The Raw Truth About Being The Default Parent

Make no mistake: I love my job. Being a mother is a blessing and a gift. But it is also lonely and isolating. Being a default parent is hard.

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 
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To say I am tired would be an understatement. I woke at 5:00am to feed my youngest, to change and care for my baby boy. By 7:00am, I was playing with my oldest. I helped my daughter dress, and got her Cap’n Crunch. And by 9:00am, I was working. There were emails to respond to, articles to write, deadlines I had to meet. Oh, and did I mention this daily circus began after (yet another) late night? I was up until 11:00pm cleaning and showering and catching up on chores. Why? Because I am a parent — our house’s default parent — and being said parent is tough. It is fucking trying.

Now I know what you may be thinking: What is a default parent? To be fair, I was too — at least. the first time I heard the term. But the default parent is the person who handles (or is expected to handle) the responsibilities of the children. It is the person who juggles the schedules and doctor appointments and who, when the kids are sick, is expected to take off. Default parents often cook lunch and dinner and oversee chores, like dishes and laundry. They constantly pick up toys, at least if they have little ones like I do. And default parents are cooks, nurses, teachers, entertainers, and caregivers. We are the keepers of hearts and our homes and the carriers of snacks.

But that’s not all: Default parents pick up their children from school and take them to baseball, soccer, gymnastics, and dance. Default parents help with homework and take time off when daycare calls for a premature pickup. Default parents mend boo-boos and dry tears. And default parents are simply expected to be parents 24 hours a day; they don’t get sick time or holiday pay. Default parents don’t get lunch dates or bathroom breaks. Hell, we don’t even get to commute to the office, a strange luxury (I know) but one I would take just to sit and be still, maybe listen to a few tunes or a podcast.

Make no mistake: I love my job. Being a mother is a blessing and a gift. But it is also lonely and isolating. Being a default parent is hard. And I don’t have to love my job every minute of every day to be a good person or parent. It is also frustrating and creates tension in my house because being a default parent means being on call at all times. It means I am the one who deals with early mornings and night feedings, and this makes me a resentful of my partner. I am jealous of his time and freedom. Of his bedtime routine — and his adult life, the one that exists outside of being needed 24/7.

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Being the default parent also means I have to ask for help if and when I need it, which frustrates me to no end. I cannot see my psychiatrist, for example, without a sitter or speak to my therapist without another caregiver being present. And, quite frankly, it sucks. It’s not fair. It’s also not fair that most default parents are mothers. Most default parents are women who work in and out of the home.

Don’t believe me? Consider the court system. Custody is almost always granted to the mother. Our legal system knows that in most households the primary parent is female. Whether by choice or or circumstance, we are the ones carrying the dust-covered torch.

That said, I know that my role is valued. I know that I am loved and appreciated for all I do. I mean, my youngest doesn’t say so. He is two and his vocabulary is limited to words like “mama,” “dada,” “more,” and “farts.” But he snuggles me, regularly and frequently. He places wet, sloppy kisses upon my lips, and my daughter thanks me. She loves me. She tells me she needs me, and that is a true gift.

But, like any other human being, I also enjoy time alone. I like to bathe in silence and shower in peace. I like to pee with the bathroom door shut, and no other parties present, and it would be nice if, for just one day, I could shut off my brain. It would be nice if someone else could pack lunches and sign permission slips and take the kids to and from school.

So in an effort to alleviate my stress, I’ve turned to my husband and partner. I’ve gotten better at asking him for support and help, and while I realize this is a luxury not everyone has, I’m using the resources I have, the “tools” in my shed, to help make me a better, more relaxed person and parent. To help me be a better mom.

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