'Gatekeeping' mothers - Mothering Forums

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Old 11-03-2009, 08:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi,

I just stumbled upon this term in a newspaper article. It's new to me, but I'm sure many of you have read about it before. It refers to mothers that take control over certain aspects of childrearing and/or household chores leaving the other parent out. It is usually accompanied by complaints about the other parent not helping enough or helping the 'wrong' way.

I have conflicting thoughts about this. I know I do it to a degree, and I would like to stop. But I also feel the 'left-out' parent has to have some responsibility and not sit and wait for someone to 'let' him or her take care of a child or do a chore...

I think it's interesting but something about it annoys me and I can't pinpoint what it is...

Would you like to share your thoughts?
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Old 11-03-2009, 08:23 PM
 
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We see this sort of thing on MDC all the time. Mothers who are exhausted from wearing their babies all day long and nursing them all night - yet who refuse to take a break and recharge for a few hours, because that somehow equates to "leaving" their babies, even though the child would be with its own father.

And yeah, the mothers are right: the father probably doesn't know how to comfort the cranky baby as well as the mother does. But he never gets the chance to figure it out, thus perpetuating the whole sorry cycle.
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Old 11-03-2009, 08:27 PM
 
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I think this is very typical behavior for new moms. Sometimes new dads are clueless. New moms are gung ho, have plans and ideas. For pity's sake, it's a really good thing for the kids, too, that one parent is hyperfocused on them for a while.

But the problem is that Dad doesn't get a chance to figure out what works for him if Mom never lets him, or constantly questions or criticizes him. The other parent does not have to do things exactly the same way mom does, and in fact might find a better way of doing something.

I think kids and their parents benefit enormously when both parents participate and interact fully, in their own unique way.

Gatekeeping mothers sounds like a term made up for an article in a glossy magazine.

===========

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And yeah, the mothers are right: the father probably doesn't know how to comfort the cranky baby as well as the mother does. But he never gets the chance to figure it out, thus perpetuating the whole sorry cycle.
Exactly.

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Old 11-03-2009, 08:55 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Yeah... I agree that children can only benefit from establishing their unique relationships with each parent and, then, with others around them. This can only enrich their lives.

Maybe what I find annoying is it insinuates that the mom is at fault for not 'allowing' the other partner to parent. Shouldn't they be just as interested in doing it?

Yes, it's tough cycle to break.
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Old 11-03-2009, 09:07 PM
 
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I've never had any problem letting dh do his share of childrearing. Frankly, I'll go nuts if I don't have time to myself, so from the very early days of our baby-having, I would go out alone, and dh did his part, his own way, and that works for me!

It's the housekeeping I can't quite figure out. I WANT more help, but I think dh does a half-a$$ed job, so then I just get cranky about his "helping" So, I'm unhappy if he doesn't help, and I'm unhappy if he does.

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Old 11-03-2009, 09:24 PM
 
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Maybe what I find annoying is it insinuates that the mom is at fault for not 'allowing' the other partner to parent. Shouldn't they be just as interested in doing it?
It depends on the couple, but I've known couples where the dad was interested in parenting, but the mom didn't allow it. Sure, they persisted, but it's pretty hard to establish a relationship with one's baby when your "partner" swoops in, physically takes the child from you, chastises you (publicly) for not knowing what the baby wants, etc. I'd never heard the term "gatekeeper" (and, honestly, I think it sounds stupid), but there are dynamics where it's more than just a dad who can't be bothered.

Me? I've always wanted my kids to be as attached as I can manage to as many family members as I can manage. If I get hit by a bus, I want them to be close to other people, too.

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Old 11-03-2009, 09:57 PM
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It depends on the couple, but I've known couples where the dad was interested in parenting, but the mom didn't allow it. Sure, they persisted, but it's pretty hard to establish a relationship with one's baby when your "partner" swoops in, physically takes the child from you, chastises you (publicly) for not knowing what the baby wants, etc. I'd never heard the term "gatekeeper" (and, honestly, I think it sounds stupid), but there are dynamics where it's more than just a dad who can't be bothered.

Me? I've always wanted my kids to be as attached as I can manage to as many family members as I can manage. If I get hit by a bus, I want them to be close to other people, too.

I agree with all of this. I've seen parents where the mom complains nonstop that the dad doesn't do anything right. (Really, she will complain that he didn't give the bath right. How the heck do you not give the bath right?) But then she complains that he doesn't help enough. I really feel for the dad in that situation.

And I also agree that I want DS to be comfortable with multiple people for lots of reasons, including the getting hit by a bus concern. I've done my best not to complain when DH does things differently (offers different foods, puts together what I think are mismatched outfits, etc) and I've done my best to encourage DS to believe that DH can help him with things/answer questions/take care of him.

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Old 11-03-2009, 10:00 PM
 
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It depends on the couple, but I've known couples where the dad was interested in parenting, but the mom didn't allow it. Sure, they persisted, but it's pretty hard to establish a relationship with one's baby when your "partner" swoops in, physically takes the child from you, chastises you (publicly) for not knowing what the baby wants, etc. I'd never heard the term "gatekeeper" (and, honestly, I think it sounds stupid), but there are dynamics where it's more than just a dad who can't be bothered.

Me? I've always wanted my kids to be as attached as I can manage to as many family members as I can manage. If I get hit by a bus, I want them to be close to other people, too.
And god forbid the spouse on the "outside" wants circ or vax or whatever else.

Dad to DD 9/2008
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Old 11-03-2009, 10:16 PM
 
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It was a little hard for me in the very beginning to "let go" but never did I try and stop DH from parenting his son. I also knew to never criticize anything he did but gently show him things he didn't know. He had never been around babies before and was really clueless but did a fantastic job of figuring things out.

What made it better was the fact that we were not using daycare when I returned to work. DH had the day shift with DS so I had to let him parent his way and they both survived!

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Old 11-03-2009, 10:29 PM
 
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It depends on the couple, but I've known couples where the dad was interested in parenting, but the mom didn't allow it. Sure, they persisted, but it's pretty hard to establish a relationship with one's baby when your "partner" swoops in, physically takes the child from you, chastises you (publicly) for not knowing what the baby wants, etc. I'd never heard the term "gatekeeper" (and, honestly, I think it sounds stupid), but there are dynamics where it's more than just a dad who can't be bothered.
I've known couples like that too, but I have a hard time feeling too sorry for the dads. I feel like they are on some level allowing the moms to take control. It's like they get caught in this victim role and sort of go with it.

I mean if my husband ever swooped in and took my kid from me and berated me in front of people for not doing something right, I'd flip out on him right then and there. I just cannot imagine putting up with that.

I wonder it's a confidence thing. Like these dads don't feel confident enough in their parenting ability to stand up to mom. Either way though, I think both parents play a role and are culpable.

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Old 11-03-2009, 10:33 PM
 
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And god forbid the spouse on the "outside" wants circ or vax or whatever else.
Well if dad wanted to circumcise the baby, I'd be all for mom being the gatekeeper.

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Old 11-03-2009, 10:48 PM
 
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I've known couples like that too, but I have a hard time feeling too sorry for the dads. I feel like they are on some level allowing the moms to take control. It's like they get caught in this victim role and sort of go with it.

I mean if my husband ever swooped in and took my kid from me and berated me in front of people for not doing something right, I'd flip out on him right then and there. I just cannot imagine putting up with that.

I wonder it's a confidence thing. Like these dads don't feel confident enough in their parenting ability to stand up to mom. Either way though, I think both parents play a role and are culpable.
I wonder if it isn't the fact that society tells dad they are inept. I think in part societal roles play a part. I do think it is getting better but........
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Old 11-03-2009, 10:54 PM
 
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Well if dad wanted to circumcise the baby, I'd be all for mom being the gatekeeper.
Funny how that works.

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Old 11-03-2009, 10:55 PM
 
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I think this is commonplace.

I also think there's a world of difference between circumcision and what is being talked about here though. One is a permanent body alteration. The other...well, I have heard moms (keep in mind my circle of acquaintances is almost exclusively women) ripping their husbands up one side and down the other because they *didn't wipe the baby's butt right* (And I'm talking about the fold of the wipe and how one takes it out of the container, not the very real necessary front-to-back for a girl) during a diaper change. Or god forbid they put them in THE WRONG OUTFIT! Or they didn't do the bedtime routine just right. Or they picked something out of the baby food available to make dinner for the baby instead of following the written, timed instructions to a tee. And invariably these moms also complain that they never get any help. Well, listening to them trash their partners so thoroughly in front of virtual strangers, I know that I would certainly never babysit for them even though I know how to do everything 'right', I can't imagine how it would feel to have someone who's supposed to love me and with whom I created said child with treating me as if I were brainless scum for something that is so inane. :P

I think most men, unless they were raised with a lot of siblings or ones they were allowed to care for, feel awkward and unsupported in general to learning baby care. And they may be reluctant to get into a shouting match with their partners when the baby is young because they don't want to frighten the baby and they already feel like their spouse thinks they're crap. They're also adjusting to parenting as well, and it can be hard for men AND women in such an emotional, hormonal, sleep deprived time to say firmly to one's spouse, "No, I'm sorry, but I will not be treated that way," and even harder for the spouse being told that to actually hear it. If someone is calling you incompetant because you are holding the baby safely but differently, do you really think they're going to be capable of listening to you say, "gee, that hurt my feelings, can you please respect that I have a different way of doing things?" Or is it just going to mean another screaming match and even more painful distance and rejection?

I probably would have very much been a gatekeeper (it's in my nature to be controlling, I'm extremely biased towards my point of view, and if I'm made a decision on something I am right and especially if I am at a physical or emotional low point arguments are invitations for me to sharpen my claws on someone). Fortunately for me, my very wise and beloved MIL was able to talk to me gently but firmly about it. The woman is amazing, because she can be very real with you while still doing it in an disarmingly loving way.

If someone is truly gatekeeping, then it is their primary responsibility to work on changing that. If a partner is out of the house most of the day by necessity and the gatekeeper is the one home, what exactly is the outsider supposed to do? Rip a breastfeeding baby from the arms of a gatekeeping mother? Snatch the baby away and kick the SAHD out of the house as soon as the WOHM gets home? It's not quite as simple as 'do more', because getting space to be yourself as a parent also depends to some degree on your partner being willing to shut up and let you make mistakes. And there is only so much emotional abuse that I think it's human to expect someone to take before they protect themselves. (and actually, yes, I do think someone who is constantly undermining, criticizing, and dressing down their partner over outfit choices, not following the predetermined schedule for things other than medical necessities, ect. is being emotionally abusive.) In the case of abuse, I feel that of COURSE the victim has some control over what actions they can take to protect themselves, but ultimately it's the abuser that bears the most responsibility for their actions.

I think there are plenty of gatekeeprs of both genders out there. I just think that women tend to be the most noticeable because they're the ones who tend to talk and castigate their partners behind their backs to all their friends. I'm sure there's an equivalent thing that men do, I just haven't been privy to it.
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Old 11-03-2009, 10:58 PM
 
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Some people are just "my way or the highway" types. My mom is like that. My sister is like that. And guess what? Their husbands hardly help around the house or with the kids. My sister actually complained to me that when her husband makes the bed he doesn't put the sheet on the right way (sometimes he puts the wide trim at the foot of the bed). Yes, ok, you'd think if you told an adult he would be able to remember it after the 3rd time, but REALLY does it matter that much? So, I see both sides of it.

Me, on the other hand, let DH do as much as he wants (which is a lot) and sometimes ask him to do more, too. One thing I hate to do is clean the shower, so he does that while I do the rest of the bathroom. Problem is he can't see pink very well, so the shower doesn't get as clean. We've worked it out...when he's almost done, he asks me if I see any pink. He's not insulted, I'm not hypercritical. If he sometimes he misses spots, so be it. The shower is still cleaner than before he scrubbed it. Every once in a while I do it so that it gets extra clean.
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Old 11-03-2009, 11:02 PM
 
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I wonder if it isn't the fact that society tells dad they are inept. I think in part societal roles play a part. I do think it is getting better but........
I think that very likely plays a role in some fathers confidence. That said, I still don't think it's an excuse to allow mom to run the show all the time.

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Funny how that works.
If it makes you feel better, I'd be all for a dad being a gatekeeper on that issue as well. I fully support any and all parents that want to protect their children from mutilation.

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Old 11-03-2009, 11:03 PM
 
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Funny how that works.
Well, if one of us is a "gatekeeper," it's certainly me and not my Dh. But if I told him tomorrow, for example, that I wanted to go out and get DD's ears pierced, he would absolutely put his foot down and say "No." If he told me he wanted to circ our son, I would put my foot down and say no. When I told him I wanted a homebirth w/ DD, he didn't like the midwife, and he said No.
You can be a "gatekeeper" or not and still have "hills to die on," as it were.

I think circ is a really poor example of the issues raise in the article.

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Old 11-03-2009, 11:21 PM
 
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I would like to remind everyone of the UA:
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We are not interested, however, in hosting discussions on the merits of crying it out, harsh sleep training, physical punishment, formula feeding, elective cesarean section, routine infant medical circumcision, or mandatory vaccinations.
Please keep this in mind when posting.

 
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Old 11-03-2009, 11:26 PM
 
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I have 2 small kids (DD1 is 3, DD2 is 10 months), and I WOH, FT. I can't even BEGIN to tell you the stupid comments I hear about that, ranging from "And DH hasn't burned the house down yet?" to "You LET him babysit?" (Let? and uh, they're HIS KIDS TOO! It's not called babysitting when I'm with them, why would it be when he is?)

Oy...
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Old 11-03-2009, 11:29 PM
 
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I mean if my husband ever swooped in and took my kid from me and berated me in front of people for not doing something right, I'd flip out on him right then and there. I just cannot imagine putting up with that.

I wonder it's a confidence thing. Like these dads don't feel confident enough in their parenting ability to stand up to mom. Either way though, I think both parents play a role and are culpable.
I know in at least one of those couples, it was totally that. The dad was terrified of screwing up with his kids (seriously dysfunctional upbringing himself - CPS involvement, two alcoholic parents, etc.) and their oldest was his stepson. He figured she knew what she was doing, and if she really came down on him, he assumed he was wrong.

That said...I'd probably flip out in that circumstance, too. Of course, if I flip out on my spouse when other people are around, I'm not that likely to have people wondering if I beat him in private. That can, and does, happen when a husband flips out on his wife. The dynamic is just different. And, really - having a big scene between the parents doesn't exactly help build healthy relationships between the parents and the kids, imo.

Honestly, in the case of one of the couples I have in mind, I'd have walked out a long time ago if I were the dad. Of course, I have no doubt she'd do everything she could to minimize/eliminate his access to his kids in that situation, too.

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Old 11-03-2009, 11:31 PM
 
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And god forbid the spouse on the "outside" wants circ or vax or whatever else.
??
That has nothing to do with being the gatekeeper. I'd no more allow my spouse to circumcise my son than circumcise my daughter or cut off any other body part. Vax? We'd talk about vax. We do talk about vax. We compromise on vax. There is no compromise on circ. Anybody who wants to cut healthy parts off my baby's body is going to do it over my dead body. Nobody would call me a "gatekeeper" if my husband wanted to cut off the baby's finger and I stopped him. What's the difference?

ETA: I'm also all for it if any dad stops his wife from circing their son. It has nothing to do with the gender of the parent who wants to cut.

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Old 11-03-2009, 11:42 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I've enjoyed reading your opinions. I agree that some uber-controlling moms have made it impossible for their partners (and others) to help. I've witnessed a few incidents like these and I always cringe.

I would never take the child away from her dad (or another loving family member or friend). However, if the child is asking for me and trying to wriggle away from someone, I will be available. I've had my dd crying in someone else's arms, struggling to free herself because she wants to be with me, and the other person just won't let go. Anyway, that's for another thread...

I would never critizise other superficial things like outfits (though I've silently laughed about dresses worn backwards or swimsuits that have been twisted in impossible ways around a little body) or the choice of dinners.

But it's sometimes not that simple if one of the parents works outside the home all the time and spends very little time with the children. My dh tries, but he gets easily frustrated and calls me as soon as something gets a little bit hard. He is one to plop a child in front of the tv for the whole evening so he can surf the net and be left alone. Sometimes he won't even let her watch what she wants so he can have a music program he wants to listen to while he is on the computer. Of course dd would rather be with me. I actively play with her. And I would definitely love some time alone to just surf the web and shut the world out, but I don't like doing it to dd if I can't help it. And I want dh (or the grandparents) to feel that way too. I don't really say anything, but sometimes my irritation shows when I get back from somewhere and the kid is whinier and needier than when I left because no one has really paid attention to her.

I guess it is some sort of gatekeeeping in that I want everyone to be like I am with her... But, really, is attention so much to ask from her own dad? I know I have to work on some of these issues but it still grates on my nerves.
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Old 11-03-2009, 11:44 PM
 
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That said...I'd probably flip out in that circumstance, too. Of course, if I flip out on my spouse when other people are around, I'm not that likely to have people wondering if I beat him in private. That can, and does, happen when a husband flips out on his wife. The dynamic is just different. And, really - having a big scene between the parents doesn't exactly help build healthy relationships between the parents and the kids, imo
Well I certainly wasn't suggesting that I would act in a way that if I were a man that others might assume I was a secret abuser. Perhaps I should have used another term, but I was thinking flipping out to mean more like strongly asserting myself as well as letting my spouse know he was crossing a line. I don't think I would have to cause a big scene to do that. And I think it is far more detrimental to the kids to see one parent get walked all over all the time than it would be to witness that parent stick up for themselves and set up healthy boundaries. That would actually be a good thing in my book.

Also, I think if a father were to assert himself when a mom was being really out of line and super controlling he would have most people's support unless of course they were only with the mom's like-minded friends who she trash talks to. I know I have found myself secretly rooting for one guy in particular to do just that.

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Old 11-04-2009, 12:04 AM
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I wonder sometimes if it kind of starts when the first kid is a newborn and mom is the only one who can breastfeed. And so mom gets lots of confidence in being able to sooth the baby and dad, well, not so much. (This is in no way meant to suggest that people shouldn't breastfeed!) And then if mom is a stay at home parent that sort of perpetuates the cycle. Throw in certain personality types and . . . .

Well, who knows how it happens. But I do think this is a real phenomenon in some families, based on my observations.

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Old 11-04-2009, 12:16 AM
 
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My DH and I have actually stopped hanging out with another couple because the wife is like this. I can. not. take. the way she constantly talks down about him and orders him around. She was constantly making comments about how she couldn't believe I "allowed" my DH to do x or y and how she'd never allow her dh to do that.

um, I married a grown up. He does not need my permission to pick out clothes for his dd or to play video games (both things she didn't allow)

I think lack of confidence feeds into men allowing situations like this to continue. Our culture tells men that they are incompetent. Seriously name a sit com where the dad has it together as a parent.

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Old 11-04-2009, 12:19 AM
 
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I have conflicting thoughts about this. I know I do it to a degree, and I would like to stop. But I also feel the 'left-out' parent has to have some responsibility and not sit and wait for someone to 'let' him or her take care of a child or do a chore...
The problem with that is stepping up and doing something that needs doing can get the other parent in a whole heap of trouble with the 'gatekeeper'. Basically a "your damned if you don't and damned if you do" relationship. Don't do anything, get in trouble. Do something and get in trouble. If both outcomes were me getting in trouble I'd take the easy route too.

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Old 11-04-2009, 02:56 AM
 
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Oh, I don't know. There is a wrong way to give a baby a bath, like leaving them unattended, or washing the bum and THEN washing the face with the same cloth. There is a wrong way to feed babies and young children, like giving them foods they can choke on or have allergic reactions to.

If you have one parent who has spent time boning up on baby care (and everyone on this board has to admit it is an impressively serious and steep learning curve at first), it can be hard to go take a shower and come back and see your young child about to make a meal of the "do not feed" list, thoughtfully laid out on the high chair tray by your partner, who is sitting in another room answering e-mail.

It is especially hard when the partner - a funloving, doting dad who loves children and loves to play - doesn't feel like learning any of this stuff, and isn't interested in what you know about it, either.

We're not talking about putting dresses on backward here - that stuff is pretty cute. But the safety things, and the major, major annoyances, like constantly leaving dirty diapers anywhere in the house, could make any woman barking mad. I'm sure most people would say I should be glad he changes diapers. I would be, if the dog would stop showing up in the living room with her face smeared with baby crap.
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Old 11-04-2009, 03:10 AM
 
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I have to work full-time outside the home to make ends meet. Therefore, my husband HAD to figure out how to take care of our baby from 8 weeks of age on. And she was colicky. And the learning curve was steep.

I feel like he loves her even more than he would have because of all the awful and wonderful times they've had together. If you REALLY have to take care of something/someone, you love that thing or person in a deeper way.

So, even though it broke my heart when he would call me sometimes, in the beginning, to say that she had been screaming for 3 hours and nothing was working...I'm glad it happened the way it did -- because those two are TIGHT with each other.
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Old 11-04-2009, 03:29 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cattmom View Post
Oh, I don't know. There is a wrong way to give a baby a bath, like leaving them unattended, or washing the bum and THEN washing the face with the same cloth. There is a wrong way to feed babies and young children, like giving them foods they can choke on or have allergic reactions to.

If you have one parent who has spent time boning up on baby care (and everyone on this board has to admit it is an impressively serious and steep learning curve at first), it can be hard to go take a shower and come back and see your young child about to make a meal of the "do not feed" list, thoughtfully laid out on the high chair tray by your partner, who is sitting in another room answering e-mail.

It is especially hard when the partner - a funloving, doting dad who loves children and loves to play - doesn't feel like learning any of this stuff, and isn't interested in what you know about it, either.

We're not talking about putting dresses on backward here - that stuff is pretty cute. But the safety things, and the major, major annoyances, like constantly leaving dirty diapers anywhere in the house, could make any woman barking mad. I'm sure most people would say I should be glad he changes diapers. I would be, if the dog would stop showing up in the living room with her face smeared with baby crap.
This doesn't sound like it has anything to do with the "gatekeeper" thing at all. If someone is responsible for a child's care, they need to be responsible.

And, I don't know anybody who would think you "should be glad he's changing diapers", if he's leaving them around where the dog can get them. I'm sure there are people who would say that, but I don't know them (or, possibly, they carefully hide their Neanderthalic views of this when I'm around).

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Old 11-04-2009, 03:34 AM
 
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People are talking about frazzled moms who don't want to accept help. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think more than a little of that "gatekeeping" is due to real problems, rather than just hormones or a bad attitude.
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