Exhausted From Being The Default Parent? Here’s How You Can Break The Cycle.

Let me describe my morning to you.

I open my eyes and look at the clock. It’s 6:30am. It’s time to wake up and I start listing the things that I need to do for the day. But first, I have to stop and think. Is today Sunday or Monday? Ok, it’s Monday, and I proceed to make a mental list of things to accomplish:

  • Pack school lunches
  • Prepare breakfast
  • Where’s that progress report card that I need to sign?
  • It’s crazy hair day at school. How should I do up my daughter’s hair?
  • I need to send off that work email at 8:30am before I forget.
  • It’s Monday. I have a work meeting at 5pm. I need to remind the husband to pick up the kids from school.

And as I’m preparing breakfast for the family, my mind is still working on that list. Don’t forget about that blogpost that I need to write too!

This is the mental load of a default parent.

It is no secret that moms take on everything. When kids have a boo-boo, mom is the one who kisses it away. Mom is usually the first number to be called by the school if the kids are ill. When things go wrong, mom comes to the rescue. She makes sure that kids have lunch boxes for school, or that favorite snack is always well-stocked in the pantry (or all hell will break loose when it runs out).

We remember which days are holidays and arrange for childcare on those days. We keep track of household supplies and make sure to restock that toothpaste or conditioner that our kid really needs for her hair. We know when it’s time for kids to move up a size and keep the old clothes and shoes. We are the know-it-all.

The fact is, being the default parent is exhausting. Although I love being a mom, and I enjoy the snuggles and laughter that come with the job, do you know what else I also enjoy? Some peace and quiet time all by myself! I’d also like to be able to take long showers without getting interrupted, or watch a movie without having my name called every 5 minutes.

I am the go-to person, even when my husband is at home. Daddy would be sitting on the couch doing nothing, and yet my kids still prefer to call out to mommy for things. Mom, I’m hungry! Mom, can you help me with my hair? Mom, can you help me with this toy? I am the cook, the hairdresser, the know-it all parent in the house. I am the default parent.

The fact is, I can’t blame my husband for this. Since our first daughter was born, I probably took charge too many times, and told my husband “I got this” just because he was slower in handling things. I was the one who molded myself to be the default parent.

However, I am slowly changing that. Prior to having kids, I was a feminist. I believe in equality. When I was pregnant, I expected my husband to share out the parenting load with me. I bet you, many moms probably had the same thoughts as well. What exactly happened? Life happened.  

I am tired of waking up everyday feeling sluggish. I don’t want to be irritable when things don’t go my way. I have a great husband, but there is still imbalance and we are still not at 50/50 when it comes to household responsibilities. There is so much going on in my life right now, and I need my husband to step up more. I know this process of changing is not easy, and it may take some time, but here are some things that I’m doing to share the default-parent load:

1. Share the concept of default parenting with your partner

The first step is acknowledgement and education. Recognizing that you are carrying most of the mental load of a default partner is key. Then reassure your partner that he is doing a great job at home, but make him realize that there is still an imbalance.

2. Delegate realistically

Just know that it will be impossible to split your responsibilities evenly the first round of doing this, but you can start small. Have your husband pick up a few simple tasks like washing the dishes, doing the laundry or even just looking after the kids for an hour each day so you can get some alone time. The goal is to work towards a more equal workload in due time.

3. Lower your expectations

Dads will need time to learn the ropes and be more efficient at what they are doing. So, let them do things their way, and refrain from stepping in. You can offer some tips to complete the task faster, but do no more after that.

4. Share your plan with others around you

By telling close friends and family about your plan to delegate more, it keeps you accountable. Open communication can be a reminder to yourself not to fall into old habits again.

If friends and family are looking to you to handle tasks that you previously handled, you can gently remind them that daddy is now responsible for that particular task.

5. Switch up the roles occasionally

It’s easy to just fall into patterns that everyone is comfortable with, but there’s a danger in doing so. If mom is always the one putting the kids to sleep, they won’t ever know how to fall asleep if dad needs to take over some day.

Let your partner cook or clean once in a while, or even pick up the kids from school (if schedule allows).

That way, kids are less likely to associate a certain task to one parent only. Any parent can step in whenever needed.

6. Don’t be afraid to make time for yourself

Planning and delegating is one thing, but to actually act on it is another story. Don’t be shy about making time for yourself. Take extra long showers. Lock the bathroom door if you need to. Go on grocery runs all by yourself and take a detour somewhere to do whatever you want to do.

While doing so, don’t ever feel guilty for leaving the kids at home alone with dad. They will survive without you.

To all the moms out there who are shouldering everything, just know that you are amazing, but remember to try your best to step away and let your partner figure some things out.

I am rooting for you – make that one small change now, break the cycle of being the default parent and your life will be much easier in the long run! When you are a happier mom, everyone else in the family will be happy too.

Before you go, check out my other posts here:

How to encourage dads to be more proactive at home

How to juggle work and family

26 thoughts on “Exhausted From Being The Default Parent? Here’s How You Can Break The Cycle.”

    1. Hi Nikki, I completely agree. My husband and I share out the load, so I have some help and get some time to myself occasionally. Thanks for commenting!

  1. Coming from the only parent I know all about the default parent. The mental load is unbearable at times. Knowing this and off loading my kiddos to grandparents on the weekend is my only way through the overwhelming mental tool. Strange thing, I miss my kiddos immensely once they leave

    1. Hi Tim, good to hear that you have some help from your parents on the weekends. Getting help is really important. And don’t worry about your kids – they will be fine without you for a few hours!

  2. This is a very good post. I think that all you talked about is a reality for most women. We need to establish who will be responsible for each thing and follow them. Yes, we need to be flexible too and help our husband with his responsibilities sometimes and vice-versa. But if we start doing his part more often, they get used to it, and there is when the default parenting mode comes. Thanks!

    1. Hi W. Santiago, I agree completely with you. Thankfully, I have a husband who will help out with house chores and taking the kids for walks at times. We have established clear expectations on who is responsible for what, and we switch it up once in a while. Thanks for your great tip – I help my husband with some things, but I always make it clear that it’s a one-off thing which he doesn’t take for granted either!

  3. Great points! Delegation is so important. I used to just wish my husband would do certain things without me asking. Then i realized how silly it was for me to expect him to read my mind! Having open communication has really helped us, and taken some of the extra pressure and stress off of me!

    1. Hi Melanie Ann, that’s a great point! Open communication is so important, and I have learned to practice that with my husband too. My days are so much better now ever since he started helping out with house work. Thank you for your comment!

  4. Having honest communication can help us become open to our needs. When you say what you need and receive support, the overwhelm disperses.

    I’m a default parent who learned that asking for help isn’t a declaration of being incapable. It is by sharing the load that can make parenthood more meaningful and less stressful.

    1. Hi Jordan, thank you for your comment. I completely agree with you – asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but it can help distribute the workload and make parenting so much more meaningful for both parents!

    1. Hi Bianca, I think we as moms just need to learn to let it go, and let dads take charge once in a while. That’s the only we can break the cycle of becoming the default parent. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Such a tricky issue! I think we as mothers need to ditch the guilt and give ourselves permission to change. How often do we muddle on in situations that don’t serve us because we think we ‘should’? Here’s to a more balanced future for mums everywhere!

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