Being the default parent…don’t ask me!

A mother sits in the foreground facing away from the camera. She is on a sandy beach and is watching her child paddling in the water, in the distance.
Photo by Xavier Mouton via Unsplash

Do you know what I mean when I say I’m the default parent? I mean I’m ALWAYS the one my kids go to first, regardless of whether my husband is home or not.  It is commonplace for them to walk past my husband to get to me to ask for something. I’m also the one that carries the majority of the parenting load, physically and mentally.

I understand why it’s the case…I guess. I’m the one who is consistently and physically there for them after all. My husband isn’t away a lot at the moment (don’t speak too soon!) but he has had periods of absence and he’s the one who might be called away suddenly.  I work, but I work from home, during the school day.  

As far as they are concerned, I’m always here. I’m here when they leave and here when they get home.  But they don’t see the work I do, the errands I run and the life admin I undertake.  Those few precious school hours disappear very quickly!

But it’s not just the fact that I’m physically here that means I have become the default parent.  It’s also the fact that I am ‘the organiser’ of the family.  Partly because I’m one of those people who just enjoys organising things, but that’s not all there is to it. 

When the kids were little, I took Maternity Leave with both of them and then returned to work part-time after they were born because that is what made financial sense for our family at the time.  This meant that I did the majority of the childcare, and I became the one they turned to when they were upset or hurt.  I don’t mind that so much, the cuddles are lovely!

A woman is cuddling one child in front of her and another is cuddling her from behind. She is smiling.
Photo by Jessica Rockowitz via Unsplash

Now that the kids are at school, I am still around more. My husband leaves before they eat breakfast and we start the stress-fest that is leaving the house to get to school.  I’m also the one that remembers when the school meals are not things they will eat and prepares packed lunches.

It all has a knock-on effect.  I am the one taking them to and from school, so I am the one who gets information from the school. That also means that I attempt to keep track of when they need sports kits; when there is a PJ day; when homework is due; etc.  As many of you will know, that list is far from exhaustive!

Since I am the one on the school run, I meet other parents more than my husband.  That also has a knock-on effect.  When there are invites to parties, I have to remember to reply, to pick up a gift and remember when and where the party is too.  The same goes for keeping track of playdates, doesn’t it?  Yes, all me, the default parent.

I’m also the one who is home during the day so it makes sense for me to be the one to organise repairs, or work being done at the house.  I’m here to make dinner for everyone so that is my responsibility too.  And therefore I take it more personally when the kids turn their noses up at something I’ve spent time cooking. And I’m here, so I’ll be emptying the dishwasher and sorting the washing out too, right? 

To some extent, I enjoy organising things but it’s exhausting to organise ALL of the things.  It’s a lot of responsibility to be the one to keep track of it all. It’s a lot to remember and if I forget, then the kids turn up to school in uniform on a PJ day or miss out on a playdate.  Who wants that on their conscience?  

A woman sits with a toddler and a baby on her lap, looking at a laptop screen.
Photo by Alexander Dummer via Unsplash

My husband is very much a partner in parenting (when he’s here) but, try as he might, this stuff just isn’t really on his radar. He isn’t as involved in school life because he’s usually at work and all of the knock-on effects of that mean he’s just not aware of the playdates and parties and so on and so on…

He does know that there is a lot of stuff I deal with that he doesn’t see and I know he appreciates it.  But that doesn’t take away the load.  When I ask him to do some of the things that need to be done, he will.  But then I still need to remember to ask, don’t I? Another thing to add to my list!

So how do we try to break this cycle and lighten the load of the default parent? One thing that has helped is sharing information. We have a shared (electronic) calendar now, and anything the kids are doing or things to remember goes in there.  This has the advantage of me not having to remember it, because it’s written down, and also my husband shares some of the responsibility for remembering.

In a similar vein, setting reminders has also helped lighten my load.  I don’t need to keep track of the time in the morning because I get an alert when it’s time to get ready.  For some reason, my kids also respond much better to an alarm than their mother telling them it’s time to get ready too.  Less stress all around!

Delegation is also proving useful.  Do I need to pick a gift for my father-in-law? My husband is perfectly capable of that so there’s one thing off my list.  I may not be great at giving up that control but I’m working on it. One step at a time, right?

The other thing I’m working on is taking time for myself.  Now that I am working again, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed by the amount I have to do in a shorter space of time.  But guess what? Some of it can wait.  Often, taking 30 mins to myself in a quiet room with a book is the perfect antidote.  As long as the kids don’t come looking for me!

So if you’re the default parent, don’t despair! I see you and I know the load you are carrying.  Talk to your partner or support network and accept help where you can.  Take time for yourself and delegate where you can. Just know that you are not alone.