One day, when you least expect it, you will come to realize the truth...you are the default parent. There was never any discussion, debate, and no one volunteered for tribute, it just happened. Not sure if you’re the default parent? I can help. Do you make sure your partner knows and acknowledges that you are leaving the room when you’re with the kids? You’re the default parent. When you run out of milk, or the baby outgrows their clothes, or there's no clean laundry does anyone volunteer to fix that situation or do they just say “we’re out of milk”? You’re the default parent. Do you make your plans around naps, schedules, chores, and feelings while your partner lets you know they’re grabbing drinks with friends after work? You’re the default parent.
Finding yourself in this position changes you. Where I once was grateful for a little bit of help, I am now resentful. I am incapable of saying “thank you” to my partner for switching over the laundry, or cleaning up the kitchen because I feel entitled to that help, because I feel that those tasks are obvious. Where I once was empathetic, I am now selfish. When my partner says he’s not feeling well my first thought is “great, one more thing I have to deal with”, or I think of all the times I didn’t feel well and still had to make dinner, clean the house, put away clothes, feed the animals, and generally keep my child alive and my house from catching on fire. Then I feel bad, because I don’t feel bad.
The reality often is we are playing a losing game, looking at our relationships and running a house as some type of chess game. Did I ask for help? Did I express that I was feeling overwhelmed? Did I ever say thank you for the help I did get? Unfortunately the answer is no. This is not victim blaming, and I’m not excusing bad behavior, but people aren’t mind readers. Since realizing that I wasn’t going to be winning any special awards for doing everything myself, I ask for help, and I tell him when I’m overwhelmed, and I allow him to take on some of my daily responsibilities. Most importantly I say thank you when he does. It’s not a perfect system but it sets a standard for what we expect from each other, and how to communicate.
Most of us will remain the default parent in most situations. We might still do all the cooking, or be the one our child wants when they’re sick or hurt. However now our partners pick up milk, and suggest ordering take out when we’ve had a bad day, or even god forbid fold some socks. For all of you who have found the magical 50/50 split at home, congratulations...sincerely. For the rest of us, open up, ask for help, get pissed, be sad, and complain as much as you need to. Having a family is hard work, and honestly, you’re doing a better job than you think. I promise.