Family Groups - Women - maternal Gatekeeping
PROVO, UTApril 6, 1999
With dual-income families now the norm, why are many women
still carrying the majority of the responsibility for housework
and child-care? Is it because of the "lazy husband"
who only wants to watch TV when he returns home, or the "macho
man" whose responsibility it is to take out the garbage,
not change a diaper? While fingers have pointed at men, new
research looks at the other
side - how women may inhibit the collaborative efforts they
The current issue of the Journal of Marriage
and the Family includes the first study to define and empirically
document "maternal gatekeeping." The study explores
how women's beliefs and behaviors may actually be one of the
potential factors inhibiting a collaborative effort between
men and women in housework and child-care. The article is
based on a sample of 622 dual-earner mothers.
"While many mothers in the work force feel
they need more support in family work, most don't even realize
their actions may be placing obstacles in the way. They, themselves,
may be limiting the amount of their husband's involvement,"
said Sarah Allen, author of the study and recent Brigham Young
University graduate student.
Maternal gatekeeping is defined as having three
dimensions including the following: 1) Mother's reluctance
to relinquish responsibility for family matters by setting
rigid standards; 2) the need for external validation of one's
mothering identity; and 3) traditional conceptions of family
roles. Included in these dimensions is the various ways wives
manage, exclude or choose their husband's levels and types
of paternal participation in family work. According to the
study, 20 to 25 percent of dual-earner wives may be classified
as "gatekeepers." It is also interesting to note
that the conceptualized dimensions of maternal gatekeeping
tend to be a "package deal"; mothers higher in one
dimension, were generally higher in the other two as well.
Some women discourage their husband's involvement
by redoing tasks, criticizing, creating unbending standards
or demeaning his efforts to protect authority in the home.
This is most evident when wives act as household managers
by organizing, delegating, planning, scheduling and overseeing
the work done by husbands in order to maintain responsibility
for the day-to-day aspects of family work. Their
husbands, then, act as helpers by doing what is requested.
But, this pattern may also encourage fathers to wait until
they are asked to help and to request explicit directions.
Rather than issues of control and management,
in this dimension of gatekeeping, it is common for a woman's
self-identity to be tied to how well she thinks others view
her homemaking and nurturing skills. Because of this belief,
she is more likely to resist her husband's involvement, as
it would diminish her value.
Differentiated family roles refer to roles for
mothers and fathers that reflect a clear division of labor
and distinct spheres of influence. Here, a mother who thinks
family work is primarily for women may be hesitant to encourage
paternal involvement and increase the likelihood she will
monitor her husband's involvement.
As stated in the study, some women both cherish
and resent being the primary care-giver, feel both relieved
and displaced with paternal involvement, are both intentional
and hesitant about negotiations for more collaborative sharing,
and feel guilty and liberated with more involvement from men
in family work. This ambivalence about increased paternal
involvement serves to keep the gate to the domestic garden
periodically swinging open and closed with gusts of wind invisible
"This is a very complex subject filled
with a variety of gender issues," said Alan Hawkins,
second author of the study and director of the BYU Family
Studies Center. "While the term has been loosely used
in the field, no one has previously investigated its many
dimensions or adequately defined it. With more attention to
these issues, perhaps more mothers will be able to achieve
greater collaboration with their partners."
The maternal gatekeeping study was conducted
and written by Sarah M. Allen and Alan J. Hawkins, research
associates of the BYU Family Studies Center. Alan is one of
the few graduate students to have her master's thesis published
in the premier journal in the field.
The Brigham Young University Family Studies
Center is dedicated to conducting quality family research
and providing valuable information to families that will enhance
their lives. The Center has the largest concentration of family
research faculty in the nation and is eager to become a valuable
resource for family related issues.