They say envy is a base feeling. But what can you do when you see a fellow dad walking around the street with his picture-perfect family enjoying a moment straight out of the movies? You know the kind when the baby giggles in daddy’s arm and mommy laughs along in their playful fun.
Pangs of envy sting all the more when you invariably end up comparing that to you and your family — kid crying in the background, wife coming up to just ask you the same, old question of what you want to eat. It’s really impossible then not to get jealous of a father who has it all sorted out.
But what if we told you it isn’t that fellow father that has gotten you green with envy, but rather your own wife and the fact that she gets more time with the baby than you do?
Eminent professor of psychology, Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan of The Ohio State University, says that it’s quite likely (1). She conducted a research exploring the dynamics of father-child relationships and discovered that maternal gatekeeping could be the reason why fathers in heterosexual relationships feel envious of their wives or kids (2).
Maternal gatekeeping occurs when the mother of the child serves as a gatekeeper when it comes to anything and everything concerning their child, thereby invariably blocking out other caregivers from playing their part in child-rearing.
Now you can argue that mums are more in sync (biologically speaking) with their kids as compared to their dads. This can lead to more together-time for mom and kids; and, consequently, more alone-time for dads, making them feel out of the loop. Schoppe-Sullivan explains that is the reason why fathers feel like they’re missing out on their share of co-parenting, and hence, not getting the chance to be close to their child. She adds further that if the mother gets a lot of alone time with her child, it’s natural for the father to feel like he’s not a part of the picture.
That said, Schoppe-Sullivan is quick to point out that this shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. It’d be a mistake to think of it that way. Why? Because maternal gatekeeping provides the scope of ‘opening the gate.’ She says that as soon as the parents realize that social and biological factors are highly likely to create a situation in which mums are chosen over dads, they can actively take measures to reorient their child.
However, there’s a caveat. For dads who stay away a lot, the expectation that a reorientation will lead to equal and opposite dynamics with their child is an unreal one. A child will still turn to their mother for the most things — be it scraped knees or fussy mealtime sessions. No matter how much you try, that’s likely not going to change. There are no clever hacks to forming strong bonds.
However, Schoppe-Sullivan believes that the kind of parents who excel at co-parenting are the ones in which the mother lets the father interact and bond with the kids in his own way rather than repeating the same experience as the mother. She says that often kids turn to their mom when they want to feel secure. On the other hand, when they want to play and have fun, they often talk to their father. Letting these kinds of dynamics work in favor of everyone.
It goes without saying that getting there and achieving that healthy balance requires both tact and delicacy. Sometimes the mother might want to play, and the father might want to soothe and comfort the child. Such inequalities can arise. However, when both parents work towards that balance and continue with their delineated (not defined) roles, they can co-parent successfully.
Schoppe-Sullivan says what works in bridging the co-parenting gap is talking about it. Though she warns against using the term “gatekeeping”, she strongly advocates being honest, open, and direct about the whole thing.
Discussions can lead to arguments, especially concerning the respective parenting styles of each parent. However, that isn’t necessarily bad. Conversing about and discussing the role each of you will play for your child can help you iron out the kinks and reach a mutually workable co-parenting plan. While it’s vital to maintain consistency, consistently behaving, in the same manner, is not. All in all, it is crucial to make the dad feel involved and for the dad to respect what the mum is doing for him and her kids.
One thing that’s important to note here is that kids can be very unpredictable. Since they’re constantly growing and discovering new facets of their personality, they may lean on one parent for weeks on end and then suddenly turn around and choose the other. But that’s nothing you should take to heart. Just continue your co-parenting plans, and it’ll pass away on its own.
Parenting can be a tricky business. However, if the two of you work together and continue doing what’s best for your child, you’ll soon achieve a healthy balance and enjoy the perks of being a happy family.