I am in the midst of the days I always dreamed of—raising wonderful, precocious children with an abundance of support from my partner. I know it’s good, I really do. And if you ask me to take a step back and think about the sentiment that comes to mind when I think of this amazing gift, my honest response is that I’m so grateful.
But if I’m also being honest, there is more pressure on me at any given moment of time (even at 3 am when I’m in a dead slumber) than anything I experienced before having kids. At least when it comes to that measure, that isn’t a weight evenly shared with my partner.
Being the “default parent” really means I’m the “expect the unexpected parent,” who must structure my days, weeks, life as I know it, around being able to change course at a moment’s notice. It’s as if there was a workplace surprise and the boss has to go into crisis mode and try to remember what they are supposed to do and how they can keep everyone else calm—except, with two young kids, that’s happening on a nearly weekly basis.
This is my role and I’m still navigating how to play it.
Being the default parent means my number is the one called by the preschool.
Being the default parent means my name is the one known by nurses at the doctor’s office.
Being the default parent means when there is a snow day, there is no question about who will rearrange work.
Then there are the ways in which nature predetermined me to be the default parent, as it recently occurred to me when I realized I’ve been pregnant and/or nursing for four years with the exception of just three weeks. Those simply weren’t responsibilities up for discussion to share with my partner.
Sometimes these responsibilities—small as they may seem when taken individually—feel really heavy when I consider the sum. My time is stretched thin, my organizational abilities are tested and my body doesn’t even feel like it’s entirely my own.
And while my husband has been my go-to confidant for years, this is something he doesn’t or can’t really get. Just like I can’t really get the weight of responsibility he carries in providing for our family as the default provider. For us and our dynamics, this is how “working like a team” looks—only it can be hard when it feels like we’re standing on two opposite ends of the field playing either offense or defense single-handedly.
Then, at the end of the day, we come together to recount our battles and celebrate our victories and strategize about how we can keep improving, keep helping each other better. Still, while I honestly couldn’t ask for more, we seem to operate best when we’re working as specialists.
But being the default parent is not a case of taking the good with the bad; the stage of early motherhood has challenged me to find the good in the bad. Rather than thinking about all of these things as obligations, it always serves me well to remember what opportunities they really are.
I am the one who gets to observe my son listening to his teachers, playing with friends and being so kind when I arrive a few minutes early to school pick-up.
I am the one who my kids turn to for snuggles and comfort when they are sick.
I am the one who gets to create spontaneous snow day memories with them from hastily assembled crafts or sledding expeditions.
I am the one who gets to feel baby kicks, experience the miracle of childbirth and nourish these babies—all and only with my own body.
Rather than thinking of myself as the default parent, it’s so much more empowering to frame myself as what I really am at this moment of time in my relationship: the day-to-day parenting specialist. I’m the one with boots on the ground and while they may get a bit muddy on occasion, there is no beating the love I receive as payment.