Mums, this is why you shouldn't criticise your partner's parenting skills

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Having a newborn is a big learning curve for all parents, but now a study has found fathers who are criticised by their partners in the early days of parenthood will continue to lack confidence in their abilities as their baby gets older.

Researchers from Ohio State University examined the impact "maternal gatekeeping" had on fathers parenting skills and overall confidence and found it to be a significant barrier.

"The behaviours of mothers can shape how fathers interact with their children," lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, Lauren Altenburger said.

"Mothers may not even be aware of how their criticisms of the father may end up negatively influencing how dads parent."

They examined data from 182 dual-earning couples and first time parents.

Fathers were asked a series of questions, when their babies were three months old and nine months old, regarding the frequency their partner took over baby related tasks (because they thought they weren't doing them properly) and how often they expressed irritation towards their parenting. They were also asked for examples of "gate opening" behaviour, including how often their partner encouraged their parenting and requested their help.

Fathers were also examined for a period of time when the baby was both ages and researchers rated them on a variety of factors, such as how they responded to their child and how engaged they were.

The results showed that for the fathers who reported the most "gate closing" behaviour from their partners, when their baby was three months old, the worse their parenting skills were rated at nine months old, suggesting the fathers were more vulnerable to criticism.

"It's about giving fathers the space to parent, too," Ms Altenburger said.

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"Both parents need to keep communication open and not be so quick to criticise."

Author of the book Smart Parenting Dina Cooper said she began working with parents to help create strong bonds to work as a team after she found herself being overly critical of her own husband.

"I recall standing over my partner as he changed my son's nappy. It was our first child and he was about six months old so he was wriggling about whilst my husband was trying to change his dirty nappy," Ms Cooper said.

"I was worried the poo would go all over the place if my husband didn't change him quickly and he would pee all over himself if something wasn't held over his penis during the change.

"Feeling agitated, I said 'you have to be quick, what are you doing?' It was not kind. It wasn't patient and came across as critical. I wanted him to change the nappy the way I wanted it done, instead of allowing him the space to work out his own way and build his skill of changing a nappy."

She quickly realised that, like she had to, he was learning a new skill and she needed to give him the time and space to make his own mistakes.

"So, I started to become aware of when I wanted things to be done my way. I allowed myself to pause and ask myself the question, 'what is more important to me here, the relationship with my husband or the way he is changing a nappy/cooking the food/cleaning the kitchen?'" she said.

She said people needed to remember that while becoming a parent is hard, you can't lay all the blame on one partner, as it's up to both people to take responsibility.

"From being single, to a couple and then a family are significant life transitions and these transitions take time and effort to thrive," she said.

"In this context, the study is talking about mums and dads, but of course parents can be mums and mums, dads and dads and so on.

"We are all learning and there are so many unknowns becoming a new parent. Having empathy for each other is key."