So, you do not want to always be the default parent, but it seems like most of the time you are. In this video and/or blog post we will discuss common frustrations of moms who feel like the default parent and 3 tips to share the load more with your partner.
*Want to watch this in video form? Scroll down to see the corresponding video on this topic*
What Does “Default Parent” Mean?
Being the default parent means that care and decisions default to you. Some may use the term “primary parent.” When discussing this, we are referring to the mental, physical, emotional, and logistical care that goes into parenthood and how that may or may not be split between parents in a partnership.
If you are feeling like you are the “default parent” you might say or feel things like:
“I am the one who always gets everyone and everything ready.”
“It seems like my partner’s life is unchanged while everything about my life has changed.”
“My partner does not need permission to do big things like go out with friends, or small things like go to the bathroom, but I do.”
“The home and baby load falls on me most of the time.”
“I am the one making the decisions. My partner follows whatever I decide.”
“When he comes home, he gets to be the “fun parent” while I am taking care of everything else.”
While some partners may truly be disinterested in being helpful, many times there is a lack of understanding of expectations and communication between the couple. If your partner is not willing to be helpful, this turns into a different conversation from the one we are having here today.
Who is “In Charge” When Both Parents Are Home?
Everyone has different circumstances around working and parenthood. For some couples, both parents work. For others, one parent works and the other oversees the childcare and home. Other couples have two parents working from home. It is important to have clear communication and expectations around these scenarios, but for many couples the tension comes most when there is an overlap of “down time” or family time when both parents are around.
Whether it is a vacation or a weekend, these times are when we see the emergence of the “default parent” the most.
- Is there one parent who is able to put things on the calendar without a worry while the other parent needs to check everyone else’s schedule first?
- Does one parent always get up with the kids on weekend mornings while the other sleeps in?
- Does one parent assume the responsibility of packing the diaper bag, texting plans with family or friends, and making sure everything is arranged?
Looking at the times of overlap can help a couple evaluate if and when there is a default parent situation happening that needs to be addressed.
When I Felt Like the Default Parent as a First-Time-Mom
As a first time mom, I did not know the term primary parent but I felt it often. I felt like I was the one packing the diaper bag and keeping stock of the supplies. I felt like I was the one coordinating schedules with the family. It was me who led the baby’s schedule and sleep approaches. And I was exhausted. Even with a great partner, I was exhausted and felt like I was carrying a big load.
What I came to realize was that my partner did not understand the mental and emotional load I was going through. Because I wanted to look like a “Supermom,” I was not clear and consistent in vocalizing my need for help.I was home with the baby through the day. And, I made a lot of decisions on my own and I did not loop him into the things I was working through. I “already knew how to do it myself.” There were many times I did not give him the chance to own his own way of being a father.
How to Make the Playing Field More Even for Both Parents
If you are feeling like the default parent on the to-do lists, mental load, scheduling, etc., it is time to make some changes. Your partner will not be able to read your mind. Time to talk about it will not magically appear. But, if you want to see a change the conversation and action has to happen. Here are 5 ways you can improve the expectations, communication, and partnership between you and your husband, wife, or partner.
Revisit Your Pre-baby Expectations
Whether or not you talked about them beforehand, you and your partner both had a picture in your mind of what you thought parenthood would be like. Take time to revisit. You can use sentences like “I thought we would ____ but we are experiencing _____.” or “I expected to ____ and find that I am ____.” Allow your partner to express their pre-baby expectations and the realities of your current situation. It can be insightful to hear about what the expectations are and where each of you feel like those are or are not being met.
Communicate Frequently & Clearly
Often I hear something like “I told my husband I needed _____.” But, I want you to ask yourself if that communication is truly clear and consistent. In the midst of sleep deprivation and overwhelm we can get messy and ambiguous. Take a look at your communication and see where you can be more clear and increase frequency of connection points.
Empower Your Partner to Lead (And let the small shit go!)
To say this bluntly, You cannot ask for help AND expect it to be done just the way you would do it or want it done. If your partner packs the diaper bag differently, unloads the dishwasher differently, dresses the baby differently ask yourself if this is really going to make a big impact. If not, let that small shit go. It is not enjoyable to partner with someone who wants to control your every move. Your partner deserves to have leadership and his/her own way of doing things too. If their learning process or difference IS harmful (Like they are installing the carseat incorrectly), speak with patience and understanding. You were once learning to do it too!
Stop Always Taking on the Default Role
If you want time and space to not be the default parent, you have to allow that to take seed. Schedule a time to step out of the house like you keep saying you want to. Get up and go to the restroom without a disclaimer. Set up a way to communicate with your partner who is “on duty” when you are both overlapping in play, work, or family time. Drop the phrase “It’s just easier if I do it myself.” Let some of the things shift to more shared responsibility.
Make Clear Outlines of What Needs Done
Create a system in your home that allows you and your partner to see what projects and regular tasks are needing done. This could be a shared app, a whiteboard, or a weekly meeting. Think of this as working with a co-worker. They are someone you are working on a project with (the baby and home is the project!) Get clear about what needs done and how you will approach that together. Getting this “business/co-worker” side of your relationship prioritized will also open up more avenues of feeling connected in other ways.
Never Forget: You are On the Same Team!
You and your partner created this baby and family together. It can be easy to get off track and feel like you are on opposing teams. But, you are on the same team. When the conversation gets heated, remind one another of this truth and reset with a hug, high-five, or a butt smack.