Letting Dads be Dads – Even When it is Terrifying (Part 1)

Letting Dads be Dads – Even When it is Terrifying (Part 1) June 15, 2023

In honor of Father’s Day, this two-part blog is a follow up to an earlier series on what every new dad can do to be a competent and confident father. This series shares the research on what every mom can do to encourage rather than discourage that process (Part 1) – and takes an opportunity to show dads how appreciated you really are (Part 2).

Dads are … different.

I’m quite sure that is not a surprise to any mom reading this. I dare say most of us have experienced those slightly amused, slightly terrified feelings of watching the latest flip-them-in-the-air thing our husband was doing with our toddler. Or watching the equivalent, years later, as he lets a young middle-schooler gleefully steer a bouncing ATV on vacation.

Although we know, deep down, that kids need the difference a dad brings, it is tempting to step in, dial it down, and even snatch the toddler out of his hands (or the middle-schooler off the ATV) to keep our precious kids safe.

In other words … to strongly imply that the man in our life is an inadequate, reckless father who isn’t considering or doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions or safety of our kids.

Most of us don’t actually feel that way! We appreciate our man as a father. When we stop and think about it, we know he isn’t truly reckless or uncaring. We want him engaged but might be shutting him down instead. In other words: we may not realize just how much of a dad’s involvement may be up to us.

This dynamic is so common, it even has an official name in research literature: maternal gatekeeping. Literally hundreds of researchers have found just how much a father’s involvement is tied to the “gate-opening” (encouraging) or “gate-closing” (discouraging) actions of the mom. This dynamic has been studied all over the world. One of the most recent studies was from China. It appears to be simply part of the human condition – and of marriage!

So in honor of all the fathers out there … how do we honor our men rather than shut them down? In Part 2, I’ll share the fascinating and fun results of my recent polling of how you do exactly that – as well as one of the funniest responses I’ve ever seen from a dad.  But in this Part 1, here are four facts that rise to the top as I look at many research studies.

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