Gatekeeper parenting – the habit of doing everything yourself so that you know it’s done ‘properly’ – is harmful to everyone. Here’s why and how to stop.
Celeste Rushby, a parenting coach at Munchkins, admits she had some hard lessons to learn about gatekeeper parenting. With her first child born at 32 weeks via C-section, she felt that she had to keep her ‘bubble-wrapped’. She was convinced that no one could look after her as well as she could. “My husband was afraid to even take a photo – in case he took the wrong angle! And I was a messy stress-ball,” she recalls. But, when her twins were born at 30 weeks (her oldest was a toddler at that stage), she realised she wouldn’t make it through unless she asked for help. “I had to bite my tongue when family and friends did things differently to how I would have liked. Instead I focused on feeling grateful and absorbing the lesson of humility. I also had to accept that admitting I needed help – and receiving it – took courage. It was not a sign of weakness. As a result I became a better person for it.”
Why do we do it?
Celeste says that mothers (especially first-time moms) tend to take on all the parenting tasks because they feel no one else will be able to get it just right. After all, they’ve read the books, watched the shows, listened to the podcasts and asked all the questions at the ante-natal classes. “It’s not just that we feel we have the most knowledge; we also feel that we know our babies best, and those who aren’t able to care for them correctly are just going to mess everything up.”
What’s the problem with gatekeeper parenting?
Trying to do it all is a surefire recipe for burnout. Celeste warns that as you keep trying to do it all, you inevitably find yourself isolated and in dire need of me-time. But, it’s a vicious circle, because who will look after the baby properly while you’re resting? The problem is that stressed mothers affect their babies – and so the gatekeeping tendencies go up a notch. And the cycle continues.
Just let go! It’s hard to accept that by trying to do everything for your baby, you’re sabotaging yourself, but that’s the reality. “A stressed mom means a stressed baby. Will it scar your baby for life if your husband puts the nappy on backwards? If your mother-in-law doesn’t hold your daughter quite the way she likes, she’ll either suffer in silence or she’ll let her know!”
If you’re really battling with your husband’s methods, be kind about it. Don’t heap on judgment and negativity. Rather, focus on what he is doing well before you make a gentle suggestion for improvement. “Try saying something like, ‘Wow, she looks so content on your chest. You may want to pop a burper on your chest though!’” Celeste says. Remember, turning down his offers for assistance too many times will not only affect his confidence as a parent; it will also prevent him from getting some much-needed bonding time.
More about the expert:
Celeste Rushby is an occupational therapist, parenting coach and mother of 3 (including twins). Read more about Celeste Rushby here.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.