from the blog.

Being the Default Parent

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I got into an argument. We were lying in the bed one morning, discussing our weekend plans, and he made a joke about being “buzzed” by noon. I quipped that it must be nice to just do whatever he wants on the weekends. He responded by telling me I could, too. I gave him a look that could kill. “Oh yeah, then who would watch the baby? I can’t get drunk, I’m the default parent.”

He really took offense to that statement and it made me realize that he really truly does think that the amount of parenting we do is equal. He doesn’t understand that he never has to ask me to watch our son while he runs out to the store, hangs out with his friends, or even just disappears to the garage for a few hours. He doesn’t understand that not being the default parent means that he has never once made a doctor’s appointment, and he’s never prepared bottles for the day. He’s only bought diapers twice, on my instruction; he’s never bought baby food; he couldn’t even tell you how many packs of wipes are left (it’s one, by the way, the shipment arrives on the 14th); and he doesn’t even know what to pack in the diaper bag.

Being the default parent means that even when the other parent is around, you are the one in charge. They are free to come and go as they please and not have to worry about somebody being responsible for the child, because they just know you’ve got it. With the exception of a couple of quick trips to the store and going to work each day, I have been out alone, without my son, one time to get my hair cut.

It’s not all my husband’s fault though, about leaving without him. I prefer to spend time with my son, most of the time. Occasionally though, occasionally, I would love to just sit in silence in my own bed without being touched. I would like to have the time to actually go through all my clothes that are piled in laundry baskets next to the bed and put them away, or throw them away, whichever they need. I would like to have the time to organize my bathroom or clean out my car or the myriad of other things that I can’t do while holding/entertaining/feeding O.

I don’t want to diminish my husband’s role, though. He’s great with O. He probably cares for him more often than many dads because of his work schedule. He’s home alone with him, as the primary caregiver, for 10-12 days a month. He does most of the bath duty and he changes his fair share of diapers, but at the end of the day, O is ultimately my responsibility. I’m the default parent.

I would suspect that this role mostly falls on the mother in most hetero-relationships.

How about you? Are YOU the default parent? How do you get your significant other to step up and offer help? Are we forever doomed to have to ask them for what we need (like taking out the trash)?

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  1. So far parenting is shared in our household. I did more when I was at home, obviously, but even so breastfeeding was about the one thing that Mr. Turtle didn’t do at one time or other (and he’d often help with that by handing me AJ). The biggest reason for this is because Mr. Turtle has always wanted to be an involved parent, and the other reason is that I refuse to be the default parent; that was never even an option. Of course things can change due to changing circumstances/health etc. But I do think parenting decisions should be made consciously in every family not by default to gender roles. Although that is easier said than done in some cases. The thing that puzzles me a bit in your case is that you say your husband takes care of O solo for 10 to 12 days a month. How can he do that without preparing bottles or packing a diaper bag? I guess it’s possible if you leave everything prepped….I just find that a bit baffling.

    1. It’s not that my husband isn’t involved, or that he doesn’t change diapers, give baths, etc. It’s just that when he needs to shower, he just does it. When I need to shower, I have to make sure he’s going to be there to watch O. It’s just a matter of dynamics that I didn’t really expect.

      Our case is a little different in that he works nights, so regardless of who is watching O, I prep bottles (since I pump at work, it’s just a matter of portioning out the days worth) and make sure the diaper bag is stocked every evening. When my husband has O, they rarely have outings so the diaper bag isn’t really as necessary, which is why he’s just clueless as to what all needs to be packed, he’s used to having everything at his disposal 🙂

      He does help me get things ready when I’m running late, but he always needs me to “approve” what he’s put in there. I made the statement last night that he might not know how many wipes we have, or how many diapers are left, but he can tell me exactly how much gas is in the lawnmower, or when we’ll need trash bags. Those are his default responsibilities (the lawn and taking out the trash).

      It’s the things that I know, without a second thought, that make me the default parent.

      1. ah k, that makes sense. 🙂 it’s so interesting to read about all the differences between families, although we are all reaching for similar goals. I hope you find a way to make your dynamic work so everyone is happy…there’s always room for everyone to learn and grow! I feel like we as a family are approaching a real learning curve and it is scary….but trying to have faith in us and the process.

  2. I already feel like the default parent and our little man hasn’t even arrived yet! I know he will be a great day, but so many of the to-do’s are left to me to remember (and actually do them!)

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