The term "default parent" has risen in the last few years. Essentially, the default parent is responsible for most of their children's emotional, physical and logistical needs. If you and your spouse are parents, one of you is probably the default parent. And if you have to ask who it is, it probably isn't you. The default parent carries most of the parenting load, which can be exhausting if you are overloaded with responsibilities.
Parenting may never truly be 50/50. One of you may carry more responsibilities due to circumstances or a preference. What's important is that the two of you agree on who will do what regarding parenting. Remember, first and foremost, you two are a team. Parenting takes a lot of time and energy, and it takes both of you working together.
So, fellow default parent, let's have a quick chat. You're probably exhausted and stressed out (to be honest, most parents are to some extent). You may feel unheard or neglected. You may be on the verge of burnout. You may even be resentful toward your spouse. All of this can hurt your relationship. I don't want your relationship to suffer.
It's time to talk to your spouse about being the default parent. Here are a few tips to get you started.
— Be aware. Awareness is the first step toward change. You recognize you're carrying most parenting responsibilities, but it doesn't have to be overbearing. Let the following statement sink in: "Just because I can do something doesn't mean I have to."
— Remember that communication is key. Good communication truly is the foundation of many solutions in a relationship. If we don't talk to each other, how can we expect our relationship to grow and thrive? Schedule a time with your spouse to sit down and discuss what parenting looks like in your marriage.
As you have this conversation, you'll want to keep a few do's and don'ts in mind:
Don't talk about this when you're frustrated.
Do set aside a time with no distractions.
Don't accuse or put all the blame on them.
Do express how you feel using "I" statements.
Don't interrupt when your spouse responds.
Do listen to understand.
Don't jump to conclusions about how you became the default parent.
Do seek to understand your spouse's viewpoint.
Most importantly, be respectful with your spouse. Remember, marriage is a partnership, and you're on the same team.
— Write it down. Make a list of everything you do to keep the house and family operating. Ask your spouse to write down everything they do, too. Don't write it for them. You may think you know what they do and don't do, but assuming isn't helpful. After you've written it down, have a conversation about how best to address the imbalance.
— Acknowledge what you both do in parenting and why it's important. As parents, it's valuable to acknowledge what you both bring to the table. Stress the importance of what you both do. Even if you think your spouse doesn't do enough when it comes to parenting, show appreciation for what they do for the family.
— Reset (or set) expectations for who will do what. Maybe you became the default parent because of circumstances. Maybe you stayed home with your newborn, then took on all the responsibilities and never stopped. Perhaps you have a more flexible schedule and can absorb more responsibilities. Maybe being the default parent was a conscious choice that you and your spouse discussed. Regardless of how you got here, it's time to reset expectations.
— Own the responsibilities you take on, and only those. Trust that your spouse will take care of what they have agreed to be responsible for. They don't need to be micromanaged or reminded constantly. Instead, encourage them and let them know you appreciate what they own. If it's their responsibility, it's their responsibility. I know people get frustrated when they ask me to do something and I respond by saying, "Let me check with my wife." But she keeps the family calendar. I'm conscious of not committing us to something without checking with her first.
— Keep at it. This shouldn't be a one-and-done conversation. Circumstances will change, and every stage of parenting brings on new challenges and responsibilities. Revisit this conversation often to check in with and check on each other. You're a team, and your marriage is healthier when you move in the same direction.
Mitchell Qualls is vice president of operations at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at email@example.com.