Maternal Gatekeeping: Do They See It The Way We Do?

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The Ohio State University

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Research on father-child relationships has increased because father involvement has a positive influence on the child’s social, behavioral, and psychological outcomes. One of the largest influences on father involvement in childrearing may be mothers’ beliefs and behaviors. In other words, mothers may act as ‘gatekeepers’ by controlling the father’s interaction with the child. Previous research on maternal gatekeeping has mainly used self-reports and has made few attempts to validate these measures. The present study used observational measures of maternal gatekeeping behavior, and compared observations and self-reports of maternal gatekeeping. This study also considered predictors of observed maternal gatekeeping behavior and compared them to predictors of self-reports of maternal gatekeeping. Participants were 182 dual-earner couples who partook in a longitudinal study of first-time parents. To assess predictors of maternal gatekeeping behavior, I examined parents’ psychological well-being, gender role beliefs, and contextual factors from questionnaire data collected at the third trimester of pregnancy, 3 and 9 months postpartum. At 9 months postpartum, observations of maternal gatekeeping behavior were coded from videotaped mother-father-infant interaction episodes, and mothers’ and fathers’ questionnaire reports of maternal gatekeeping behavior were also obtained. Pearson correlations were used to examine if parents’ perceptions of maternal gatekeeping behavior were consistent with observations of maternal gatekeeping. Pearson correlations were also used to determine the parent characteristics that were associated with observed and reported maternal gatekeeping. Results showed modest associations between observations and self-reports of gatekeeping. Results also indicate associations of mothers’ psychological well- being and parents’ gender role beliefs with observed maternal gatekeeping behavior. Specifically, a significant correlation was found between observed gate closing and self-reports of gate closing. Also, mothers who reported themselves higher on gate closing behavior reported themselves higher on perfectionism, depression, and benevolent sexism but lower on life satisfaction. Stronger levels of reported hostile sexism and beliefs about the natural superiority of women as mothers were also associated with higher levels of gate closing. Future research should examine gatekeeping behavior across various contexts.



maternal gatekeeping