Are you the default parent? If you have to think about it, you’re not. You’d know. Trust me. The default parent is the one responsible for the emotional, physical and logistical needs of the children. Spoiler Alert: It’s typically the one with the uterus.

The first time I knew I was the default parent was when our first child was napping and Dan and I were painting the guest room. When she cried, he didn’t, even for a second, pause what he was doing and consider getting her. At this point, we both worked in the corporate world and we were engaged in the same home project. It was a level playing field, well, if you didn’t count the fact I carried and fed her for nine months in my body, which would make me slightly ahead in the not being the one to default to her arena. I thought, well this is bullshit.

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What is the Default Parent?
Fourteen years later, I’m still the default parent. Now I work part-time from home with my own consulting business, so it makes a little more sense, but it’s still kinda bullshit. Mum, mum, mum, mommy, mom, mom, mama, mommy, mom. All. Day. Long. I handle the needs of all three of our kids from: activity sign-ups, transportation logistics, doctor & dentist appointments, friend and boy issues, hurt feelings, school fundraisers, gift buying, haircuts, clothes shopping, and thank you note writing, which, incidentally, is the work of the devil. I also manage the organization of drawers between seasons to see what fits. This is a crap job that only the default parent even knows exists.

Default parents know the names of their kids’ teachers, all of them. They fill out endless forms, including the 20 page legal document necessary to play a sport at school, requiring a blood oath to not sue them when your kids gets a concussion, because they are going to get a concussion. They listen to long, boring, intricate stories about gym games that make no sense. They spell words, constantly. They know how much wrapping paper there is in the house. The default parent doesn’t have her own calendar but one with everyone’s events on it that makes her head hurt when she looks at it. They know a notary. They buy poster board in 10 packs. They’ve worked tirelessly to form a bond with the school receptionists. They know their kids’ sizes, including shoes, goddammit.

Shout out to the Back-up Parent
And by the way, this blog is in no way a competition between husband and wife for who has it worse. My husband is the default earner, the default lawn mower and the default spider killer, which all come with equal stress and dissatisfaction that he is welcome to blog about. He’s also incredibly helpful and an awesome husband and parent. But, in my defense, the lawn and spiders don’t say “mommy” a hundred times a day, and his boss doesn’t come on vacation with him. Just sayin’. And he’d be the first to admit that I got the short end of the stick. His face hurts when I rattle off only the few things I manage. So, he helps a lot. But, in terms of logistics and administrative duties, he’s the back-up parent.

Happenstance
There is a bit of difference between the default parent and the back-up parent. Lily has jazz on Monday nights. I know she will get there and get home, despite Gracie having tennis at the exact same time. The logistics are on me. No problem. I got this. Sometimes, I get a call from Dan eager to help. These calls typically start out with, “What time does Lily get out of jazz?” I already want to punch him in the face. It’s the same time EVERY week! And while he’s chatting with me lackadaisically about how he can “help,” I’m simultaneously showing a crying George how to borrow in math, a concept a 2nd grader can’t understand at all, making dinner (okay, fine, boiling pasta), and trying to return one last work email. So, yes, on occasion, it works out that Dan’s work schedule, and running schedule, make it so he is literally driving right past Lily’s dance studio at the exact moment in time she needs to be picked up. Helpful? Yes. Default parent? No. Default parents don’t operate on happenstance.

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Showering
Being the default parent, at least in my case, is not about the husband being an asshole, it’s that kids don’t contemplate proximity or sensibility in looking for help. They look for the default parent. Me. I’ve been in the shower and put my daughter’s necklace on. She walked right through my room, past her dad and went to me. True story. Even my husband was like, “Hello. I’m right here.” I’ve taken exactly five showers in my house without being bothered by a child and their immediate need. I’ve blown up balloons in the shower, unknotted shoes, put on band-aids, signed report cards, and braided hair. I know…lock the door. I’m a dumbass. But they’d tunnel in. I’m sure of it.

Information Overload
Forget the information super highway, default parents are the real deal in data storage and retrieval. Unknowingly, we walk around our houses taking mental pictures of where everything is. We see a headband on the bathroom floor and our subconscious knows that information will come in handy to avoid a complete tweenage melt down. I was once in California for work and got a call asking me where George’s sneakers were. And here’s the worst part…I knew. The stuff that the default parent is storing in their brain is in direct correlation to the amount of wine she is drinking. Too much.

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Quarantine Tent
What’s troubling is there seems to be no meaningful escape for the default parent. They don’t get a break unless they physically remove themselves completely from their families…and throw their phones in a lake. Even when they do get a weekend away, they leave a detailed spreadsheet of daily activities organized by event time with notes. They arrange carpools, playdates and leave a wrapped present for the birthday party. The non-default parent? They just leave. Incredibly, they just kiss us goodbye, and leave. Mother f——. Okay, deep breath. Serenity now. The only dream left for the default parent is to contract a highly contagious, non-life threatening virus. But, even then, we know the children will find us in our quarantine tent to ask us to open a jar.

Survival of the Species
Look, parenting is tough all around and both parents are contributing in meaningful ways. I get it. Good to keep in mind that I’m not an expert on parenting. I’m sitting in my kitchen, wearing fuzzy socks, writing about the mythical idea in my head called, the default parent because it took me a long time to figure out why I was so damned worn out. I honestly think the default parent is a good idea and probably necessary for the survival of the species. Otherwise, kids would be left places, doing blow, and the whole operation would fall apart. But it doesn’t change the fact that the scope and volume of managing this many lives and details comes with a surprisingly huge emotional and mental exhaustion that is unique to the default parent. It deserves to be understood…and named! Otherwise, we are going to be the ones that start doing blow.

No surprise, this fabulous little gem of a piece was written by a woman, and I’m guessing a mother. Thanks, Alex Borstein. It’s a winner…every time.

NOTES: Yes, Defaulters can be men! If you are upset that I’ve undervalued your role as a parent, please remember we are not in a relationship. My husband is thrilled he never has to think about wrapping paper. 

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107 Comments

  1. Brilliant blog-spot on from a fellow-defaulter! The only thing I would add is-why is it that defaulters always have to “ask” backup to “babysit” their OWN children?! “I have book club Thursday night-are you free to watch kids?” F-ing BS!

  2. This is classic!!! Default parent by default…I love and resent it at the same time, but wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything!!!
    Thanks for writing this!!!

  3. I think this is a great article! a small note I currently do not have any children BUT I am the oldest of 6 kids and while my parents both worked full time (while I was in high school and college) I absolutely feel like I stepped in as a semi-default parent, I ran my siblings to probably 85% of their events and babysat for my parents to go out as well as helping with laundry and meals and clean up. I think at this point I am well prepared to have kids and not over think it as it has already been a part of my life to know multiple family member schedules and keep them organized (maybe not everything you did but my little sister did call me mom once when she was really super young – yikes! ha). in general i think it is a great article and very well written. 🙂

  4. lol u r living my life! Even that darn shower… Sometimes I think about locking it… But what if there in a desperate going to die with out my help or my soothing words of comfort or if they just need to p (house of 4 girls and one amazing man and one bathroom *enter crying here*)

  5. I’m a little past the place you’re at… but you are hilariously and painfully on the mark! Thanks for naming what needs to be named. I didn’t do it half so well as you do, but I was expected to know all those things!
    The mom, mom, mom thing… about junior high my son started calling me Katherine because I guess I quit responding to “mom.”

  6. I love this! For years I was the default parent, for the majority of that time also the default breadwinner, and coincidentally, also the default parent to the backup parent and all my co-workers. I can still function on only 3-4 hours of sleep most nights, even though I have now become the default grandparent, too. Right now, I’m sitting at my computer at one end of the house and my granddaughter just yelled from the other end of the house asking me to change the program on the TV. Her grandfather is sitting right next to her with the remote:)

  7. So right on. Only caveat is that the drying their tears over friend dramas and knowing the ins and outs of their lives is something I cherish. I *love* being the default for those things. What a privilege. As far as changing 97% of the diapers and having 97% of all showers interrupted…I’d be happy to outsource that part!

  8. I really loved this entry and read it twice. I am totally the default parent. I loved the part about going away for a weekend and just….leaving. How does he do it? Now I love my husband and he is a great dad but there was one thing overlooked here. It’s an unsaid thing, he kind of expects me to be the default parent, that’s my role. When my children were very young and I found it a huge win just being able to get the shopping and cleaning done, there was still this little devil sitting on his shoulders also expecting me to cook up a fabulous dinner all the time. When I could manage it of course but there are those days when the dinner is pretty simple. Those times where the little 50’s devil said things like; “It’s your job to cook while I have been at work all day”. “What do you think I have been doing? Eating bon bons and sunbathing?”. There was a little part of him who believes that I was. He still thinks from time to time that I have the better end of the stick, so I find it kind of ironic and interesting that even though I gripe about being the default parent from time to time, I wouldn’t change a thing.

  9. loving this article. truly a miracle that you managed the brain power to write this and nicely. you should see my fb rants when i’m at the edge and over… actually no, you shouldn’t. no one should see that. but this, sure, there are a few censored curse words… but in the mind of the default parent, which i know is a maelstrom, they are necessary! we are MAD NOW dangit!
    hecate, the default-parent goddess. and she’s pissed, too. the gods hated and were scared of her. any idea why? SURE we love the kids! we obviously love them more than our SOs, but can you PLEASE WATCH THEM CONSISTENTLY BECAUSE YOU ACTUALLY NOTICE I DO EVERYTHING AND NOT BECAUSE I HAD ROUTINE MELTDOWN. make ME some spaghettio’s, man! i’m STARVING and YOU still have all your calcium! they call it fair bc “they deal with the crazy woman.” and we know we’re crazy so we call it fair too! it’s actually not fair.
    a long time ago, the village ratio was 12 adults watching one child. that was necessary. it still is however what is going on is more like 12 children to one adult, AND children “protective” services are thriving. i do everything you do in a day except gain income. they say i don’t work. i prove all of this daily in triplicate and then take drug tests weekly to make sure i’m not having a libation. this is not cool. therefore, i declare that the default parent should not continue. she should get a reprive and several of those friends who say “oh man, i am SO never having kids–you have enough for me!” will actually come over and do something good for humanity…. instead of it being all you.
    i have some default parent friends too. i feel for them. so much. i want to rant at their husbands. but all i can really do, is relate. what if we could revolutionize this bs?

  10. My siste,r sister in law, and I ask have young kids, were having this exact conversation/rant/tirade while sitting around at my moms house. that was when I stopped and looked up and realized my mom was making us all dinner and fixing drinks while our kids ran rampet and I thought “dear god it’s never going to end”

  11. My favorite is being read to and doing math homework while I am in the bath… All while the back up is watching some must see sporting event!

  12. I read this the day after I was commenting on this very phenomenon to my husband (unnamed, of course) when our dog even by-passed him to find me and let me know she wasn’t well. With our two kids, a dog and a husband’s activities to schedule on top of my own, my alone time is found when I need to go to the hospital for a mammogram.

  13. I literally have tears rolling down my cheeks and I don’t know if it’s because the truth hurts, this is MY life, but with FIVE kids AND a granddaughter or your sheer humor. LOVE THIS!!! Thanks so much for saying how we all feel!!!!👍👍👍👍

  14. God I laughed so hard after reading this. Especially about the drawer thing, which must be the single crappiest job in default parenting – and the back-up parent really has no clue, or better still, denies it is really a task at all. I swear I am taking a full bottle of wine, no glass, just the bottle to my kids bedroom next time I’m doing that particular job.

    What a fantastic blog post, I’ve read it aloud to all my friends!

    1. Thanks, Linda! It’s fun when it reaches new people…and they totally get it. The drawer thing is THE worst! I think the wine is a good idea. Stick around…more blogs coming your way!

  15. M. Blazoned

    This was so real and hit the nail on the head. I think I’ve caused a disturbance laughing so loud at my desk. I really appreciated your wit and the honesty in giving people like us a name! While I know we all appreciate and love our families to death… sometimes “default parents” have no escape or relief; because, we are also managing the life of the back-up parent. It’s so nice to not feel alone with thoughts like these 🙂

    Please don’t stop writing blogs, this was a pleasant release and I totally relate. Now let me get back to calendars, work emails, and returning phone calls of my own hectic life before something falls apart.

    Serenity Now!

    1. You must be in tune with the universe because your comment was just what I needed today! I love that you just found The Default Parent now, after all the hub-bub and reminded me it’s a pretty cool blog! I’m blogging…so stay tuned and I hope I can nail it again! xox

  16. My daughter sent this article last night, saying that now she knows what her title is! I told her I totally related with it and felt that I was the”Default Grandparent”! I posted it on facebbook and a friend of mine (a Great-Grandmother) said she could also relate to it. A wonderful article!

    1. Thanks! So happy to see it’s making another round on Facebook and love the multi-generational appeal. Tell your daughter it gets easier as they get older…or different anyway! xo

  17. Love this. I read this a month or so ago when it was published through Huffington Post. Recently my husband and I switched roles – I returned to full time work and he is taking some time off, though our 3yo still attends day care more times a week than he did when I worked part time and ran the house!

    I googled “default parent” as I was hoping to get some tips as to how one switches the role from one parent to the other, but alas instead found a number of articles referring back to yours! Congratulations on your success and I hope it leads to bigger things as you are well worth reading.

    Coming home from a very stressful professional role then having to argue with a 3yo about eating, bathing and going to bed, I’m now being told by the same 3yo that he wants a new mummy as I’m grumpy! I’m not at all ungrateful about my hubby’s contribution – he cleans, keeps up with the washing, cooks, takes care of sticky situations (so glad I was able to pass the baton on all those things!) – I would just like to think there was a way to switch the default parent role so I could spend less time juggling appointments in my head, taking note of the location of all items when I walk into a room to save an issue arising later, check the pantry and fridge for items we are running low on, think about what clothes I need to pack away and what clothes I need to replace in my growing boy’s wardrobe and generally be less grumpy and my little boy will love me again like he used to when I wasn’t working full time. I’m going to email your blog to my hubby and talk with him about it. We have an awesome relationship so he will get it. Thank you so much! xo

  18. I don’t have my own kids yet, but I have helped raised my younger ones. The last one now sixteen still calls me mommy sometimes.

  19. You don’t realize how good you have it, even as the default parent, as long as you have a backup patent. As the only parent, you would have been painting that room by yourself, tending to your daughter and doing everything else around the house. Every. Single. Thing. Mowing lawns. Killing spiders. Everything. I was a “default parent” when it came to many things, but when my husband died, I finally understood how much the “backup parent” really does.

    1. Of course you are right and have a completely valid perspective on this…and I’m so very sorry about your husband. I can’t imagine doing it alone either as a single mother or a widow, or widower…I know a dear sweet man who lost his wife, but did find the humor in his being the true Default Parent without a backup. If it makes you feel any better, I do know how good I have it. I have an incredibly engaged husband who is a wonderful dad and really awesome human being and I really tried to make that clear in the blog. Understandably, for your situation, reading any blog joking about the challenges of parenting will have a very different tone. I get it. That said, I’ll always look for the funny and laugh at life and things and I don’t think that makes me ungrateful at all. All good vibes to you as you super mom it over there. I’m rooting for you!!! And may anyone reading this take a moment to really appreciate the back-up parents in their lives and how fortunate we are to have such issues. xo

  20. I love this a million times! From the first sentence all I could think was “it’s me ?” I’m SO happy every time a mom speaks some truth about parenting. Don’t get me wrong, I love my 2 wild boys, but sheesh I’m about 3 “why” questions away from jumping out a window!

    Again, I love all the words you’ve written so far!
    Thank you for creating a place where I feel like I can relate!

  21. Ha so identify with hubby asking every week what is happening on that day!! Seriously the same thing that has happened the last 51 Monday’s of the year!! Great blog!

  22. How is it possible I am only seeing this now, related to September is the Worst (in 2018)? Fun fact at our house I am the Default Parent AND the Default income earner…. how on earth did I let that happen. I will say my Back-Up Parent executes on the shopping lists I put together for grocery, clothes buying, birthday/thank you note/apology cards, but not without 4 calls home each and every time.
    I think people who look at or enter into a reverse traditional relationship (wife works, husband stays home with offspring) think that whoever the stay at home parent is becomes the Default Parent. Not so, at least in our case. Could they? Sure, but I don’t think men’s and women’s brains process tasks anywhere near the same; my husband doesn’t think the niceties of life are important, sending invitations/cards/notes, switching seasonal wardrobes, noticing if our kids clothes fit. He has said himself if the house is standing and everyone is fed (pasta with sauce every single night is okay) and alive, it’s all good.
    It is my own need to provide more to our and our children’s life that adds the other tasks, so it falls to me regardless of my other job.

    1. Welcome to the party! Lots of other fun blogs on marriage and kids. Grab a glass of wine or a sparkling water, put your feet up and enjoy! Thanks for the nice note!!! Glad you found me.

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