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Being the Default Parent

How to manage your role without experiencing burnout

Default Parent Syndrome is a legitimate issue now being more widely discussed and accepted throughout the world of psychology. Psychology Today, Amber Thornton, Psy.D, wrote that “Default Parent Syndrome isn’t just a TikTok trend, but rather “a systemic and collective experience in which there is a bias toward women….”

Being the person who is expected to handle the lion’s share of the responsibilities surrounding children is an enormous pressure. A ‘default parent’ is typically the one who is ‘first in line’ when it comes to caring for children, child-related tasks, errands and home-related chores. If there are two parents present, the default parent carries the heavier load in parenting. They are the family calendar organizer, the first one that the school nurse calls, the one who schedules the parent-teacher conference, the dental cleanings, and ensures the children are signed up for swim, soccer lessons and summer camp.

Now this is not to throw fathers or other caretakers under the bus. As Thornton pointed out, this is a systemic experience with a bias toward women in fulfilling this default role. Interestingly, we are living in a time where many women acknowledge that their male partners are supportive, engaged, and active parental figures. And yet… in many homes the arduous task falls primarily onto one set of shoulders and the overwhelm persists. Even in 2023 we have to ask ourselves: Can parenting ever really be a 50/50 load-sharing job?

The consequences of being the default parent are many—including, but certainly not limited to: chronic fatigue and burnout, reported declines in mental health, growing resentment toward your partner and children and the loss of ability to properly care for oneself. Finding the balance on the tightrope of work and family life is a quest worth undertaking.

Here are a few ideas to manage the overwhelm of being the default parent:
  • Change your mentality from “I have to, to: I get to.” School drop offs or pickups are a prime time for having meaningful conversations with our kids. While you could be resentful that you don’t have help from a spouse or grandparent with this task, reframe it to embrace the gift of conversation time with your kids.
  • Make life as easy as possible by simplifying as much as you can, everywhere that you can. Anywhere you can do less, do it. Yes, truly everywhere. Do less elaborate birthday parties. Stop volunteering when you really don’t have the time or space in your calendar. Nobody will die if you use paper plates for dinner. Say no when you should even when you want to say yes. If you manage less, managing becomes easier even if you’re doing it all.
  • Write it down to stay organized. Have a plan and routine that is refined and works. For example, set up crockpot meals to coincide with busy activity nights. Have your groceries delivered the same day of the week for consistency.
  • Remember that as stressful as it is, it will not last forever. Someday, yes, truly someday you will be missing this phase. Sometime soon your six-year-old won’t need you to help with bath time and it will feel bittersweet.
  • Put YOURSELF on your calendar. Mental loads are easier to carry when you are mentally well and healthy. As hard as it is to carve out the time, take time to nurture your mental and emotional self through things like exercise, meditation, and other self-care.
  • Try positive reinforcement. Men like to be needed. Use that to your advantage with positive reinforcement. Instead of: “Can you PLEASE help with the dishes for once? I do it every night and I am tired and overwhelmed and you don’t support or appreciate me.” Perhaps try: “I felt so supported the other day when you offered to take the kids to school on your day off. Thank you. It meant the world to me. I have a tough afternoon coming up next week. If you can take them Thursday that would be great.”
  • Get help from your children. Kids can be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Modern parents take on too much mental load that should not be theirs. Let natural consequences fall as they may. Put more responsibility and accountability on your kids. “Mommy expects you to remember to wear tennis shoes on Tuesdays and Thursdays on your own. Sometimes I get busy and can’t remind you.” And then don’t. If they miss the fun game of dodge ball because they forgot proper shoes, they are more apt to remember next time.

Rosalind Prather
Rosalind Pratherhttps://trustingconnections.com/
Rosalind Prather is a third-generation small business owner and momtrepreneur. She is a Trusting Connections Nanny Agency Co-Founder and Logistigal, LLC Co-Founder. She the proud mother of two girls. She is married to Bryan, her cowboy and true soulmate and considers family life and motherhood her greatest joy.



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