If you are here reading this, then welcome, fellow default parent. On the off chance that you stumbled here unknowingly, let me give you a quick rundown of what a default parent is.
The default parent is the one that makes the doctor’s appointments, the one that makes sure there are no conflicts on the calendar, the one that is always watching the kids, the one that plans the meals, the one that kisses the boo-boos, the one that’s up with the baby all hours of the night—the one that does pretty much everything.
It comes as no surprise that the default parent is usually the mom. 56% of the Gen Z and millennial moms who responded to Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey reported that they handle household chores and responsibilities most of the time. It also comes as no surprise that it’s easy for the default parent to face burnout.
They see the fruits of your labor—the tip of the iceberg so to speak—but are often oblivious to everything that goes on under the water.
While I’m still the default parent to our three kids, I have learned how to lessen the load of its all-demanding nature. Here are a few ways you can, too:
1. Get out of your own way.
As hard as it is to be the default parent, many of us find it just as difficult to relinquish control. Sometimes, we resent the fact that we’re the ones making all the decisions for our family, yet we don’t let anybody else make them.
If you want some of the load taken off your shoulders, you need to let somebody take it off. Accepting that and trusting your partner or someone else to take some of your responsibilities is essential if you want to feel lighter.
2. Have a conversation with your partner.
If there is somebody else who is also responsible for the care of your kids, sit down and have a real conversation with them about what you’re feeling. Often, other people have no idea how heavy the load of the default parent is because much of its invisible labor. They see the fruits of your labor—the tip of the iceberg so to speak—but are often oblivious to everything that goes on under the water.
They don’t see you brainstorming ideas for the Paw Patrol birthday party months in advance. They don’t see you worrying about that ever-so-slight change in your tween’s behavior. They don’t see you ordering groceries at 3 a.m. when you remember that it’s your turn to bring snacks to soccer practice. They don’t see you doing mental gymnastics trying to figure out how everybody is going to get to where they need to be on time.
They don’t see everything you do. So without blame, talk to them about everything that is on your plate. Choose a few areas where you are willing to relinquish control, and pass them off. Maybe it’s just the laundry to start. Maybe it’s planning and making dinner twice a week. Maybe it’s making sure the house is always stocked with diapers and wipes. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you’re truly comfortable letting go of, and let it go. Trust that your partner is capable and will figure it out.
3. Be selfish.
When you’re constantly taking care of everyone else, you’re usually not taking good care of yourself. A hallmark of being the default parent is needing to announce that you are leaving the room, or in some cases, even asking for permission. If you don’t make your absence known, nobody will be watching the kids because it’s simply assumed that you’re watching them at all times.
If you fall into the camp that asks for permission to use the bathroom or to take a few minutes for yourself to unwind, consider telling instead of asking. Often, there needs to be a mindset shift for both yourself and your partner.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a partner or somebody who can watch the kids, try to make it a habit to demand time for yourself, even if it’s once a month to start. Whatever you do during that time, make sure it’s for you. Take time to remind yourself who you are as a person, not just who you are as a parent.
4. Automate what you can.
Schedules, routines and technology are your friend. Create a recurring breakfast or lunch menu. Bagels and fruit on Monday, eggs on Tuesday. Set reminders for Alexa or Google to announce when it’s almost time to leave the house in the morning. You can even set up a subscription service for your kids’ clothes with services like Kidpik or Stitch Fix. The more you automate, the more you reduce the decision fatigue that comes with carrying the mental load.
There’s enough for everybody to carry.
The load the default parent carries is not light. Often, we don’t even realize how much we are carrying until it becomes too heavy. If you’re like me and find it difficult to let go of control, start with something that won’t stress you out if it doesn’t get done the way you usually do it. For me, it was feeding the dog. Then, it was the 30 minutes of parenting after my husband got off work. He gets to parent how he wants while I get to relax and have me time.
The more I let go, the easier it became. Now, I’m more comfortable delegating tasks and releasing the load bit by bit. If I can do it, so can you. So try surrendering some of your load, fellow default parents. There’s enough for everybody to carry.
Motherly designed and administered this survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1197 respondents, Millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.