Scientists from Ohio State University have closely examined the parenting habits of 97 new parents living in the midwest. Their research indicates that mothers who are overly critical might be discouraging their husbands from being more involved in raising the baby. On the flipside, mothers who praise and encourage their partners seem to inspire fathers to have a more active role in parenting.
The results did not change even when factoring both parents opinions on whether fathers should be more involved. Even if Dad didn’t think raising children was his job, his wife’s praise boosted his fathering time. Other factors, such as Mom’s work outside the home and the parents’ relationship, did not seem to change the outcome either. The study was done using a combination of surveys, videos, and personal observations. This is the first time that scientists have been so involved and interactive on this issue, but it confirms information provided by previous studies.
The co-author of the study Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, has put her foot in her mouth on this topic a few times. She has called mothers “the gatekeepers” who are in the “driver’s seat” of their husband’s participation. I know she has good intentions of inspiring better parents, but her statements can come across as a tad condescending to men. It seems like she is saying that Moms should baby their husbands with heaps of praise or suffer the consequences of an unrewarded uninvolved father. As if men can’t be good parents without being mollycoddled. The interpretations seem to be one-sided too – why not question whether mother needs praise and encouragement?
My opinion based on what I know from other reports on this research is that this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. Mothers give praise to more involved fathers and criticize fathers who are passive parents. A father can believe that parents should be involved, but that won’t necessarily translate once the baby is born. He might be overwhelmed or grossed out by diapers, which inspires bitterness from Mom. I guess I’m saying the issue may be more complex than the analysis that mother is the gatekeeper. Schoppe-Sullivan admits as much by saying that she can’t be sure which behaviors are the cause and which are the effect.
Whatever the case may be, I shouldn’t complain about scientists who want mothers to encourage and praise their husbands. It can’t be a bad thing to praise Daddy. I’m sure that they’re right (despite their poor choice of words) – mothers who encourage the father are more likely to get better fathers.