I’m Divorced And The Default Parent, But I Prefer It That Way

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My son had a dentist appointment a few weeks ago. I was on the phone with the receptionist setting up four appointments for our family upon their reopening. We were all scheduled for the last week in March to get a cleaning, then COVID-19 hit.

Same with the orthodontist appointments. I currently have one child in braces, one with a retainer, and one with a palate expander that was supposed to come off last July.

I made all those appointments too. It took a while, but I was relieved when the scheduling was done and I knew I didn’t double book anything.

As a divorced mom, I’d like my ex-husband’s help when it comes to things sometimes, but it’s not how we roll. When I do ask for help (and I always have to ask), it’s more work to pull him in than it is for me to just do it myself.

But on the day my oldest had his appointment, he was working with his father, right down the street. It only made sense for his dad to take him rather than for me to drive fifteen minutes, pick him up, wait an hour or so, then drop him off again at work.

He can handle this.

I sent my ex a message about the appointment, telling him the day and time after I made it.

That morning, I reminded him and my son about the noon dentist appointment.

Lo and behold, five minutes after noon, I got a call from my ex. He was upset with me because the orthodontist didn’t have our son down for an appointment and he also wasn’t sure what the protocol was: Did he go in too? Did he wait in the car? Also, he forgot a mask and didn’t have one for our child to wear.

I had to interrupt him and tell him he didn’t have an orthodontist appointment, he had a dentist appointment and he’d better get his ass there because there was no way in hell I was going to take the time to reschedule. And, he best call them ahead of time and tell him he forgot a mask so someone could tell him what he needed to do.

Oh, the frustration of it all.

My ex and I co-parent very well together and we are friendly with one another. But I am the default parent, and I prefer it that way.

It’s not because I’m a controlling, neurotic freak who has to have it all my way, either. And yeah, I do complain about it because it wears me the hell out and I feel like my mind never gets a rest.

My ex is happy to jump in and help, but what happened the afternoon of the dentist appointment is very par for the course when he “helps.”

There have been times when the kids are with him and he calls me to get my opinion on certain things: whether they should be allowed to go to a friend’s house we don’t know, whether they should stay home from school because they say they are sick but are acting fine, whether I think he should go through their text messages because they are acting strange.

The thing is, we started out this way. My ex-husband started his own business when I got pregnant with our oldest. I stayed home and literally did all the things, including packing a lunch for him to take to work every day, doing every chore, and calling someone to fix the roof, because I wanted to.

I was at home; he was consumed with his new career. We both wanted it to work so I could continue to stay home with the kids. He was supporting all of us financially, and so I took on the role of “I’ll do everything and you just work’’ because I thought it was the right thing to do.

I’m also kind of good at it because I like to be busy. Downtime can make me restless and there were times he’d say he’d take over paying the bills, or mowing the lawn, and I’d feel guilty because I was home all the time and could just get it done while the kids were napping, instead of waiting for him to find the time.

Then, they all went to school and I was happy to have the chores to keep me occupied.

Habits are hard to break. So are routines.

I’m the default parent. I’m the one who has “the talk” with the kids. I pay all the medical bills. I make their appointments and set up teacher conferences. I buy their clothes and know when my daughter is having her period and tell my ex to get her Advil, her favorite tampons, and send a warning to give her some space. If I don’t, I get a text asking me what the hell is going on with our daughter.

I’m not doing it because I think I am better, but my ex and I both agree I am better at being the default parent and he’s better at being the fun dad who can give them all his attention when they are with him because he doesn’t have to worry about doctor’s appointments and wonder why our daughter is being a little more emotional than usual.

It worked for us when we were married, and it works for us now.

I like this arrangement (for the most part) because I like doing these things for my children. I like knowing they have what they need, when they need it, and not having to second-guess or worry that my ex might not remember.

I already have a visual schedule in my head and I know what’s going on more than my ex does. It’s just easier this way, so why mess with it? I think about the energy it would take to get the program reversed, or even just have my ex be a little more hands-on, and all I see is a shit tornado spiraling my way. The way I look at it, it’s also preserving our healthy co-parenting relationship because we each have our roles and it takes the guessing out of it.

At least this way, I know things will get done right.