By a show of hands, who among us would call themselves the default parent? For a brief refresher, the “default parent” is essentially the individual who takes care of most extra things relating to the kids, including all of the day-to-day operations like teachers’ names, doctor appointments, filling out school paperwork, packing lunches, paying attention to when shoes no longer fit, feeding the dog while nursing the baby … you get the idea. You know, the default parent is the one who does all the things all the time.
I realize that I am incredibly blessed to have a supportive, loving, hard-working and involved husband in my life. I will not complain about that for a second. I fully realize that there are women who have husbands deployed or who would give anything to have their husband for one more day. I also recognize that some marriages are downright crappy, while others are white knuckling it through co-parenting with an ex. Let’s put all of those scenarios to the side and agree that we are not in a competition here about which mom or family has it the hardest. You know why? We all have some version of hard.
I will readily admit that life is all about choices and that I actively signed up for this. We always knew that my husband’s chosen career would be demanding, require long hours and entail travel. He’s out of the house before the sun rises on most days, though the kids are generally lucky enough to see him for bedtime and on weekends. We made a conscious decision, together, for his career to take priority during this stage of life, and his hard work is one of the main reasons I married him to begin with. His career is stable, he provides everything his family needs, and we have a cozy cottage roof over our heads. This is the blessing.
What I find the absolute most challenging about this stage of parenting is that, as a result, absolutely everything else falls to me. I am the sole parent on call many days, running to get a feverish child or packing lunches and coordinating 3 different carpool schedules and keeping up with vaccination records and dental appointments and the names of all of my children’s teachers and friends. Without any disrespect to him, I am not confident that he could name all of our children’s teachers or carpool pick up times (or locations) or that he always knows who has the kids throughout the day. He doesn’t worry about birthday gifts for the kids’ friends (so forget RSVPs) or teacher appreciation week or even holiday gifts for his co-workers. And I am a minimalist mom by most standards who signs up for as little as possible at school and believes firmly in the importance of downtime. Yet, it all falls to me. This is the burden.
Like many women, I also work. My income is extremely helpful to my family, and we worked hard to put ourselves in a position where one of us could hold a more flexible job (that’s me!) so that our children always had, in general, one parent available to attend parties, run carpool and tend to illness. I wouldn’t trade this for the world. It’s what we wanted. Heck, it’s what we chose! I attend almost every school play, snap pictures on the first day of school, receive hugs as my kids come and go throughout the day, am able to pick up a sick kiddo within minutes … all while working in a career that is meaningful to me. I can pour cereal while fielding business calls like a boss, and I have talked more than one client off a ledge while my kids play a room over. This is the blessing.
And yet I always feel pulled in 500 directions. I am so resentful on some days of the ease with which my husband’s calendar operates. He wakes up, albeit early, showers and … drives to work. Needs to potty? He goes (without an audience, imagine that!) Wants to workout? He walks down the street at lunch, and it plain doesn’t matter if the gym has childcare. Dentist / doctor / haircut time? Throw those bad boys on the calendar around other meetings. Don’t get me wrong; the man works hard and I try to “get it.” But man is it hard on the days when one school is closed for professional development, 6 clients are emailing and the youngest is shrieking for OJ. Meanwhile my mom wants to know about those holiday plans and our niece has a birthday fast approaching. Ding dong. Oh, there’s the Terminix man at the door! Crap, I need a sitter for girls’ night in 4 hours. In those moments, I wonder to myself “does he get it? Does he know how hard it is to juggle all of these demands in my brain while also trying to excel at work?” This is the burden.
At the end of the day, I don’t have a solution. What I do have is empathy for all moms who feel the weight of motherhood like I do. We seem to live during a time where society’s standards are almost impossible. We are encouraged to work, yet half the time we have a little one (or three) underfoot while school is closed or there’s yet another early dismissal. Being the default parent, especially as a working mom, is absolutely a blessing but also a burden. Of course, some of this might be the pressure we put on ourselves, but I also deeply believe that we have work to do as a society.
We say that women have come a long way, and perhaps we have, but for all the moms I speak to, I know I am not alone in feeling like I have the blessing of being the primary caregiver and doer of all things for my precious little ones while also bearing the exhausting burden of being the default parent. And some days I’d like to just sit at a desk in a high rise without any interruptions outside of work and FOCUS. My work life is lived in 10 minute increments on some days, and I know for a fact that my amazing baby daddy cannot work Excel like I can with shrieking kids. You should see him try to order chinese food, which apparently requires the concentration of a heart surgeon. Though I should pause here to tell you all he irons, so there’s that awesome fact. (Love you, dear!)
What I’d really like is to trade places with my husband for a solid week and leave him no instruction manual while I sip drinks on a tropical beach in solitude, as I think it would rock his world (and mine!) and start to close this gap … a girl can dream, right?
Signed, a mom who wrote this with 3 kids running through the house hyped up on Halloween candy