Default Parenting

Taylor Keating

I’m going to rattle off some super basic parenting questions. Answer them honestly, and then we’ll talk default parent and what that really means (to me, at least). Here’s the thing, you either know exactly what I’m talking about, or you don’t. And there’s no shame on being a default parent or not. It is what it is and each role in parenting carries different perks and negatives. Here are some scenarios:

It’s 7 pm, kids are down and you need toothpaste. Do you A. Run out and get it or B. Ask someone to pick it up?

Your child gets a cut at school. Does the school call you first?

Schools out, snow day! Who’s the parent to stay home with them without much thought?

It’s 2:30 am and the baby is screaming in their bed. Do you jolt awake in bed or slumber through?

Doctor’s appointment and it’s time to fill out the forms…Do you have their information memorized or are you texting to find out answers?

I could go on and on with these scenarios, but I think the point is pretty clear. Default parenting or being the default parent is exactly what it sounds like. You hold the brunt of the day to day duties of having children and you have all the information, carefully stored in your brain. Son’s shoe size—easy. Daughter’s first food—done. Oh, we randomly need to know what song to play at 3:30 on the way home from school—duh, she loves Old MacDonald at that time and that time only.

With being the default parent comes the struggle of default parent life. There’s a constant stream of information that you’re cycling through and processing. It’s freaking exhausting. Is this tidbit important or not? No, move on to the next. Okay, I know that first thing in the morning, my son needs alone time and to relax so we have a little bowl of cereal and his show, Fireman Sam, before truly starting the day. Then, he can go potty and get ready. Which means we have to factor this time in before getting ready for school each morning. I usually add in about 10-15 minutes for his wake up period.

Let’s say my husband was to wake the kids up that morning, the system is messed up. I don’t even want to know the meltdown that would ensue if my son was woken up, told to go potty and get dressed, and then shuttled off to school. Children thrive on consistency and routines, and it’s the default parent’s job to make sure that things are done the right way and continue as normal.

Meals, same goes. You know all of their likes and dislikes. You know when water and milk are served and how much to give at certain times. You know when to filter in items they don’t really like to get them to try the food but make it fun and optimize. Instead of cereal for breakfast, we’re trying cottage cheese. Hell no. They’d laugh and throw it to the side. But add it in during lunch, their best meal of the day, you might have a shot of getting a few bites in.

Quick sidebar: we had family over this weekend and they had come in with donuts. We were right in the middle of lunch and the kids were eating at the table together. All good. To no fault of her own, my Aunt came in and tried to hide the donuts and then said they can have some when they’re done eating. Then she brought it in in a paper bag. I said it’s okay, they can have it now and finish up lunch as they want. I don’t really do dessert at the end.

If it was anyone else other then me, they probably would’ve gone along with it and given the kids the food at the end of their meal. If Lincoln had seen the bag of donuts, it might have turned into an argument because he’s not used to waiting for his treat. I completely believe they’ll eat what they need and I can control just what I offer. I’ve gone through trial and error so I know without a shadow of a doubt that my way is the best way for the kids right now. I’ve lived it time and time again. The back-up parent, probably not so confident.

Anyway, default parenting couples with confidence. I am my child’s primary advocate and with that comes the responsibility to know what I’m doing. The philosophy of parenting my family carries is what I execute each day. When a tantrum starts, I know how to diffuse it and settle it before it turns into a huge deal. My son hits, I know the discipline I’m comfortable with and what works best for him for each situation.

Like I had said at the start of this post, there’s not a better parent or preferred parent. It’s just a split of the roles and how things go in the household. This role was taken by me because of the fact that my husband works away from the home. I work full time as well, but my kids are with me the entire rest of the day and with me at work (same building/school). Food packing, friend selecting, discipline, sleeping, potty training, play times, what toys to get, when we nap and play and eat and go outside—it’s all on the default parent.

It’s stressful being the default parent just as I’m sure it’s pretty stressful giving up the control of not being the default parent. It’s a grass is always greener situation, for sure. There are days when I’m mentally drained, either from tantrums or doctor’s visits or figuring out who’s going where and who needs what. Sometimes the simple decision of what’s for lunch is enough to put my brain into overdrive. When you add in a developmental time like dropping a nap or potty training, the stress only intensifies.

Either parenting style needs support. If I had a difficult conversation with my son and need to feel good about it, I’ll talk it through with my spouse and he will back me up. If we’re out as a family and my son has a meltdown because he’s late for a nap, my husband won’t throw up his hands and say he doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. He’ll look to me for help and we’ll figure it out as a unit.

All parents—all people—need back up. It’s not a one man job. Even if you’re a single parent most of the time, you need that back up whether it be a grandparent or friend or daycare to help. An hour is sometimes all I need to feel refreshed with my choices. A hot coffee, a hot shower, a warm meal, a quick walk out.

Does your household have a default parenting dynamic or do you and your partner have a different style? Sound off and let me know!

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An early childhood educator at heart, now raising two toddlers with big feelings and writing about mom life through a real lens.

Ridgefield, CT

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