New University Study Documents the Practice of Maternal Gate-Keeping in Child Care

schoppe-sullivan.1A new study co-authored by Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, finds that new mothers go through an assessment of their partners’ parenting skills before considering how much to allow their partners to participate in child-rearing.

The authors used data from the New Parents Project that investigates how dual-earner couples adjust to parenthood. From interviews conducted three months after the birth of a child, the researchers were able to assess the level of “maternal gatekeeping” in regards to how much partners were permitted to share in the care of new babies. The results showed that mothers shut out partners from caring for infants when they perceived their relationship with their partner to be unstable or when the mother’s were of the opinion that their partners were incompetent in child-rearing tasks.

Researchers found that mothers who held more traditional views on child care, were more likely to actively encourage their partners to participate in the care of the infant.

Professor Schoppe-Sullivan said that “there’s this societal belief that new mothers have a natural instinct to be a parent, even though they don’t have any more experience than new fathers. If we want to increase fathers’ involvement in child-rearing, we need to know what may be limiting their participation.”

Dr. Schoppe-Sullivan joined the faculty at Ohio State University in 2003 and was promoted to full professor last year. She is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where she majored in psychology. Professor Schoppe-Sullivan earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Illinois.

The article, “Who Are the Gatekeepers? Predictors of Maternal Gatekeeping,” was published in the journal Parenting: Science and Practice. It may be accessed here.

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