Are You the Default Parent? How to Recognize Signs and Ease the Burden

Jake Newby

| 4 min read

When a child routinely favors one parent over the other for comfort, affection and permission, there’s a term for that: it’s called being the default parent.
Default parenting often involves being the first in line to take care of tasks around the house as well as child-related responsibilities. Lansing’s Katie Jones is the social media manager for Detroit Moms, a locally focused parenting resource for moms and families. Jones, who also owns Lansing Moms – a Detroit Moms sister blog –recognizes she herself is not a default parent when it comes to raising her three children alongside her husband. But she’s spent ample time this year discussing the default parent role with fellow moms across Michigan.

Recognizing default parenthood

Among male-female partnerships, moms have historically shouldered the default parent role. For decades, it was the dad who went off to the 9-to-5 job and the mom who stayed home with the kids. But that trope isn’t accurate in most households in 2023. Still, Jones said that societal norm mostly rings true today, as she knows a lot of moms who hold the default parent title. 
“With societal norms, I think a lot of times it’s the mom who becomes the default parent,” Jones said, during a phone interview with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM). “Just from my friend group, it’s mom who’s making sure the field trip money goes in. And it’s mom who is doing the meal prepping for the week and remembering the kids’ can’t have peanut butter in their lunch because there’s an allergy in the class.”
According to Detroit Moms, you may be the default parent if you are most often:
  • Meal planning, prepping and cooking
  • Picking up and dropping off at school
  • Organizing schedules
  • Cleaning the house
  • The go-to for comfort

What negative feelings can stem from default parenting?

Parenting in general is hard. Partners will always experience some friction during the day-to-day journey of parenthood, but default parenting in particular can lead to some specific challenges and negative feelings. 
“Exhaustion and burnout can arise, but also resentment toward your partner if you feel like you’re doing the bulk of the childcare and things like that,” Jones said. “And then that leads to a breakdown in relationships at that level as well.”

How to ease the burden of the default parent

Regardless of who is the default parent, Jones said the role isn’t just inherently negative. Many default parents are happy with their household responsibility divide. But to find balance and avoid some of the negative feelings mentioned above, communication is key. Jones and Detroit Moms came up with this list of five tips to ease the burden of the default parent:
  • Have an open conversation about who is doing what in the household
  • Be specific about what it is that you want to see change
  • Don’t expect your partner to know all the things you do each day
  • Work together to come up with solutions that will work for everyone
  • If things start to feel unbalanced again, be open to having more conversations
“You can’t expect your partner to know you need this type of support, because we’re not mind readers. No one is,” Jones said.
If you’re a parent or default that’s constantly wishing there were more hours in the day, outsourcing some of these responsibilities could also help.
“If it feels like both parents can’t take on more responsibility, try to outsource a little bit if you can,” Jones said. “If you can have someone clean your house, even if it’s just once a month, explore that.” Jones said. “Or, if you can do a meal service for three meals out of the week so you don’t have to cook every night.”
Photo credit: Katie Jones
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