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.


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.

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.


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.


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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  1. I friggin love that Family Guy clip. It is so spot on.
    Another great blog! Thanks for sharing your wit and sense of humor!

    1. Hey there Dan,
      You seem like a super awesome man who doesn’t need a ton of validation for your contributions and has a kick-ass sense of humor.
      Will you marry me?

  2. It’s like you’re in my head! Other than the shower stuff (I’m a door locker!!) it is my life written by you!! Wonderful blog, I’ll whisk you away to a tropical paradise and we can default together xx

  3. Amen. To every sentence. Every word. Every puctuation mark. And while it’s quite possible that your three rugrats require more default parenting than my nearly grown one, I’ve been doing it longer…which means we’re probably experiencing the same level of exhaustion.

    1. Ha! Good point.
      Thanks so much for the kind words. I especially appreciate the punctuation comment. I fear the grammar police!

  4. When my older two were 3 and not quite 1 year old I joined my husband in Europe at the tail end of a business trip. One of his coworkers described a moment when he was on vacation with his family and he was standing in the kitchen right next to his daughter. She yelled for her mother who was in another room to get her a glass that was right above where he was standing. I thought this was so sad. I made a mental note not to let that happen. I cannot say that I was completely successful, but I do believe that we have achieved a co-default status. I started out making/asking my husband to do things for the kids, like hold them, or feed them, when we were visiting his family. He could not say no or default to me because he wanted to appear the good dad. (They must have thought I was a lazy ass). I continued in this manner, always giving him the ‘gift’ of interaction with his children. When he was out of work he was able to step in. That time was also a gift. I can honestly say he was a great stay at home dad, granted he didn’t have diapers and night feedings, but he coached, took care of the Dr. appointments, the school nurse check ins, got the boys eye glasses and hair cuts, took them clothes shopping and cooked most every night. AND my favorite thing of all was HE made the lunches! This all took a conscious effort though, but I think we are all better for it. : )

    1. Stephanie,
      You are my hero! Wow. That’s inspiring. I must say that I am a very similar parent as you are…and my husband and I have a very balanced parenting gig going. Especially when I worked in NYC and he had to do the daycare drop off and pick up. He even did hair…although never learned braids.
      I totally believe in the “gift of interaction” and honestly, I think most men who work wish they could be the default parent, or not have the kids walk by them looking for mom! My husband would be way better at it than me!
      I do think, as my career has become smaller and my kids have gotten older, they do default much more to me than they used to. Part of it is because I secretly love it….even if it does exhaust me and make me want to make jokes about it!
      Did you also decide to raise your first child as your third? That was always our goal too…to not freak out when the first ate dog hair!
      Anyway…loved your story. It’s so amazing when men get to stay home with the kids. Love that!

      1. I was always a chill parent. At least on the surface. I once gave my first precious child, at 18 months, a plum to eat in the car on the ride home from daycare. My mother happened to be with us visiting and she said, “You can’t give him that! He’ll swallow the pit!” I replied, ” No he won’t. He’s not stupid.” Well, of course he had to prove me wrong and eat the pit!” And of course my mother had to dig through his diapers until she found it.

  5. Love this – perfectly written. Just today I sent my husband (who is a fantastic co-pilot in this childraising gig, but still, the back up parent) saying “I feel like the ‘Administrator’ and I’ve forgotten the password.” All systems seem to be in overload! Loved this piece. Will share. Will certainly get some people to breathe a little deeper knowing they are not alone.

    1. Yay! Amanda!
      Thanks for getting it! I have a husband who is a fantastic co-pilot too, but you are so right, default parenting is totally about handling the the administrative operation! We surely get help from our awesome husbands, but sometimes all systems fail and we need to go offline!
      Really appreciate your note!

  6. Now I know why I am so stressed out all of the time! I am the default parent AND the default earner! Business trips are terrible….the preparing and ensuring that my husband has pre-prepared meals that he knows how to finish and also knows where the kids need to be and when is exhausting. Then, while away, I get constant calls asking where is this or that….what time is this or that (please check the list I left!!)…and of course the “Dad’s not fair” calls. UGH! Upon return it takes me a week (or more) to catch up and find out about all of the needs that my husband was notified of while I was gone, but did not write down and forgot to tell me. And my work wants me to travel MORE….it is a constant complaint that I need to be on the road more. After reading this blog, I totally get why I am always so tightly wound AND stressed out.

    1. Teresa! You are cracking me up! When we both worked full-time I was the default then too. I’m actually kind of good at it. Sounds like you are too! I just wish he’d just once think about how much wrapping paper we have left!! Tough to juggle it all. Hang in there!

  7. True story #1: I am in the downstairs of our house in my office. Working. My husband is upstairs in the kitchen. Making dinner because I’m working late and he’s awesome.
    My 10-year-old son comes to the top of the stairs and calls down, “Mom I can’t get the new thing of juice open, can you help me?”
    I call back, “See that man in the kitchen? He’s your father. Introduce yourself and ask him to open the juice for you.”
    True story #2: we go to the Jersey shore every summer for a week. This year, at the start of the week, I made an announcement: “For the next seven days, I know where NOTHING is. Nothing. I am not keeping an eye on anything or tracking anything. Do not come and ask me where something is. I will have no idea.”
    It worked out well 🙂

    1. Suanne,
      Hilarious! Thank goodness you get it! I’ve just been replying to those that don’t get it. I also have a husband who grocery shops and cooks, so I totally get what you are saying. It’s just hilarious that they default to us…I love my job as default parent, but seriously have to laugh at how ridiculous it can be at times!
      You cracked me up and made my day. Thanks so much for taking the time to write something so funny and supportive.
      Carry on! And maybe blog…you are funny!

  8. This was one of the best articles I have read in a long time! You are a great writer: witty, light yet seriously honest.
    This article also explains something that I have had a hard time explaining to my friends that are NOT the default parent. It is also the reason why I left my tenure-track PhD professor job. When I was working full time PLUS being the default parent to two very energetic Irish-twin boys I was beyond exhausted (and also felt like I may murder my husbands face). But now that I am a stay-at-home-Mom with a part-time home-business I LOVE life. I can say OK, this default parent job is my job. My husband has his equally stressful job and I have this job. I now laugh when my son asks me where Woody’s hat is and I reply “In the living room, under the part of the couch by the window.” And when my husband doesn’t even pay attention to the dentist date note that comes in the mail I don’t mind. I haven’t seen it in writing before this article so THANK YOU for putting it in writing, The Default Parent, it is spot on.

    1. What a nice comment. Thanks so much! I honestly think the main difference between the default and the back-up parent is that there is NOTHING the default parent doesn’t know. I’m envious of the bliss of not knowing some of the details!!
      Your comments made my day! Thanks for taking the time!

  9. I just came across your blog, and this post, via FB. Very glad I did. This post is *so* incredibly spot-on, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts, though in funnier and more eloquent form. Thanks for naming and describing this reality that is shared by so many!! I almost want to rewind time so that I can read it for the first time again. 🙂

  10. Oh thank you!!! Thank you for venting for me, for at least partially banging on the nail of, ugh… Why and how did I become the default parent???!!!

  11. You had me from the first word, but this nailed it for me:
    “The non-default parent? They just leave. Incredibly, they just kiss us goodbye, and leave. Mother f——.”
    The Default Parent. Brilliant! 🙂

    1. Awww, thanks! So true, right? I went away for work last weekend and my husband was determined to have me do nothing. It was sweet, but I still did stuff 😉

  12. I have known the woman who wrote this article for 10 years and am so proud of her right now. The quality of the writing of this blog is not a surprise to me. We met doing theater so I know there is talent running through those veins. She always made me laugh so the humor she exhibits here is just, well, her!! Her vulnerability along with her humor make this blog such an honor to read. It is that right combination of reality and humor. Have I mentioned the word humor enough? Sensing a pattern? Anyway, every one of us, spouses included, all realize which one is the default parent in our relationships. I will just add that the default parent, although usually the mom, is not always. We are a family of two dads and believe you me the role of Default Parent was just naturally mine. I am not knocking my husband in any way. He is an amazing person and dad and my children adore him and he lives for them!. But I am the take charge kind of guy, not in a bad way…lol. But all of you Default Parents know what I mean. I have to say Meredith that I love the term “Default Parent”. It absolutely captures the role perfectly! I am so looking forward to seeing more blogging from you. Again, I am very proud of you!!! Love to that beautiful family of yours.

    1. LOL. Before you wrote this response there was some debate about who was the default parent and I thought it was Rob! Tell him to give me a call so we can swap back-up parent stories.

  13. Super-funny! I was career military, then separated from my wife within a year after retiring, and the boys stayed with me…so I did the “backup” role (long distance, underwater backup) till they were 12-13, then became the default by…well, default. It worked out – great boys, both of ’em – but it was definitely pretty tiring to work a full day, then catch up to what was going on with them, cook, clean, etc. We ate a lot of sushi, because it was close, and it didn’t generate dishes. 😀 I homeschooled for a year because the school where we were was awful…so, yeah, exhausted, yes indeedy. I hear ya. 🙂

  14. Absolutely spot on. When I mentioned this to my (very helpful and normally understanding) husband, he said “don’t you think that’s because you’re home with her all day?” But it was also the case when I was working full time. I, like another poster above, also left a tenure-track professor position to stay home for now, a choice made at least in part because of this reality.

  15. it gets even better when you’re a single parent. I’ve often found myself daydreaming about a sensory deprivation tank :sigh:

  16. This is great! I’ve been struggling with words for the past six years. People call me an “at home parent”. But, I don’t feel like it’s all that different from when I worked. When we were both working, I was the one who had to drop everything when the little… um, our darling son who is always wonderful… got a little sniffle and was suddenly excommunicated from daycare. Now I’ve permanently left work early, and am on 24-hour call for sniffle based emergencies. But, I still feel a great kinship to anyone who’s the Default Parent, whether you go to an office or stay home to do laundry. Great phrase you’ve coined!

  17. Have you thought about sending this around to places like Huffington Post (make the Parenting section?) or a good mom blog like ScaryMommy? Sorry….I can’t help myself! Also I bet #defaultparent could pick up steam fast. Then maybe you will get on The Today Show and presto….book deal! :O)

  18. When my wife sends me a link I never know what to expect. She is without question the best default parent in the world. I work from 5-10am so I am available more than most dads but found your blog to be spot on and quite funny.

    1. You are too sweet. You have no idea how that short note will help inspire me to carry on with this wacky world of writing. Thanks!

    1. I’m an at-home dad, and I had the same bristling initial reaction to that sentence. But, she did say it’s “typically the one with the uterus.” I think that’s true and a fair way to phrase. We proud primary parents with testicles are still very much in the minority. Moms, I think, are totally within their rights to complain about having to do most of the work of raising children. I would push back if she had said something like “always”. But, “typically” is spot on.

      1. Thanks, Ian. I actually used The DeFault Parent to get away from saying “The Wife” or the antiquated notion of gender roles surrounding families. I always think about trying to explain myself better there on the blog, but hope that people get it’s just being funny. Honestly, I love the term Default Parent because so many of my friends are in same sex marriages and they now don’t have to endure describing their roles in terms of gender! Like, “I’m the wife.” So thanks for getting it guys!

    2. So true. That’s the one part of the blog that I always question…but was just trying to be funny. Definitely not always the woman. I used the term Default Parent to de-gender what we call the one heading up the operation! I also love Primary Care Parent too! Good one!

    1. Ha! Not all men thought it was so funny. Thankfully the only one that matter for me is my husband and he loved it! He’s even trying to take on some defaulting!

  19. Don’t forget the default parent is also the parent to the other parent. Making sure his suit makes it to the dry cleaners in time for his friend’s wedding. Packing his lunch. Making his dentist appointments, reminding him, and forcing him to go.

    1. I’ve lamented for years how I wish I had a ‘wife’. Oh, I’m married to a wonderful man, but I want what he has too, a wife to take care of all the administrative/errand shxt.

      1. My husband and I always say we want a 1950s wife. Have a blog in the wings about it! We are all experiencing the same stuff! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  20. I can’t say we have exactly the same pattern and I for sure do not know the names of all of my kids teachers. However I am craving for validation and language around how much work I do in both logistics and strategy around my kids that my husband hasn’t a clue about. Why can’t I clean the house, work three jobs and do all of it with transportation (etc preaching to the choir I’m sure) he will never understand.

  21. Love this. Definitely spot on. My husband is a teacher and off in the summers. He says he is my “TA” during that time, especially when I am at work.

  22. But as the man of the house I get to be the heavy! “Wait until your dad gets home”, “Aw, please, don’t tell Dad”, “I won’t tell Daddy if you do your homework now”. I am the swinging hammer of the default parent and I am proud.

  23. The moment that I most realize that I am the default parent is when we are on vacation in a place I have never been and the kids still expect me to know where everything is!!!

  24. This has me howling. I can relate to so many of your stories. I have resorted to exercising at 5:30 am and showering at the gym to have a shower by myself. I also benefit by making my children clean the showers at home since I can claim that I don’t use them:) One small victory!

  25. Literally just talked about this same concept -wish I had thought of the term default parent! Thank you, this is so dead on!

  26. You are so spot on! I can honestly say my kids will scream upstairs for me when my husband is sitting right beside them at the breakfast table happily enjoying breakfast and reading articles on his iPad.

  27. It’s nice to know that there are so many other people out there who have the same thoughts/feelings that I have daily! Thank you for this post. It is funny and totally relatable!

  28. Thank you for naming my experience. Sometimes it is so maddening. I laughed about the shower…I once peeled an orange for my daughter while I was in the shower. When my husband offers to help I am so happy, but so often it just causes me more work. For example, he saw me having a “wits end” moment and offered to put clean sheets on the bed. A few minutes later he was asking where we kept the sheets. We have lived here for four years and he does not know where the clean sheets are? I was stunned.

  29. I had tears in my eyes laughing. This is spot on! And it doesn’t get improve when they leave for university. My son just texted me to please mail his dress pants, shirt and tie that he had left here inadvertently when he came home for a funeral three weeks ago. His Dad and brother had driven six hours the next weekend on a planned weekend visit and brought him a car load of other things he requested at home. At no point until four days before he needed them did he remember that he had left them here. And who does he call? Not ghostbusters! I also still get texts asking me little questions like – can you re-use the cap on the cough medicine the next time you need to take it?
    Recommendation? Girl’s weekend.

  30. It’s the exact same for me. I don’t work though. My husband usually works 4 12 hr days a week and gets 3 days off. He get’s so frustrated when he’s home and the kids always want mommy to do this or that for them. My son will say mommy get me out when we go places. I feel bad for my hubby but at the same time, it’s just like you said, my daughter will be in the bathroom and say mommy I pooped or sometimes she will say daddy but either he doesn’t hear her or pretends he doesn’t. The bathroom thing happens all the time and to be fair I can’t lock the door because twins are only 3 and have just been potty trained and can’t hold it for too long still. but my husband does work hard for us, he even goes in on his days off for overtime and when he’s off he will let me go hide in our room or take the kids out for me.

  31. I actually got a 2-day break to drive 400 miles to my class reunion. My husband sent our daughter to stay with his sister for the weekend.

  32. Spot on!! Only difference in this and my life is I have 6 little life-suckers…and wouldn’t have it any other way! Instead of ‘default’, I’ve always referred to myself as ‘cruise director’. Hubs and I both work full time and it still defaults to me. Upside, they oldest couple (16&17) have started to tell me that they would be nothing without me. Super-great affirmation!

  33. Love this. You could totally throw in the vacation episodes. Doing laundry in preparation for having key pieces for packing, making lists of packing, packing, double checking the packing. This includes household toiletries, three sets of clothes, infant needs, first aid, extras, all while he lays out clothes only for himself. Then has the gall to ask (4 hours into drive) if we packed such-n-such. Haha. I also have a great copilot but I thinks he believes vacation readies itself by some miracle.

  34. This is why I got divorced. Not only was I the default parent, I was the default breadwinner, housekeeper, cook, bottle washer … you name it. I did have a mantra that helped get them to do dishes etc: Mommy is not the maid… so come up with your own catch phrase and get them to think about you differently. And… I’m much happier now!

  35. Hey M,
    Sorry if this is a repeat comment (I didn’t read them all), but I’m constantly baffled by the situation so many of my straight friends and co-workers find themselves in, sharing their lives with men who are not sharing duties. Both partners work full time and yet the wife also does the shopping, meal preparation, cleaning, laundry, bath time and bed time. It makes no sense to me. Don’t you all deserve a partner? One of the very few *advantages* to being gay and out and legally married isthat there are no societal expectations to stick to. We find ourselves dividing labor into “I hate this less than you do I’ll do it.” Junior comes to each of us for different needs but knows we are are team and both capable of providing for her. Anyway, I really enjoyed the blog… Thanks!

  36. When I read the part about 5 showers interruption free I was jealous because I’m fairly sure I have yet to reach that number. At least in not alone in the complete lack of privacy, which incidentally includes 2 dogs also hanging out in the bathroom – the smallest room in the house they have no physical reason to enter.

  37. Was nodding my head through the entire post and then actually snorted out loud when I got to the paragraph about going out of town! I just finished wrapping the gift for the birthday party my son is going to while I’m out of town (with my daughter) this weekend. And I’ve already begun the spreadsheet for when I go on my girl’s weekend in two weeks!!!

  38. I feel like you just wrote about my daily life! this made me laugh and made my day!!!! Wonderfully written, thanks for sharing!!

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