[T]he main people who “regard women as the default parent” are women themselves. Is she really unaware of the studies on maternal gatekeeping that examine the tendency of mothers to sideline fathers in childcare? Has she not seen the countless articles by women bemoaning their lack of children or wallowing in guilt for working too much and being apart from their kids or worst of all actually losing custody to the child’s father? It’s true that fathers tend to fall into line behind the Moms and play second fiddle in childcare. But it’s also true that they’re following the mothers’ lead. The decision-maker about who does what regarding the kids is usually Mom. And finally, it’s true that fathers are far more involved in childcare than they used to be, again as much social science shows.
So being me I wanted to look what studies did take a look at maternal gatekeeping:
Maternal Gatekeeping: Mothers' Belief and Behaviors That Inhibit Greater Father Involvement in Family Work - Sarah M. Allen & Allan J. Hawkins - Journal of Marriage and the Family 1999
Abstract: Maternal gatekeeping is conceptualized within the framework of the social construction of gender and is defined as having three dimensions: mothers' reluctance to relinquish responsibility over family matters by setting rigid standards, external validation of a mothering identity, and differentiated conceptions of family roles. These three conceptual dimensions of gatekeeping are operationalized with modest reliability and tested with a confirmatory factor analysis on a sample of 622 dual-earner mothers. With cluster analyses, 21% of the mothers were classified as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers did 5 more hours of family work per week and had less equal divisions of labor than women classified as collaborators.
Although scholars have documented that many fathers want to increase the amount of time spent caring for their home and children (Daly, 1993; Lamb, 1997; Pleck, 1997), there are many structural, cultural, familial, and personal barriers to increased father involvement in family work. Daily child care and household tasks can provide an opportunity for both husbands and wives to be connected and committed to protecting, promoting, and nurturing the growth of their children (Hawkins, Chństiansen, Sargent, Hill, 1993). However, more needs to be known about the specific contextual factors that may mediate or regulate men’s involvement in family work. Specifically, how Women’s beliefs and behaviors toward men’s involvement affect actual levels of involvement needs more attention (De Luccie, 1995). Scholars have noted that Wives as well as husbands resist more collaborative arrangements of family Work (Coltrane, 1996; Dienhart & Daly, 1997; Thompson & Walker, 1989). One way women resist increased men’s involvement in family Work is by “gatekeeping” the domain of home and family.
McBride , B. A., Brown , G. L., Bost , K. K., Shin , N., Vaughn , B. and Korth, B. (2005), Paternal Identity, Maternal Gatekeeping, and Father Involvement. Family Relations, 54: 360–372. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00323.x
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to examine whether mothers’ beliefs about the role of the father may contribute to mothers influencing the quantity of father involvement in their children's lives. Participants were 30 two-parent families with children between the ages of 2 and 3 years. A combination of self-report and interview data were collected from both mothers and fathers. Results from multiple regression analyses indicated that fathers’ perceived investments in their parental roles and actual levels of paternal involvement are moderated by mothers’ beliefs about the role of the father. Findings are discussed in terms of implications for future research on parenting identity and maternal gatekeeping as well as the development of parenting programs for fathers.
Maternal gatekeeping, coparenting quality, and fathering behavior in families with infants. - Schoppe-Sullivan, Sarah J.; Brown, Geoffrey L.; Cannon, Elizabeth A.; Mangelsdorf, Sarah C.; Sokolowski, Margaret Szewczyk Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 22(3), Jun 2008, 389-398. doi: 10.1037/0893-3220.127.116.119
The present study examined the role of maternal gatekeeping behavior in relation to fathers' relative involvement and competence in child care in 97 families with infant children. Parents' beliefs about fathers' roles were assessed prior to their infant's birth. Parents' perceptions of maternal gatekeeping behavior (encouragement and criticism) and coparenting relationship quality were assessed at 3.5 months postpartum. The authors assessed fathers' relative involvement and competence in child care using a combination of parent report and observational measures. Results suggest that even after accounting for parents' beliefs about the paternal role and the overall quality of the coparenting relationship, greater maternal encouragement was associated with higher parent-reported relative father involvement. Moreover, maternal encouragement mediated the association between coparenting quality and reported relative father involvement. With respect to fathers' observed behavior, fathers' beliefs and parents' perceptions of coparenting relationship quality were relevant only when mothers engaged in low levels of criticism and high levels of encouragement, respectively. These findings are consistent with the notion that mothers may shape father involvement through their roles as "gatekeepers."
Two news sources reported about a study that also seems to be interesting:
Kenney presented research she co-wrote at a meeting of the Population Association of America over the weekend. The study of 1,023 couples from 20 large cities in the USA found mothers were protective of their caregiving and educational engagement with the child but were less so for playtime activities that "were not considered threats to the mother's caregiving identity," the paper says. [...] Other gatekeeping research co-written by Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an assistant professor of child development at Ohio State University in Columbus, is significant because it studied actual behaviors rather than just beliefs, and of the 97 couples participating, fathers were more involved in daily care of infants when they received active encouragement from the wife or partner. "This study provides perhaps the best evidence to date that the phenomenon of maternal gatekeeping exists and that, under some conditions, it may have the potential to affect fathering behavior," says the study, published last year in the Journal of Family Psychology.
[F]athers' beliefs about how involved they should be in child care did not matter when mothers were highly critical of fathers' parenting. In other words, fathers didn't put their beliefs into practice when faced with a particularly judgmental mother.
"Mothers are in the driver's seat," said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, co-author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.[...]
"Mothers can be very encouraging to fathers, and open the gate to their involvement in child care, or be very critical, and close the gate.
"This is the first real evidence that mothers, through their behavior, act as gatekeepers by either fostering or curtailing how much fathers take part in caring for their baby."
Schoppe-Sullivan conducted the study with Elizabeth Cannon, a graduate student at Ohio State, along with Geoffrey Brown and Sarah Mangelsdorf of the University of Illinois, and Margaret Szewczyk Sokolowski. Their results appear in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.
And on with more studies:
Maternal Gatekeeping: Do They See It The Way We Do? - Lauren E. Altenburger - 2012
Research on the importance of father-child relationships has increased because prior research has indicated that father engagement has a positive influence on the child’s social, behavioral, and psychological outcomes from infancy to adolescence (Pruett, Pruett, & Wong, 2009; Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, & Bremberg, 2007). Higher levels of father engagement in child care have also produced positive effects on self-esteem in children and on the quality of the marital relationship (Pruett et al., 2009; Sarkadi et al., 2007). These discoveries have drawn attention to the external factors that encourage or discourage the father’s level of involvement in childrearing. Fathers are more likely to be positively engaged with their children when they have few symptoms of poor mental health, are securely attached to their own parents, communicate effectively with the child’s mother, and have more social support (Pruett et al., 2009). Research shows that one of the most significant influences on paternal quantity and quality of involvement in childrearing is the mother’s beliefs and behavior toward the father (Allen & Hawkins, 1999). The mother often acts as a ‘gatekeeper’ by controlling the father’s interaction with the child. Mothers may resist increased father involvement by attempting to exclude the father from child care, or support increased father involvement by encouraging fathers to become engaged in child care (Fagan & Barnett, 2003; Puhlman & Pasley, 2010). Specifically, maternal gatekeeping behavior is a set of conscious or unconscious behaviors the mother engages in that either support or discourage the father’s relationship with the child. [...]
In a study exploring predictors of father involvement during the first year of parenthood, researchers found that a variety of factors influence father involvement in dual-earner, working-class families. Mothers’ work hours and shift time were two characteristics that were central predictors of father involvement. Researchers found that parents who work opposite shifts are better able to share childcare responsibilities (Meteyer & Perry-Jenkins, 2010). Findings also indicated that the more hours mothers worked, the more highly involved fathers were in childcare, suggesting that when mothers work more hours they are more willing to accept the father’s help. Maternal gatekeeping was a significant predictor of father involvement at one year postpartum. The negative control gatekeepers engage in allows mothers to maintain a sense of “primacy” as mothers (Meteyer & Perry-Jenkins, 2010). [...]
Mothers high on gatekeeping were characterized by low self-esteem, a strong feminine gender orientation, and a prominent maternal identity. Gaunt also found that the stronger the mother’s religiosity, the fewer her work hours, the less importance she attached to her work, and the lower her income and education level, the more she tended to resist father’s participation in family work (2008).
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Maternal Gatekeeping after Divorce - Marsha Kline Pruett, Lauren A. Arthur, Rachel Ebling - 2007
[T]he power of maternal gatekeeping within the family lies in large part in the consistently demonstrated dynamic that fathers' participation in their children's life is heavily impacted by maternal influences.18 Said another way, the father-child relationship is more highly connected to the quality of the co-parental relationship than is the mother-child relationship, which is more independent of the couple. 19 One suggested rationale for this triadic aspect of fathering includes the greater clarity of mothers' family responsibilities as compared to fathers', since fathers have a less clear "job description" in relation to parenting and family work 20 thus requiring negotiations about a fathers' role between partners. 21
There is much evidence that mothers actively facilitate and promote the father-child relationship. 22 In their exploration of the role of maternal attitudes on paternal involvement, Beitel and Parke23 found that when mothers perceived their partners as motivated to engage in child care responsibilities and, to a lesser extent, as competent to do so, fathers were more involved in childcare. Mothers may passively hinder father-child relationships by behaving in ways that impact how fathers feel about their paternal role. [...]
The importance of mothers' attitudes in gatekeeping is further evident from research showing that sixty to eighty percent of mothers do not want their husbands more involved in childrearing, as such involvement would change the balance of power in the marriage and the important role mothers ascribe to themselves. 25 It is important to note that these studies were conducted over a decade ago; women's and men's roles in family-related work are converging 26 as women's extensive involvement in the workforce requires a re-equilibration of family roles with men contributing more at home. [...]
Divorce can provide myriad opportunities for maternal gatekeeping, and the anger and conflict that often characterize the divorcing period often produces more restrictive gatekeeping. 33 More restrictive gatekeeping occurs in about one-quarter of the married couples that have been studied,34 and it occurs more often in divorced contexts even if the nonresidential fathers are as involved as those living with their children are. 5 It may occur even more often among non-married, separating couples, as these fathers report more obstacles to access posed by their ex-partners than do their married-but-divorcing counterparts. 36 [...]
Results from the few studies of gatekeeping with divorced populations converge on findings that mothers' support is key to father involvement after divorce, 39 and that his non-residential status along with her perceptions of his competence lead to more restrictive maternal gatekeeping. 40