Mama, have you ever wondered how you ended up becoming the default parent? The go-to parent for basically everything having to do with your kids or your family. The one who books all the doctors appointments, reschedules playdates when one child is sick, receives all the phone calls from the school and coordinates babysitters all the time. The load of the default parent is seemingly never-ending—and at times it’s downright overbearing. But why do many moms continue to suffer under the weight and the expectations of this role?
I’ve asked myself these questions a lot—considerably maybe an absurd amount of times: Why are moms the default parent? Why are moms expected to “do it all” when fathers are supposed to share in the parental responsibilities?
Well, I think I’ve finally found my answer. Moms are the default parent because society doesn’t treat them as otherwise. Moms are the default parent because dads are treated as the secondary, less important parent. Moms are the default parent because gender roles are still deeply ingrained into the minds of many. Moms are the default parent because we are expected to put our lives on hold for our children in order to tend to their every need.
Moms are the default parent because we don’t get the option to be anything other than.
Moms have been considered the default parent for years, and I think it’s more than fathers just deciding not to pitch in and help us out. No, I think it’s deeper than that. I believe it starts with how society treats fathers, even before a child is born, that contributes to dads feeling as though they don’t have much to offer in the parenting role.
Prime example: My husband and I were recently reflecting on my pregnancy and how the journey was for us as first-time parents. Though he missed a large portion of the pregnancy due to a deployment (six months to be exact), he was there every step of the way for the final trimester. For every appointment, checkup—you name it.
I noticed the mannerisms of nurses at those appointments leading up to the birth of our son, and to this day I can only remember one nurse that spoke directly to my husband. Every other appointment, it was like he was a fly on the wall. They made eye contact when they spoke to me, they asked me if I had any questions or concerns—and yet the majority of them (besides the one nurse and my actual OB) did not address my husband whatsoever.
Maybe when we start addressing the importance of fathers just as much as mothers, we can retire the ‘default parent’ term.
During our reflection, he shared that he felt unseen and unimportant—even though this was our child. But that wasn’t the only time.
After the birth of our son, one of the nurses who cared for us during our stay at the hospital was directly rude toward my husband, making him feel as though his wants or needs were not important and that “mom” was the only person they cared about. Our son’s first diaper change was something that my husband and I wanted to do together, and the nurse rudely told him that it was something he could do on his own. That the task of changing a diaper was something he “should be able to handle”—as if there was nothing else he could offer.
We were shocked at her direct hostility. Even though I needed and wanted my husband there by my side, no matter how evident I tried to make it, he was seemingly disregarded. Since that experience I have asked myself one question over and over again: Is this how they really treat fathers?
As though they can only handle the basic needs of parenting and are incapable of the more drastic, everyday requirements that come with raising children?
As though mamas are the only ones who can truly get the job done, therefore leaving fathers hanging back in the shadows, believing they have nothing more to contribute outside of financial contributions and the occasional diaper change?
The simple answer is yes. This is how it starts off.
And then it carries over from there. Once we got home from the hospital, everyone called or texted to check in on me and the baby. Not many people checked on my husband. Whenever someone wanted to see the baby, they would text or FaceTime me—even when I expressed that my husband’s phone was well and working, too.
I can go on and on with examples of how my husband was booted into the role of the ‘secondary parent’ while I was forced to take up the role of the default one—but this is just my experience.
Moms everywhere are resorted to as the default parents because everyone else treats dads as secondary. Making dads the secondary parent then makes the needs and wants of mothers secondary—and we’re exhausted.
Not because we need a cup of coffee for a quick fix or a good night’s rest. I doubt either of those will be a remedy for the overwhelm that weighs on us constantly as the go-to parent. What we need is balance. What we need is for people to start addressing dads just as much as they address moms so that instinctually, the load doesn’t fall upon mothers to bear. What we need is for society to restructure the positioning of moms as the default parent.
Dads being treated as the lesser parent out in the world plays into them feeling disconnected from their role as fathers in the home. For a while, my husband thought that the only way he could help me with our son was by changing his diaper—even though I needed so much more support. And then it struck me, that was the only thing the rude nurse at the hospital told him he could handle.
None of the nurses showed him how he could assist me with breastfeeding. None of them showed him how he could help tend to our baby’s other needs. None of them told him how he could assist me with postpartum care.
But that’s what we need. Society including fathers and letting them know that they play an important role.
Because maybe when we stop treating fathers as secondary, the needs and wants of moms won’t fall to the wayside. Maybe when we stop treating fathers as the lesser parent, they’ll feel affirmed to do more. Maybe when we start addressing the importance of fathers just as much as mothers, we can retire the ‘default parent’ term. Because no one should have to suffer under the weight of doing it all.
Moms are more than just moms. And dads are more than just providers. We are all parents, and we have equal responsibilities to raise our children. So let’s start acting like it.