Being The Default Parent Is Exhausting And Stressful
I had been working in my office, and when I went into the kitchen to get a snack I saw that my phone, which was on the counter, had multiple notifications. I forgot I had put my phone on silent while I was working, so I missed the urgent messages from my twins’ preschool.
First there was a voice mail, then two text messages telling me my kids had fevers of 102. The kids were lethargic and miserable, and I needed to pick them up. The messages had come in an hour before I finally saw them, and I immediately felt awful. My anxiety spiked too because I knew I would be the one to take care of them for the rest of the afternoon. And I would be the one to stay home with them the next day when they weren’t able to go to school.
I closed my laptop and put my work on hold. I would have to return to it later that night and likely late into the night. Because I would be home with the twins the next day too, I would once again have to put off work or attempt to work with two sick kids needing my attention and affection. I was torn between meeting deadlines and meeting the needs of my kids. The choice should be obvious. Of course, I should be able to drop everything and just focus on my babies.
But I am the default parent in our house. This is my role all of the time and because of this it feels like a nuisance when plans fall apart, schedules are inconsistent, or the unexpected happens. When one of my three kids are sick, when there is a snow day or an in-service day at school, or when they need to be picked up early or have an appointment, I am the parent who juggles their schedule to be available for my children. I am not saying my partner never does these things, but nine times out of 10, I am the one whose time is sacrificed.
When my partner has an early morning or a late in the day meeting that intervenes with her ability to get them to and from school, I figure out a way to get them where they need to be. And when she has a work dinner or trip, I make frozen pizzas and juggle bedtimes alone.
There is a very loud but unspoken knowledge in our house that I am the one who needs to be more flexible when it comes to rearranging any given day.
I work from home on most days, and on the days I am outside of the house, I work with clients who are understanding and can reschedule appointments at the last minute. My partner works in a corporate environment, a private company that drives and is driven by big business. Her job is demanding (soul-sucking on some days) and is full of people looking to make the bottom line a top priority. The pressure for her to keep up and stay respected in a male-dominated world is intense. She adds pressure to herself because the pressure is already being applied by her male coworkers and managers.
My partner could work from home on some days when shit hits the fan at home, but her presence at the office seems necessary in an environment where she manages a team and is being managed by men who have wives at home acting the part of default parent like I am. So I adjust my schedule. I figure out a way to take care of the kids and still get my work done. This works because my schedule is more flexible. But I have also created this particular schedule because I need to be flexible. It’s kind of like the egg vs. chicken debate.
Yes, there is equality in my marriage. We respect and appreciate each other. We have our specific roles when it comes to managing the house and finances. But because she carries our health insurance, our benefits, and brings in the majority of our household income, there is an expectation that my job takes a backseat at times because the security of hers is vital to supporting our family. I hate it. She hates it. Yet, it is what it is and it sucks.
She says she would be happy if the roles were reversed. If the financial pendulum could swing the other way, she would be happy to become the default parent who is called upon in the middle of the day when the kids spike fevers at school. But how can I get a full-time job, a job that could eventually lead to this swing when it feels like my current job is to be flexible?
I know my role is valuable and valued. I know my partner appreciates my reliability and my ability to be available at all times. But sometimes it feels like my work is not as important as hers and that by extension my time isn’t either. I know this isn’t true, but I am human and it’s easy to feel like my passions aren’t important either. It’s easy to feel trapped and underappreciated. It’s so easy to be resentful and angry. I often feel both, but I do my best to talk to my partner instead of taking it out in spiteful or regretful ways.
I am fortunate that she is receptive to this. She does value my time and knows how important my work is to me. While I still have to be the default parent 90% of the time, it means a lot when she is able to rearrange her schedule once in a while. I think it reminds her of the pain in the ass it is and how lucky she is that I am able to do it most of the time. It also keeps me from losing my shit.
Just because I know I am appreciated, it doesn’t always make me less cranky. And just because I would rather work than hang with sick kids, it doesn’t make me love them less. It just sucks to be the person who is always the one to sacrifice their own needs to meet the needs of everyone else.
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