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The term “default parent” has become more popular in the last few years. Essentially, the default parent is responsible for most of their children’s emotional, physical, and logistical needs. If you and your spouse are parents, one of you is probably the default parent. And if you have to ask who it is, it probably isn’t you. The default parent carries most of the parenting load, which can be exhausting if you are overloaded with responsibilities.

Parenting may never truly be 50/50. 

One of you may carry more responsibilities due to circumstances or a preference. What’s important is that the two of you agree on who will do what regarding parenting. Remember, first and foremost, you two are a team. Parenting takes a lot of time and energy, and it takes both of you working together.

So, fellow default parent, let’s have a quick chat. You’re probably exhausted and stressed out (to be honest, most parents are to some extent). You may feel unheard or neglected. You may be on the verge of burnout. And you may even be resentful toward your spouse. All of this can hurt your relationship. I don’t want your relationship to suffer.

It’s time to talk to your spouse about being the default parent. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Be aware.

Awareness is the first step toward change. You recognize you’re carrying most parenting responsibilities, but it doesn’t have to be overbearing. Let the following statement sink in: “Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.”

Remember that communication is key.

Good communication truly is the foundation of many solutions in a relationship. If we don’t talk to each other, how can we expect our relationship to grow and thrive? Schedule a time with your spouse to sit down and discuss what parenting looks like in your marriage.

As you have this conversation, you’ll want to keep a few do’s and don’ts in mind:

DON’T talk about this when you’re frustrated.

DO set aside a time with no distractions.

DON’T accuse or put all the blame on them.

DO express how you feel using “I” statements.

DON’T interrupt when your spouse responds.

DO listen to understand.

DON’T jump to conclusions about how you became the default parent.

DO seek to understand your spouse’s viewpoint.

Most importantly, be respectful with your spouse. Remember, marriage is a partnership, and you’re on the same team.

Write it down.

Make a list of everything you do to keep the house and family operating. Ask your spouse to write down everything they do, too. Don’t write it for them. You may think you know what they do and don’t do, but assuming isn’t helpful. After you’ve written it down, have a conversation about how best to address the imbalance.

Acknowledge what you both do in parenting and why it’s important.

As parents, it’s valuable to acknowledge what you both bring to the table. Stress the importance of what you both do. Even if you think your spouse doesn’t do enough when it comes to parenting, show appreciation for what they do for the family.

Reset (or set) expectations for who will do what.

Maybe you became the default parent because of circumstances. Maybe you stayed home with your newborn, then took on all the responsibilities and never stopped. Perhaps you have a more flexible schedule and can absorb more responsibilities. Maybe being the default parent was a conscious choice that you and your spouse discussed. Regardless of how you got here, it’s time to reset expectations. 

Own the responsibilities you take on, and only those.

Trust that your spouse will take care of what they have agreed to be responsible for. They don’t need to be micromanaged or reminded constantly. Instead, encourage them and let them know you appreciate what they own. If it’s their responsibility, it’s their responsibility. I know people get frustrated when they ask me to do something and I respond by saying, “Let me check with my wife.” But she keeps the family calendar. I’m conscious of not committing us to something without checking with her first. 

This shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation, either. Circumstances will change, and every stage of parenting brings on new challenges and responsibilities. Revisit this conversation often to check in with and check on each other. You’re a team, and your marriage is healthier when you move in the same direction.

Sources:

Modern Marriage – Till Chores do Us Part – Today’s Parent

Roskam et al. (2022). Gender Equality and Maternal Burnout: A 40-Country Study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 53(2), 157-178.

What Does It Mean to Be the Default Parent?

One parent may carry more of the load, but you can work together.

The other day, I was at my kids’ school, deep in conversation with my wife and another parent. Then, here comes our 6-year-old daughter, on a mission. She goes right around my wife to ask me if she could go play on the playground. My wife responds, “Hey, I’m right here, and Dad is talking.” This didn’t phase my daughter at all. She had a question and thought I had the answer. My wife and I are very much partners in parenting. Still, we recognize that I often serve as the default parent.

What does “default parent” mean?

Default means a preselected option. We all know what parent means. So, what’s a default one? They are the one who carries the bigger load in parenting (assuming there are two parents present). According to a 2014 Huff Post article, they’re responsible for their children’s emotional, physical, and logistical needs. 

If you’re the default parent, you probably already know it without thinking about it. 

Your child comes to you when they need anything (sometimes physically bypassing the other parent). 

You’re the one who coordinates the schedules, sets appointments (and makes sure they get there), nurses injuries, ensures all school needs are met, and serves as the first point of contact for school or daycare. 

You also feel the pressure to take the lead on anything new that pops up, like school meetings or appointments.

How does one become the default parent?

Sometimes it’s a choice. There is an intentional conversation, and one parent chooses that role. But more often than not, it falls to one person without a conversation happening. If only one parent works outside of the home, the other parent may become the default parent. And yes, while moms tend to be seen as the default parent, that isn’t always the case. 

Is there always a default parent?

More likely than not. One parent may always carry more of the load. Parenting will not always be 50/50, depending on your work schedule, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unbearable for one of you. Being intentional about communicating with your spouse is the only way to ensure you’re both sharing the load.

Here’s what parenting looks like in our situation. My children are both elementary school age, and my wife works at their school. I have a more flexible schedule. So, I schedule and take the kids to doctor and dentist appointments. My wife would tell you that she can count the dentist appointments she’s made on one hand. I have served on the school PTA for five years. Until she started working at the school, I served as the primary contact for my son’s teachers. I take responsibility for my son’s sports schedule. 

My wife coordinates the family calendar to ensure we don’t overbook ourselves. She’s the go-to for our kids when they are sick, but I often stay home with them if they miss school. We are fairly evenly split on household chores.

Am I really the default parent? My wife would say yes. Our situation was created mostly by circumstances. Do I do everything? Not by a long shot.

What challenges arise for the default parent?

Let’s start with the fact that parenting is difficult in and of itself. There’s no way around that. Being a default parent makes it even harder. 

Here are just a few challenges that arise:

All of this can also negatively impact your relationship. The challenges affecting the default parent can cause issues with communication and intimacy. If left unaddressed, the default parent’s frustration can evolve into contempt, which is hazardous for the relationship.

If you find yourself as the default parent and you’re not sure how you got there, it’s time to address the issue in your relationship. It all starts with communication and resetting expectations.

Sources:

How Did I End Up as the Default Parent? | Psychology Today

The Default Parent | HuffPost Life

Other reads:

I’m My Kids’ Default Parent But I’ve Made My Husband Intervene More Often

True Life: I’m the Default Parent – Motherly