely.

Raising children to be independant reponsible citizens to root against the Yankees unfortunalety doesnt compare to having a pet. Didnt mean to pick on you, but I did.

Posted by: Fo3 | August 17, 2006 1:26 PM

"What's next? Must you
drop off your calling card with the butler"

Brian, not me, but the new housing development that sprung up where my kids used to catch frogs is probably like that.

Gone are the days of catching frogs too...

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 17, 2006 1:33 PM

"Raising children to be independant reponsible citizens to root against the Yankees unfortunalety doesnt compare to having a pet"

Hey, my pets root against the Yankees!

As far as the "village" thing...where is the line between being concerned and being a nosy, pushy interferer? Some parents are very very sensitive to any perceived criticism.

Posted by: Missicat | August 17, 2006 1:34 PM

Hey 215...as you can tell by my nickname, I'm definitely with you.

I have always been a "caretaker" type. My family and friends told me for years until I got married that I would make someone a good wife. I am the one that does most of the housekeeping/cleaning, cooking, general errands and caretaking of our lives. My wife says, "I used to cook, but now I have him...why should I?" I am also very good with kids and have been most of my life even though I am the youngest of 3. I have been there for the first week of my brother's two girls and was on night-time duty with the babies since I'm an insomniac. My SIL has a great picture of me when I got up with their oldest (now 15!) at 3:00 AM, fed her, sat down to rock her in the glide rocker (love those) and fell asleep with her on my chest. Both of us slept soundly for about 5 hours after that and she was only 6 days old! I have much more experience with kids than my wife and yet, I'm still anxious about it.

I hope and will try not to end up a gatekeeper, but knowing the way our lives work, I probably will be, but by mutual consent (I pretty much run the house, my wife runs our schedules and coordinates our lives outside the house). We'll see. However, I will try to make sure that our child/children get equal time with the 'rents and try to push equality of mommy and daddy. I love the discussion and am drinking in all the info from those who have gone before. Thanks everyone!

(and amazingly, what a pleasant conversation without all the name-calling
and insults of the last few days).

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 17, 2006 1:54 PM

Mel--re: the hat in 95 degree weather

This is actually a valid point (although much could be said about how people suggest these things). Younger kids are very prone to overexposure from the sun. Kids have less hair on the top of their heads and sunburn easier than teens or adults. And a recent article came out that said that kids who got a severe sunburn are significantly more at risk to develop melanoma and other skin cancers during adulthood. At least protect the child until their old enough to make the choice for themselves. Kids should have hats or sunscreen on their heads (especially fairer kids).

Sometimes the way it's presented can make all the difference in how it's received.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 17, 2006 1:58 PM

I have concerns about being the non-gatekeeper parent. My partner has an older child from a previous marriage, a job that is both part time and safe for bringing a baby to work (church office) and has told me repeatedly that we will have both a 'no daycare until after age three' rule and that the older child was carried to work every day for her entire early childhood. I work in an office where an infant would be, if not entirely out of place (there are occasionally folks that bring kids up here for lunch with a parent or the like) at least taxing, and I wouldn't even consider doing it for a whole day. Can a non-gatekeeper parent 'keep their hand in' with childcare if they want to? If so, how? I am honestly a little concerned, and wonder if anyone else has done it successfully.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | August 17, 2006 2:06 PM

Hey Mel --

"I am just not a worrier and would certainly do a million things "wrong" with a baby. Not harmful, just not persnickety correct."

With an approach like that, you might just make a great parent. Learn as you go, do what's right for your kid (and yourself), and you could be in charge of a happy, well-adjusted family!

Posted by: Arlington Dad | August 17, 2006 2:13 PM

But heat escapes from your head -- doesn't wearing a hat prevent that?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 2:20 PM

We are going all the way this year! Haters go home!

Posted by: Alex Rodriguez, #13 | August 17, 2006 2:29 PM

To Jolie, who said "GateKeeper Dad: If it werent for the fact that my daughter is only 15 months, I would swear you were my husband. I definitely had a difficult time adjusting to the birth of our daughter, and so daddy got used to doing a LOT more than most fathers do. We figured early on that without a consistent amount of sleep, my depression got really bad - so he started getting up with her, and not me."


The situation is not as rare as you may think. I know a couple other families where it turned out this way.

Posted by: Gatekeeper Dad | August 17, 2006 2:32 PM

Has anyone else noticed that today's topic isn't quite the firebrand as yesterday's?

Posted by: 215 | August 17, 2006 2:41 PM

The gatekeeper syndrome happens because too many moms want to tell the dads what to do AND how to do it. The reality is that moms have to choose one or the other, or they become the gatekeeper because no dad wants to continually endure feeling inadequate or stupid. I'll struggle and work my way through anything, but it does me no good for my wife to intervene and "fix" the problem herself just because she can do it faster. Eventually dad's going to stop trying.

Posted by: Anon | August 17, 2006 2:45 PM

"Has anyone else noticed that today's topic isn't quite the firebrand as yesterday's?"

Some of our more notorious outspoken/controversial folks have been silent today. At least 3 that I can think of.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 2:49 PM

Re: hats

You can get hats that are designed for blocking sunlight and don't keep as much heat in (e.g. linen or breathable cotton). Look for products advertised as "sun hats" and they tend to be less heat holding. If you are worried about overheating, you can also use a stroller with a rollout shade that can be drawn over as needed. Mainly keep the UV light off the skin.

To 215--today's topic isn't even as much of a firebrand as Brian's last topic. That generated a lot more heat and friction. Having been targetted a few times by the name-callers, I, for one, welcome the peaceful discussion.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 17, 2006 2:49 PM

The gatekeeper syndrome happens because too many moms want to tell the dads what to do AND how to do it. The reality is that moms have to choose one or the other, or they become the gatekeeper because no dad wants to continually endure feeling inadequate or stupid. I'll struggle and work my way through anything, but it does me no good for my wife to intervene and "fix" the problem herself just because she can do it faster. Eventually dad's going to stop trying.

Posted by: Anon | August 17, 2006 2:50 PM

"Has anyone else noticed that today's topic isn't quite the firebrand as yesterday's?"

Some of our more outspoken/controversial folks have not joined the conversation today. At least 3 that I can think of.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 2:51 PM

Hmmm. Seems like our postings are now showing up listed by your internal computer's clock, not by the time on the web server. WaPo, please hire me as your technology provider! Your current provider ain't gettin' it done.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 2:53 PM

I do think gatekeeping is an issue.

I come from a family where my father and brother do not speak. Both *feel* that the other dislikes him (doesn't love him). My brother has a lot of anger at my father. It's sad.

I think it all started in "babyhood" with some gatekeeping from my mom.

My dad, insecure in general, really lost confidence in the relationship, and never gained it back in dealing with my brother. Now my brother is an adult and they have no relationship (as older child, however, I have a good relationship with my dad).

This admittedly is an extreme case, but it's made me so grateful that DH wants to be such an involved father. My son is one year old and prefers me for comforting, which breaks his papa's heart. My DH has to work long hours at his new business, so feels quite guilty.

I'm looking forward to a time when my son actually prefers his papa sometimes. I know it will come.

One last point about gatekeeping -- even I'm not immune. Our son had a long crying spell after being accidentally awoken last night. After some time, I handed him off to DH, saying "your turn". After hearing that things were in fact getting to a slightly higher pitch, I went out and had to bite my tongue at DH's techniques. Glad I did.

Posted by: Rebecca | August 17, 2006 2:54 PM

As the child of lesbian parents, I can say that one benefit is that they BOTH were always there for me and my siblings. As the oldest of 3, I definitely saw both of my moms get up equally for feedings, both could comfort the baby, etc. I was always just as comfortable with one parent as with the other.

I think that historical gender roles just still come into play here, since when two females were parents, they shared the parenting responsibility equally. But when a man is involved, suddenly most of the parent responsibility seems to fall on the woman.

Just another perspective...

Posted by: 2 Moms | August 17, 2006 3:01 PM

or you can just slather sunblock on your child's head. much less irritating to them than a hat.

Posted by: more hat thoughts | August 17, 2006 3:01 PM

"The situation is not as rare as you may think. I know a couple other families where it turned out this way. "

Gatekeeper Dad, Its refreshing to hear this - of all the people I know who had kids around when we did, we are definitely the oddballs, with him doing so much and me sometimes feeling unneccessary. Maybe I need to start a moms group for people like me, where we all go to the spa and talk about all the work our husbands do for the children and how we wish they would let us do more. :-)

Seriously though, it is refreshing to know I'm not alone.

Posted by: Jolie | August 17, 2006 3:14 PM

I agree with nearly all of the posts today but I see a little polarization - EITHER mom or dad is the gatekeeper. I think my DH and I prefer a team approach with sometimes mom and sometimes dad being the lead player. Our daugher, now 4 (or almost 5 as she would say), loves hearing stories of her as a baby and for each story told by mom, she wants a story told by dad. We developed a routine from day one but made sure it was able to be done by either one of us. DD had the benefit of the same routine, just not always done one way by one parent. She's still intent on her routine but it matters very little difference whether it's mom or dad reading the bedtime stories. In the event she wants one or the other, we're flexible and know the next time it will probably be the other one of us. I think it also helps to understand where the child is developmentally - the older two boys both went through a total dad phase at about 8-9 years old. My oldest, now 12, is in a mom-phase but I know it's short-lived and probably won't happen again, so I'm trying to enjoy every second of it. I admit I'm inclined to be a control freak so it was a real effort to let my DH pitch in and become an equal member of the parenting team but it has been so worth it - even if he still doesn't get things *exactly* right sometimes ...

Posted by: SS | August 17, 2006 3:17 PM

"But heat escapes from your head -- doesn't wearing a hat prevent that?"

Look for summer hats that have little vents that allow heat to escape. Or make your own vents if the hat doesn't already have them.

Posted by: Sweaty Baby's Mom | August 17, 2006 3:20 PM

Re: sunblock

That works for some kids, but not all. My nieces didn't like the bright light when they were infants (you'd never know that if you met them when they were adolescents) and hats with brims that could help keep the light out were useful. But, YMMV and every kid is different. Just keep in mind the UV problem.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 17, 2006 3:27 PM

what is YMMV?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 3:37 PM

My husband is an equal partner but our problem is gatekeeping the grandparents.

Our daughter has always been a shy child. She will totally be herself until she realizes she has an audience watching her. She is extremely cautious in new situations or around new people. (won't take anything offered by a stranger-even if it is her own toy or ice cream, wants to be near us until she determines the area/people are not going to attack her...

His parents don't see our daughter often enough and totally bum-rush her the moment they see her. She freaks out and cries that these (essentially) strangers have whipped her away from her parents and are all in her face and wanting kisses. They have slowly learned from their mistakes. She is now better with them but it makes it difficult for all of us.

They wanted to be able to bathe her, feed her, and comfort her. But really they just freaked her out to Def Con 4.

They always tried to insist that we just drop her off with them. This was obviously ridiculous, but now that she is older and we have made a concerted effort to make her feel comfortable with them, this past weekend she did let them babysit and had a great time.

Anyway, my point is that we had a hard time dealing with all the personalities involved. Shy kid, aggressive grandparents whose personalities are larger than life and kinda scary even to me, and my husband and I--attempting to reconcile all the parties even though we are both passive when it comes to his parents.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 3:47 PM

Oh good, someone else noticed the messed up posting time. It started yesterday and apparently has yet to be corrected.

DadWannaBe: glad to hear there's someone else on the same page. I like hearing from other unmarried or pre-child people, to get their take on issues that are going to be affecting us in the future.

Posted by: 215 | August 17, 2006 3:50 PM

I forgot to mention that we did just flat out leave her with them when she was younger and she cried the entire time we were gone and they couldn't understand why so they suggested to us that maybe she had autism because she wouldn't look at them and would just scream.

She definitely is not autistic....she just consistently disliked/feared them.

Contrast that with my stepmom who sees my daughter about as often. Everytime my little girl sees her, she goes running into her arms screaming "LOLA!" (which means Grandma in the filipino language she speaks). She has always known my stepmom was someone that she remembers as being safe, nice, and fun.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 3:53 PM

Jolie - you are not alone! I would join your group....but only if martinis were served.

Posted by: Just a thought | August 17, 2006 3:54 PM

YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary (i.e., you experience may be different).

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 3:55 PM

YMMV, snark-o-thon, shiggity...I think we are on our way to having our own lexicon.

Similar to phrases like Carolyn Hax's bacon pants...

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 4:00 PM

We had similar grandparent issues with one set being formal but demanding affection. Our children still shy away from their grandparents like this. It's hard because you want them to enjoy their grandchildren and your children to benefit from that relationship. We have amazing, warm, loving neighbors who are our "surrogate grandparents." Interestingly, my parents - who have a warm relationship with my children even from far away -appreciate their "stand-ins." The aloof grandparents resent the neighbors - I suspect they think the children would like them better if the neighbors were not available. But, they still don't make any effort to 1) understand or connect with the children or 2) to relate to them other than on the level of demanding affection from children who hardly know them. After years of this, we just don't force the issue. I can't change the grandparents but I can guide my children's responses to them and teach them to be respectful and warm if not effusive in their affection. We don't ever prevent the contact between grandparents and children but we also do not leave the kids alone with them because it makes everyone uncomfortable and has never worked out well. We prefer outings or events where they can be together without the discomfort of forcing the relationship. It's been really hard though.

Posted by: SS | August 17, 2006 4:00 PM

I don't really care if my kid goes barefoot to the park. If he doesn't mind that it's only 40 degrees outside, why should I? However, it really seams to bother all the moms at the park.

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 17, 2006 4:05 PM

"Bacon pants"? What is that?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 4:06 PM

Another issue arising from this is my husband's disappointment that his parents don't seem to really want the relathionship with their grandchildren. It's made him look back on his childhood more critically and he's recalled events that have driven a wedge between himself and his parents. I don't think it was until he had children of his own that he was able to look back at his childhood more objectively. As our kids reach certain ages, he compares how we treat them to how his parents treated him. He now has a lot of anger. Any suggestions here? I can't keep running interference and now that I try to stay out of it, they are barely speaking. After learning things about DH's childhood, I'm even more amazed and impressed at what a loving father he is considering he didn't have much in the way of a role model. So, is parenting instinctive or learned? We all do some things differently than our parents - even the gatekeeping that forms the topic of today's blog - but what things do we try to do the same and is that nature or nurture?

Posted by: SS | August 17, 2006 4:06 PM

Okay who wants to explain Bacon Pants to the new initiate?

Posted by: 215 | August 17, 2006 4:09 PM

To DadWannaBe -- do you have children? I'm confused here.

Posted by: to DadWannaBe | August 17, 2006 4:10 PM

Certain people make you wish they were wearing bacon pants whilst swimming with sharks.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 4:12 PM

I am actually in the same boat as your husband. Having my daughter made me look at my own upbringing and brought out a lot of anger at both my parents. My dad and I are closer for it. But my mom...that is another saga.

My husband and I both actively try to do things differently in our marriage and childrearing. We both obviously survived childhood, but have some major grievances.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 4:13 PM

Lulu, I had a similar issue with my former Mother-in-law. She was a very nice lady but she just came on too strong with my shy son. She always nagged me about letting my son spend the night with her. My son didn't want to hurt grandma's feelings but he definitely did not want to spend the night. I played the bad guy and told her he couldn't. She probably thought I was some witch.

Posted by: Military Mom | August 17, 2006 4:13 PM

Military Mom,

My in-laws definitely always thought it was me playing bad guy until last spring. I went away for a weekend. When they found out, they announced they were going to come down for the weekend to "help". My husband tried to tell them no. He explain he had a lot of homework and he would get more work done if he wasn't entertaining...blah blah... they said, "nonsense, we will babysit so you can get work done".

They showed up, all hell broke loose, husband calmed daughter down long enough to get her away and start eating dinner away from them, they come downstairs, she starts screaming again, and my normally cool as a cucumber husband lost it.

Screamed at them in fact. Told them exactly how they were f'ing everything and everyone up. They have been nicer to me ever since. Guess it dawned on them that he was just as annoyed as me but I was always the one to take the bullet. He hates having to be bad cop with them. Since someone had too, it was always me.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 4:23 PM

"To DadWannaBe"--no I don't have children, but due to various factors (I won't go into them again), my wife and I are currently investigating assisted reproduction options. We are DINKs (Double Income No Kids) looking to become parents.

Unfortunately, the YMMV (thanks to the anonymous poster who answered for me while I was away dealing with work) flags me as old. This was first used on the old Usenet rec.*.* bulletin board forums that developed into the Internet as we know it. They were first started under ARPAnet, the precursor to our Information Superhighway that we have now.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 17, 2006 4:24 PM

I just had to put my two cents in on the dad-mom gateway thing. I don't have any children, but am one of three (I'm in the middle). My mom told me that whenever she couldn't get one of us to stop crying she'd just hand us over to dad. We'd shutup instantly. To this day, my dad looks at a baby and it stops crying. Amazing!
And as for the helicopter-tossing-baby-in-the-air thing. My dad did that with us and all of our cousins (who are younger) and no one has been dropped ... yet. And we all loved it.

Posted by: Melissa | August 17, 2006 4:25 PM

I've had pushy in-law issues also, as I described in my previous post. SIL and MIL. But really, hubby can and put a stop to that. Some pushy relatives mean well but need to be educated politely and respectfully. Others get offended if you disagree with them. My MIL has in the past suggested (to my husband) that my son (4 at the time) stay with her for a few weeks in the summer -- in another state. I did not agree with that and told my husband so. Inside, I'm thinking, "You've done next to zip to establish a relationship with him, he barely knows you, and I'm going to just send him to you?" Part of the root though is some resentment that my parents, who live closer, have relationships with my kids (providing child care, frequent visits, phone calls, etc.) My MIL, on a visit several months ago (while I was out of town and my husband was out of the room), apparently made a show of disciplining my son. She hadn't seen him for about a year before that. Unfortunately, my son has said she is mean and he doesn't like her. I don't have anything against relatives disciplining, but grandparents' role is also providing some fun, affection and even spoiling.

I also have an uncle who had never seen my son before, and the first time he met him, on a visit, decided he wanted to jump in and try to discipline (this is not a kid who was running around raising hell, BTW; it was mostly a 2-year-old not following directions and being defiant). So my son, who takes to people easily, wouldn't go near him.

When it comes to how to care for, how to raise, and how to discipline kids, people can be pretty set in the mindset that their way is right. Perhaps that's how the gatekeeping (if you must call it that; it sounds so divisive) begins.

Posted by: momoftwo | August 17, 2006 4:30 PM

Good Luck, Lulu. My problem was solved with a divorce and a move halfway around the world.

Posted by: Military Mom | August 17, 2006 4:30 PM

I think the problem with maintaining a grudge against one's parents is that sometimes you might still be trying to deal with the emotions of the problems from when you were a kid (I still have some of these issues with my sister). The solution? You have to find a way to stop, look over what happened, come to terms with it as in the past and try to move on. Sometimes that can be done by yourself (or with a counsellor). Sometimes it requires a heart-to-heart talk with the person from your past that is the source of the problem. Continuing to bear the grudge and avoiding dealing with it, only creates more problems that layer on top of old ones until it becomes hard to sort out old resentments from new problems. Perhaps inviting the person you have an issue with over for dinner while your partner takes your child out somewhere might be a good way for a heart-to-heart talk in a more private setting and saying the equivalent of "As I've become a parent, I've noticed some things from growing up that still bother me..." Sometimes with both parties working at it, you can come to terms with what happened (sometimes there may have been external reasons that you didn't know about) and move on. The important thing it to find a way to move on without dwelling on the old problem.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 17, 2006 4:33 PM

There are certain incidents and I look back on from when I was growing up and think, "I never want to do/say/act like that with my children." At the same time, I worry that I'll make the same kind of mistakes my parents did. I don't want to do that, but how do you avoid it? My parents weren't bad parents or people, it's just sometimes they got overwhelmed. I don't want to let my temper or frustration get the better of me to the detriment of my kids.

Posted by: 215 | August 17, 2006 4:38 PM

SS, you are dead-on when it comes to parenting bringing up old hurts. My dad left when I was about 2 1/2; I never thought much about it, that was just life as I knew it. The Christmas my daughter turned 2 1/2, we spent at my dad's house. And it just all of a sudden hit me -- I looked at my daughter, realized how much she idolized her dad (she was definitely in a "daddy" phase), and I just thought, "how could anyone possibly leave something so cute and innocent and vulnerable and loving and depending on you?" For the first time, I mourned for how confused and hurt the 2-yr-old me must have felt, even though I actually have no recollection of feeling that way at the time! It was an incredibly difficult visit, as I was tremendously angry at him, just out of the blue (and unfortunately, didn't figure out the cause until after I left and had some time to process).

I worked through it by realizing that he was 20 yrs old when I was born and was doing the best he could with what he had. And when my mom saw I was struggling, she told me some things about their marriage for the first time that made it clear it was all about them, and not that he was running away from me (yeah, who'd think a 38-yr-old needed to be reassured that she didn't cause her parents' divorce more than three decades before?) -- I had always heard the reassurances, but knowing some of the specific facts of the situation made it more than just reassuring platitudes.

Posted by: Laura | August 17, 2006 4:40 PM

DadWannaBe

Excellent suggestions that did work for me. Therapy, real self-awareness (esp. in regard to what my motivation in bringing it all up and what I thought could be possible outcomes) and then sitting down with them. My dad and I are better for it, like I mentioned. We see each other much more regularly (and I look forward to seeing him). I feel much closer to him, than at any point in my life.

However, my mom has borderline personality disorder. So like I said, she is a saga.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 4:43 PM

"Some of our more notorious outspoken/controversial folks have been silent today. At least 3 that I can think of."

Scarry is one - who are the others?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2006 4:47 PM

Why name names?

Posted by: 215 | August 17, 2006 4:53 PM

Sheesh, some kids won't leave a hat on their heads. Mine won't. I buy hats at the beginning of the season, but actual hat-wearing lasts for about 30 seconds after I put it on her head. Frankly, my child's attire is none of your damn business.

About the gatekeeper thing, the real subject of this thread!

I can attest how easy it is for a SAH parent to fall into gatekeeper mode. During the first months of our daughter's life, I was the at home parent and I was breastfeeding, so I took on the majority of babycare, even at night, on the logic that he has go to work in the morning, but I at least can nap when the baby does. The problem is that you learn habits and norms for interacting with the baby and then when you need to leave the baby in the care of your partner, you naturally want to communicate what you know that works.

I think the cold turkey theory is closest to reality: do provide some direction (i.e., child hates banana but loves applesauce), but don't over direct. It's hard to let go of something that you have been thoroughly responsible for, though. The funny thing is that there are care routines that my daughter (now a toddler) will accept with my husband, but not with me, and vice versa.

Posted by: MrsC | August 17, 2006 4:55 PM

that 4:43 post was me

Laura-

My dad was tranferred to Asia when I was 4 and all these years my mom played it up like he walked out on us.

I brought this up when we had our sit down. About how I couldn't understand how he could leave us like that and give up on his marriage/ kids...

He broke down and cried (talk about a shock when you see a military man almost 60...) explained that he had put in for the transfer because my mom asked him too. Then as a 10 year anniversary present he took her to dinner and told her that he got the transfer she wanted. She said, "no way, are the girls and I going". Turns out she had been cheating on him with a guy who thought he was being transfered there but didn't work out. So since the boyfriend wasn't going, my mom no longer wanted to go. Dad knew the guy. By then he had the transfer lined up and couldn't change it back. Had gotten the kids passports and didnt tell his supervisor that his marriage was falling apart because he really believed my mom would come to her senses and come. Took him a year to finally acknowledge my mom was never coming. Anyway, seeing my dad cry and hearing this backstory as an adult made certain memories make more sense.

Also, years ago my sister asked Dad, "What year did you divorce Mom?" Dad totally got upset and declared, "Your mother divorced me, I didn't want it"...news to us. But years later made more sense.

I have totally "outted" myself if anyone I know reads this.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 4:56 PM

re: avoiding repeating the mistakes of our parents

Very interesting point. Parenting has changed, I think for the better. Children are to be seen and heard, allowed to build self esteeem and to enjoy their childhood. ... but to a certain extent discipline and respect for elders has been tossed out the window. I try to have balance on these issues too. America glorifies youth and the freedom of teens and tweens. Often poular culture encourages a very negative view of parents and parenting. If parents try to hem in these formerly unacceptable behaviors we may be criticized by some as hurting the self esteem etc of our kids.

Manners and respect, I am my children's parent. Not purely their friend.

I see some family dynamics where one parent has missed this key point and only acts like a friend and leaves all the dirty work to the other. Divorce exacerbates this condition.

Maybe a future On Balance topic worthy of attention?

Posted by: Fo3 | August 17, 2006 5:01 PM

Lulu, wow, I'm glad you got that resolution. That took real guts on both your parts.

Posted by: Laura | August 17, 2006 5:04 PM

I'll concede it was not fun, but worth it.


Huge plug for therapy when you need to learn skills.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 5:08 PM

wow, what a Debby Downer I am.

Maybe I deserve the bacon pants....

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 5:28 PM

Very touching post Lulu.

My dad passed away without ever telling the sons of his first family that their mother was the driving cuase of their divorce. It was explained to me by my mother, and then attested to by dad, his ex had an ongoing affair while he was away in WW II and that continued despite his efforts at reconciliation upon his return. After therapy and a trial separation they decided to divorce once the youngest was in boarding school. Back in those days to get the divorce my dad plead guilty to adultery to obtain the divorce as well as to save the social standing/honor of his spouse and kids.

At his funeral the eldest in eulogy called my dad "always afraid," and "always concerned about doing the right thing."

Little did he know how wrong he was. I was sworn to secrecy. Thanks to this anonymous forum it is of my chest.

Posted by: Fo? | August 17, 2006 5:31 PM

off my chest...

Posted by: Fo? | August 17, 2006 5:32 PM

Holding someone else's secret has got to be hard.

The details from my dad were not shocking because I knew she cheated on her next husband...just a surprise since I had never analyzed my parents separation. Just took mom's version as fact.

Even decades later it was nice to finally understand some of the motivations involved. I am sure my dad was not totally innocent, btw.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 5:47 PM

Five years ago, my father passed away leaving a letter to my sister and me explaining his version of why he and my mother divorced. He wrote this letter maybe 30 years ago Their divorce was about 35 years ago. I'm 45. My sister has read it; said it wasn't very nice. I haven't read it. I've always wondered if I should. I was closer to my father than my sister was; she is closer to our mother. She may be more sensite to suppossed insults than I am. Still, I wonder, should I read it?

Posted by: Normally Just Lurking | August 17, 2006 6:38 PM

Normally just lurking-

I would want to, but that is because I have a desire to understand people's motivations and reasoning.

I am not the sort that could just walk away without knowing why.

I love autobiographies and biographies. This is also why I love mysteries and puzzles.

My husband once mocked me by saying I am a detective of my own life. I don't care what the information is, I would rather have all the clues.

Besides the letter was meant for you....not like you are snooping.

What have you thought all these years?

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 7:26 PM

For all these years, I've thought that my dad pined away for my mom. He loved/hated her. I have clues of what is in the letter: accusations of an affair, a pregnancy that my mom purposely miscarried. A friend suggested that I have my husband read it first, but that doesn't seem fair to him, either. Both my mom and dad had very complicated and tragic childhoods. It always made me tremendously sad to hear stories of their youth. In general, I've chosen to create who my father was through my memories, disregarding the pieces that didn't fit my image. It's easier than facing the facts.

At first I wanted to know everything I could about my father after he died, but the little bit I intially learned made me want to live with my own memories instead. Maybe not a healthy approach, but there you have it.

Posted by: Normally Just Lurking | August 17, 2006 8:08 PM

Wow great topic. :) I was definitely a potential gatekeeper and I found that the months between about 3 months old and maybe 9 or 10 months - when the baby gets really mobile - were the ones where it was easy to fall into those patterns. I really appreciate reading people's comments and experiences.

Although I'm not a breastfeed-for-every-boo-boo mum, we did do feed on demand and my son had a hard enough time with a bottle (and we didn't have a life that forced the issue) that feeding pretty much stayed my turf until we introduced solids and a sippy cup. It's still really possible to step out of the gatekeeper role, and I don't personally think that it means the baby is less comforted overall - just that the baby learns that two people will hold and comfort him/her.

What helped my husband and I were:

- he cashed in his vacation when our son was born, so we went through the first few fraught weeks together. During that time my husband wore our son in a sling a lot and has continued to do that, which gave them some of the closeness of breastfeeding.

- when my husband might have withdrawn I kindly but firmly challenged him on it.

- as the SAH parent I took on more chores so that he could spend that time with the baby. Oddly enough, after a marathon breastfeeding session the day before, washing the floors and mowing the lawn look peaceful. :-)

- we both go out of our way to try to reinforce each other's good parenting moments and not flip out about each other's bad ones (and trust me, we both have both, mine just tend to be more when he's not around :))

- when I would do gatekeepery things like sigh, get out of bed, and go into the hall to correct the unsuccessful soothing/walking/etc., my husband would politely but firmly tell me to get my ass back into bed and let him work it out. Which I think is important for the not-quite-as-primary caregiver (both are primary parents) to be prepared to do. And who doesn't like "go get more sleep/have a bath/sit on the porch" on some level?

- I did short trips out, leaving them behind, and then progressively longer ones. I don't think it has to be shock therapy.

- once our son was old enough we found a Saturday parent-tot swim and my husband took him every week... nothing bonds a parent and child faster than trying to get one of those @#$# swim diapers off while holding a squirmy baby on a towel on a change room floor. True story! And that also meant... a blissful hour and half in bed for me with a coffee and a paper!! OMG!

Posted by: Shandra | August 17, 2006 8:11 PM

Normally-

I didn't connect the dots from your first post. It sounds like he wrote the letter right after the divorce?

If so, he might not have had time to process what had happened and the larger picture of why it fell apart. Did you find the letter in some random spot, suggesting that he forgot about it all together, or did you find it with somewhere obvious like with his will. That might tell you whether he had still felt what he wrote.

I say until you know for certain that you are strong enough or that you are curious enough don't bother. Not that a total stranger's advice should mean anything...maybe have a heart to heart with your sister and see whether she thinks it was worth reading.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 9:03 PM

Lulu,

He left the letter in a very obvious spot. I pretty much knew where it was my entire adult life. I have asked my sister if I should read it, and she has adamently said no. I think, for now, it will remain unread but I also won't toss it, which is what my sister thinks I should do.

Actually, a stranger's opinion helps. No emotions.

Posted by: Normally Just Lurking | August 17, 2006 9:46 PM

Normally Just Lurking,

I guess it flat out depends on your personality. For example, I found evidence of an affair my mom had and showed my sister (we were teens). It just confirmed what I had always suspected because the clues were their the whole time. But it FLOORED my sister. More than a decade later my sister is still SHOCKED that my mother was not a paragon of virtue and did some crappy things. She just never wanted to see my mother "in the round" (as my sculpture prof would say). I have always been a realist when it came to my parents, so finding out bad info wouldn't faze me. It would help me understand the situations that shaped me.

But finding out bad info has hurt my sister who prefers her sanitized memories. She has really struggled in relationships because she put my parents on a pedestal and can't align that image with the reality. When I got married she asked me, "If Mom and Dad couldn't make it work, how are WE supposed to make a marriage work" (WE as in Mortals...said with true amazement and no mention of Mom's other failed marriages...)

So my point is, if you are more like me than go for it. At best it will be enlightening and at worst you can acknowledge that it was written by a recently divorced angry person that hadn't fully digested their anger.

If you are more sensitive like my sister. I would just forget about it until either you have fully talked it out to a professional or feel like you could totally handle anything.

By the way, since you already know some details I would be willing to bet it would be anticlimatic to read it. The worst is probably out there...it would just be the tone that would be hard to swallow. Real vitriol is not pleasant.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 10:05 PM

Is your mom still around?

Shandra- great suggestions. My husband was really involved from day one, despite my breastfeeding. In fact, since I was nursing our daughter I think he tried harder to share the load. But my husband is the kinda guy that seems more at ease with kids than a group of adults. He can be totally goofy and make up silly songs. When around adults he tends to be a listener/observer rather than a dominant participant.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 10:31 PM

Lulu, your post are making my eyes wet. My parents divorced and it's probably my fault because I was such a bad kid compared to my brother and sister. I try to make up for it by trying to be a good husband and father to my kids, but I keep screwing that one up too.

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 17, 2006 10:38 PM

Fo4

I seriously doubt you caused your parents divorce. No doubt kids put a strain on even the best marriage but I really doubt people decide to dissolve their marriage because a kid is a handful.

btw, I bet you were the kid that helped lighten the mood by cracking a joke.

Also, I really hadn't intended to go down that long sad path. It started with my goofy (yet overbearing) in-laws and somehow I made it to my "tragic" childhood. Slip me some hard liquor and I will start regaling you guys with stories of the crap my mom has pulled since then.....far worse.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 10:51 PM

Since I am just posting incessantly, (eventually someone is gonna point out how I hijacked the topic and scold me)...

fo4 you and your wife sound pretty strong. I hope my husband and I can still maintain a sense of humor about it all after having 4 kids and obviously a lot of years of marriage.

Also, I would like to point out that even though I went on and on about my dramatic family. My husband and I are pretty low drama. He is fabulous and tremendously supportive in all ways. I promise not to bore you guys with all this baggage anymore. I will try to keep it to just carry on luggage in the future.

Posted by: lulu | August 17, 2006 10:54 PM

I tend to do a lot of the baby care in our family, but all our kids love their dad, and have an easy, close relationship with him. I don't think I gatekeep, but our kids tend to eat a lot in the evening when Daddy is home, and since they're breastfed, and I'm the one with boobs, there's not as much Daddy-time as we might like early on.

A behavior I associate with gatekeeping is when the gatekeeper hovers axiously over the other parent whenever they are interacting with the baby. Babies can read their parents' emotions, and they're going to pick up that they aren't safe. It's a pretty awful message to send to a kid about their parent (and your spouse).

I agree with the earlier poster who said that some parents enjoy being the only one who can care for their kids. It must be a heck of an ego boost, and you get to be a martyr too!

One odd situation we've had come up is that apparently my husband expected that he could be lax, safety-wise, and I would take on the role of hysterical over-protector. I've had to let my husband know that if he doesn't want the kids jumping off the swings or whatever, he's going to have to be the heavy.

Fo4: There is a downside to kids coming and knocking on your door to play-- too often I find myself spending the afternoon hosting a bunch of neighborhood kids who (while not entirely bad) apparently haven't been taught not to destroy a garden or run over toddlers. But it is more good than bad.

Posted by: yetanothersahm... | August 18, 2006 12:11 AM

Wow...the things you miss leaving work early (actually, I left my day job for my evening job).

lulu--I love your story and think that with all the facts afterwards, you can be thankful that you had such a loving father, even if you didn't know it until later. I do think that hindsight can help in the future.

normally just lurking--another 2 cents (if you ever read this). I personally think you need to do a little self-analysis here. You need to think about how you currently view your parents, what additional information about them you are likely to get (probably some negatives about each of them and how they dealt with their situation at the time) and how you think that might affect you and your relationship with them. If you think it might improve your perspective on one or the other or drastically hurt your relationship with one or the other, you need to consider that. Then consider whether you are willing for those consequences. If you are, then you should read the letter to get the full story from your father's perspective. If you think it will cause more harm than good or that you don't think you can live with the consequences, continue to take a pass on that and think about it again in a few years.

There are many people who would rather continue to believe a lie than destroy the memory or image of something and others who couldn't live without the "truth".

Good luck and may you find comfort whatever you decide.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 18, 2006 3:17 AM

My FIL's girlfriend gave me this advice when I was pregnant with my two year old."Let him be with her in the way that works for him. He may not change the diaper the way you want, but as long as he wipes front to back (we have girls) and the diaper stays on afterwards, it's ok!" I read an article once about how men and women relate to kids. The two styles are different, but complementary. I am a SAHM and I do have to stop myself from gatekeeping occasionally. But my girls have a great bond with their dad that I am amazed at. And my girls get helicopter rides from dad all the time. I think it creates excitement but also trust as in "Dad loves me so he isn't going to drop me!" Plus we had our two kids less than a year apart so it's hard to gatekeep when you have to change the other kid's diaper. LOL

Posted by: shayla phillips-mcpherson | August 18, 2006 3:52 PM

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