Sometimes I wish I weren’t the default…

{I had no idea I had gotten so behind on responding to comments. I think I’m all caught up if you want to go back and check out the last few posts. It’s not like I wrote anything mind-blowing, but there are responses there now.}

It took me less than four weeks to start envying my husband as he walked out the door every morning. I envy the fact that he had a life away from our house and our kids. I envied his ability to walk away and leave it all behind for 8 hours. Seriously, when he’s at work he doesn’t have to think about anything family related at all. I can’t even fathom that.

The reality is I NEVER get to walk away and not look back, not even for an hour. Even when I do go to work every day I carry my family life with me. I’m always thinking about the doctor’s appointment I have to make, or the ones I’ve already made that I don’t want to forget. I’m always considering the cost of therapy for my daughter and wondering if it will even help or listening to a book-on-tape that will give me skills to better navigate my kids’ challenging sibling interactions. I’m always orchestrating the elaborate pick-up and drop-off schedule, mentally checking off that everyone is where they need to be and making sure they’ll get retrieved from those places later.

I am the one who has to get it all done. It ALL falls on me. The most my husband takes with him is whether or not we need milk before bedtime. That’s really it. And most of the time he texts me to see if I can pick it up.

Sometimes I’m really jealous of my husband, jealous that he gets to be the dad, that parenthood didn’t seep into every crevice of his brain, that it didn’t harden in every nook and cranny of his life. I’m envious that there is a part of his previous life out there, still in tact. That part is probably smaller than I imagine it is, but it’s there. I don’t have that remnant of my former self. Every single aspect of every single day has been changed, altered, warped, stained. Motherhood has touched everything. It is a program that always runs in the background, triggering pop-up windows and forcing other programs to run slowly or crash altogether. No, motherhood isn’t just a program, it’s the operating system on my computer that I didn’t update for so long that now I can’t–it bogs down everything else I try to run and I’m constantly having to force quite the applications I need the most. Sometimes I can’t run a program at all because my motherhood operating system is too clunky to support it. Motherhood is me having to shut everything down periodically so I can restart the whole machine, which always happens at the most inopportune time.

Fatherhood is my husband’s totally updated operating system that manages all the programs he wants to run without anything stalling or crashing or needing to be force quit. Fatherhood is his computer running perfectly. He logs out when he’s not using it and logs back in when he has something to do. It’s always there when he needs it and it’s always working.

Oh my god I love this metaphor!

There are so many things about my husband’s life that I’m envious of. Here are just a few.

I’m jealous that:

– He’s never even set foot in the space occupied by our laundry machines, let alone put clothes in them or turned them on.

– He doesn’t have to check his phone when he’s out to see if I’ve called asking him where something is or how to manage someone who’s upset or what to do about so-and-so problem.

– When he’s out of town he doesn’t have to worry that the kids are okay or if I’m managing fine without them.

– He doesn’t have to wonder if I will be home on a certain night when he is making plans–it always falls to me to get coverage if we both want to do something. (To be fair he will help me get coverage, but it ultimately falls on me.)

– He doesn’t have to keep track of appointments, school conferences, drop off or pick up times, what to bring to the class party, whose birthday party is this weekend and whether a present is required, if we’ve contributed to the teacher appreciation envelope, the names of our daughter’s classmates and their parents, the final deadline for Kindergarten registration, the final deadline for the after school program’s registration, etc.)

– He doesn’t have to get up when the kids cry in the night (when he does they just get more upset and scream for me).

– He doesn’t have to endure the banshee screaming of my daughter when she gets her hair washed. In fact he has never bathed either of his children, not in five years.

– He doesn’t have to think about when or how he’s going to pick up all the shit on the floor, or get the beds changed, or scour the shower, or wipe down the bathroom sink, or pick up the kids’ rooms or vacuum the floors, or sweep the entry way, or wipe down the play mats, or well, you get the picture.

– He isn’t the person our kids rile against when they need someone to help them unload their emotional backpacks.

– He hasn’t spent countless hours reading books and articles on how to manage tantrums or help picky eaters try different foods, or which formula is best, or how to help siblings navigate conflicts, or how to have more sex and a happier marriage.

– He doesn’t even think about all those things I’ve been reading books and articles about it.

Sure, being a parent is important to him. Sure it is a HUGE part of his life. I’m sure he would say it is his whole life. But it’s not. At least it’s not his whole life in the same way it’s my whole life. He can walk away for a few hours every day. He can take a break.

Yesterday I called my husband to see if he could take our daughter to camp so I could meet a friend early in the morning. He was clearly busy and annoyed that I was interrupting his day. It’s in those moments that I see the space he has, the bubble that protects him from the onslaught of us. I see it because he gets prickly when I invade that space, when I force my way into his bubble with a phone call or a text, when I remind him we’re still here even if he’s not.

I know I created this dynamic, or at the very least enabled it. I made conscious choices to take on all of this because the alternative was worse. I couldn’t handle the sighing and the woe-is-me attitude. I couldn’t stomach the defeatism. So I took it all on, or most of it. And while it’s better now, it’s not where I want it to be. And even if it were, it would still, ultimately, fall on me. Because I’m the mom, and the mom is usually the default parent who does all the invisible work.

Are you the “default” half of your relationship? Do you ever wish you weren’t?

68 Comments

      1. I don’t actually know. When we were first married, I was the default, but then he learned how to cook and I became more busy and couldn’t keep everything in my head. My husband is great and wonderful and his mom always worked so he has a good role model there. After we had kids, we both became more incapable of being the default so we both sort of keep track of things with the help of day planners and so on and if we forget something then we both forgot and it’s both our faults. It’s less efficient, but there’s also no blame so it’s less emotionally draining.

      2. I’m not either, though I think we’re mostly evenly split. I also don’t think about home & family continuously throughout my work day, though that is probably more a personality trait over anything else.

        I do doctors/b-day/etc. appointments, morning dress & teeth, daycare drop-off & pick-up (we only have 1 car, so this works better), clothing purchases and switching for sizes/seasons, staying home on sick days (he doesn’t have sick time and my toddler wants me when sick, which I like) and most bathes.

        He does night dress & teeth, almost all meal preparation, feeding, and cleaning up, a majority of weekend activities at the park/fountain/walks, and dealing with the car seat. He also gets up at night, since I sleep like a rock, and did all the night feedings (yay formula!), though he gets me on the rare night that the kid is up multiple times.

        Some was by design and some just fell that way. We each do what we do best. He’s much more patient, which is very helpful when parenting. Our marriage is like this as well, which has happened through trial, error and lots of… what we’ll call forceful communication 😉

  1. Oh good post. I am definitely the default parent. Ryan is a pretty awesome dad but yes when he walks out the door for work he doesn’t think about us until it’s home time – he is focussed on the day at hand whereas my brain always has home in the background. A prime example is I wake up the moment Molly’s door handle clicks in the middle of the night anticipating her coming down – he doesn’t move at all. A few weeks ago she woke up came running down and I couldn’t find her and she was in the pantry vomiting (part half asleep walking) I washed her, held her head, changes her gave her medicine and rocked her to sleep and he didn’t wake up. He was horrified the next day. It’s not that he doesn’t love us it’s just I do it all so he knows he doesn’t have to. I only resent it when there are certain things I want to do and I can’t because the onus falls back on me.

  2. I’m going to give you a internet high five for this post. I can totally relate. My husband and your husband sound the exact same. He gets annoyed when I ask him to drop off the kids at Grandma’s. That’s it, that’s all he has to do. It’s not like I’m asking him to be me.

    The Huffington Post had an article on “The Default Parent” a while back and what annoyed me is that she called the Dad/Husband, the back up parent. Really? I had a hard time with that and I’m not entirely sure WHY.

    But I will tell you, kids sense these sort of things. Which person will better relate & give them the emotional/physical help/reassurance they need and want. And it, almost 99% of the time, it’s Mom.

    And I think all women need to be like men in the department of “turning it off” when we’re out and about with friends. I mean, if they can do it, we should too.

    1. Your last paragraph is spot on and I was planning on writing something to that effect but it got late and I got tired. I also don’t know how to do that, but I recognize that it’s on me to figure it out.

    2. “It’s not like I’m asking him to be me.” Ha ha ha! So true, so true! I rarely get the sighs but when I ask him to do something like stay home over lunch so I can go out alone or with a friend because he’s ALREADY WORKING FROM HOME, he acts all martyr and taken advantage of. I want to say, “let’s not even start on who is taken advantage of here. When is their next Dr. appointment? Oh, that’s right, you don’t know!”

  3. I feel pretty grateful for the fact that we do not have this dynamic. Not at all. It sounds really hard to have to be the primary parent when you work equally hard at your job as he does.

    1. I think one of our issues is that while we work the same hours, I have more long breaks and my afternoons are available so it makes sense for me to do a lot of the logistical stuff, because I don’t have to take time to do it. At the same time, when I realized the mornings would be really challenging next year I asked MY work for a special schedule, which puts me in a position where I “owe” them and makes my work day harder because I lose my prep time. He would never even think to ask for a flexible schedule to help me. It just doesn’t occur to him.

      1. Key phrase you used about him asking for special schedule to “help you” when really it would be to “help his children”. Mind set for both of you probably … and he sees you as capable so does not see a need for you…whereas perhaps for his children. But you cannot change his mind set.

  4. Yes, I’m the default half but I’m ok with it because my husband WANTS to be my partner. He is almost incapable of looking around and seeing what needs to be done and would – as he did in his bachelor days – eat fast food every night and watch hours of TV/play video games while running out of every piece of clean clothing and the house getting filthy around him if I didn’t prevent it. The difference, it seems, between our husbands is that mine will literally do anything I ask him to do with very little complaint. My mind runs non-stop with what needs to be done; his runs for only the length of time that it takes him to do whatever I’ve asked him to do. Sure, sometimes I get tired of “being the boss” but I decided early in our marriage I’d rather be that than try to do it all myself.

    I’d like to carefully offer an observation and hope you recognize it as coming from a place of care rather than judgement: From my perspective, you seem to mentally categorize your relationship with your husband as not being “fair” (or, to use your word, you’re “envious”) because it’s not equal. I feel like you have some resentment about this that is negatively affecting your relationship. In the specific examples you offered, it almost feels like you’re angry with him for things that are completely outside of his control (e.g., the way you feel about things or the way your kids prefer you over him). You are incredibly introspective and I wonder if you spent some time exploring the themes of fairness and equality in marriage (do things have to be equal to be fair?) if you might be able to mentally redefine those ideas in a way that would make you less resentful and able to enjoy your marriage more? Personally I’ve had a lot of success with reframing my interpretations in life to create more happiness…

    1. this is really good insight. it articulates something I was thinking when I read this post but couldn’t figure out how to say. and it hits home because this is something that comes up in my marriage and that I’m working on constantly.

    2. I absolutely understand what you’re saying and I have been working on figuring out where these feelings come from and I recognize that I have to do work to resolve them. And I am doing that work.

      I think the problem I have is not so much in what my husband does or doesn’t do (he does more now than he has ever done) but his attitude about it. I do so much more and yet he is always the one complaining about how tired he is and how hard it is. I get less sleep and do more with the kids (and am usually working full time) and I rarely bring that attitude into our shared space, and that is what bothers me. It’s part of the dynamic that makes me feel like he doesn’t even recognize how much I do, let alone acknowledge or validate it.

      I’ve brought this up multiple times but his attitude doesn’t change. I’ve noticed a little change lately and it has helped. And I recongize I need to get to a place where I’m okay with my contribution AND his attitude. I’m working on it. (Sadly I can’t afford personal therapy anymore because of my daughter’s therapy so it may be slow going. My husband is also not interested in working on this stuff, so I’ll be doing it alone (which is fine for now because I have plenty of my own stuff to work on.)

      1. I know a woman professor who say her male colleagues are always talking about how much work they have to do so they get fewer extra requests. Women have said they want it all so they feel less free to say “i am so busy’ and so they get asked for extras all the time. I encouraged her to start talking about her many projects and emulate the boys in that, even down to the exact phrases it did create some changes.

    3. This is a really interesting point, “equal” does mean fair. Things in our household are far from equal (and I have a very helpful spouse) but in my mind, they are fair. The one thing I’ve pointed out as not being “fair” is that he can decide to take an afternoon off work and go for drinks with a friend, our run errands, etc – but being a SAHM, when do I get an afternoon off? I need to have him watch the kids out hire a sitter to do that, but he can do it at the drop of a hat and not have to think about who will take care of the kids. When I pointed this out as not being fair, he totally agreed with me. He and I both know that things are not equal (how do you compare everything I do that doesn’t make money to his income?), but we both think that they’re fair.

      Great point!!!!

  5. I am the default as far as researching things like sleep, tantrums, sensory issues, potty training. I’m usually the person making and attending doctors appointments and therapy. I’m the middle-of-the-night parent most of the time, and I do feel like he gets more time away doing things he wants – when I’m away on an evening or weekend I’m usually doing something I DON’T want to be doing, like working or going to the grocery store. But… we split everything else pretty evenly, and I imagine that I’d be pretty resentful if he never did bed or bath or laundry.

    1. Oh the research! So much research. We’ve also had a ton of fights about how I feel frustrated that he never reads anything but feels his ideas should carry equal weight. I’ve wanted to write about that too and see how others feel about it. Because you are the researcher do you both follow your lead? We usually follow my lead but sometimes he disagrees and it bothers me that he refuses to look into books or articles to see if his opinion is based in actual early childhood development.

      1. Same here. If you’re going to negate all the research I’ve done to help our child, then do more than just say, “I disagree.”. Own it and do some of your own reading! Gah!

      2. That’s a hard question to answer. I end up badgering him to try things I’ve been reading about and he tries but they don’t really stick. Then because he’s not doing them, I have follow-through issues of my own.

  6. I am mostly stay at home so it makes sense for now that I’m the default parent. That being said, I can’t help but compare to my sister and some other friends who stay at home whose husbands do a lot more. He does do bath now, which is great, but he never does actual bedtime unless I’m not home and i am almost always at home anyway. And when we go out on weekends I am 100% responsible for packing snacks and water. And everything related to getting my son ready. I also spend a lot of time on weekends with my son and friends or family and he never takes my son out. He has literally never run an errand with him. I was sick a few weeks ago and my parents took my son out for a few hours and it was nice but I was annoyed that my husband didn’t volunteer. My dream in life is to be in an empty house for 3 hours.

    1. My husband also never takes our kids out and I ALWAYS do to give him a break. If I want a break I have to go somewhere, I never get a break in our own house. It drives me crazy!

      1. Yeah, and it’s not so much division of chores bc we are pretty equal. It’s all the stuff on TOP of that. If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.

  7. It is interesting. You are totally describing a typical 1970’s 1980’s marriage. Some of your readers clearly also live in this marriage model. BUT some of your readers do not. So it is not a genetic thing. Keep this whole thing in mind while raising both your daughter and your son. Play that album ‘Free to Be You and Me’ all the time so you children grow up with those messages.
    Now my age group are increasingly grandparents. I see grandmothers constantly doing ‘family support for grandchildren’ and those traditional fathers from the 70s and 80s are again loving but retired and not as involved and left out ~ not knowing how to be different. But feeling the sting of consequences.
    When I worked I saw MANY MANY young men become dads; and be more involved than their fathers. I think it is a slow slow progression and change but increasingly beginning to happen in a way unimaginable in the 40s, 50s, 60s and only dreamt of in the 70s and 80s. But it is happening.
    It start with boy babies like your son. Hold the dream, celebrate each step forward. And know one of the great achievements of equality marriage rights has been the change to sex determined family roles and as this becomes more visible it will add speed to change in behaviors. Men are being equal partners in parenting and marriages, it is possible and desirable and increases marital happiness. You may not see it in your marriage for long years if ever, but in this country overall there is hope for change…eventually. Imagine if women had equal rights with men…….
    So yes, your husband lives in an old fashioned mold. No you cannot change him. No he does not see and understand it. It is male privilege and not visible to him as a privilege. Teach your children different ways of being.

    1. <3 Free to Be You and Me. Got it on cd for my kids. 🙂 Carol Channing has it right– when you're doing housework, do it together.

      I don't think that hope is lost for this generation though… times are changing and 20-30 something year old men are too.

    2. Part of my problem is definitely that his mom is an enabler. She STILL enables him. When I went away with it daughter and he had our son he spend most of EVERY day with them and they just took our son for one day and he got to spend the day alone. I asked him to do two loads of laundry so our daughter would have clean uniforms for daycare the day we got back and his mom came over and did them. He says he’s never cleaned a bathroom in his life, even though he and his sister one their parents didn’t use. (How he managed this in college and law school is beyond me!) So it’s not a surprise that he doesn’t know how to do these things. His parents didn’t make him and now he doesn’t really know how. My son will not grow up that way. He will no how to clean a bathroom and he’ll know when it needs to be cleaned.

  8. The only solution I’ve found to address this issue is to give him responsibility for things and allow him to fail (which he will). The failing part is pretty important because it is what will force him to figure it out. And you know what? He is an adult, he is capable of handling these things, and he will figure it out.

    I’ve done this a couple of times in my relationship and it has worked out well. Step one: decide on a reasonable task for him to take over. He will need to take it over 100% so you need to start off small. Step two: let him know that you are maxed out and that you need him to take over the task. Step three: grin and bear while he whines and complains about actually having to do work. Step four: say absolutely nothing when he messes it up. Repeat this step the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth times he screws up. By time eleven, he’ll have it figured out and managing the task won’t seem like that big of a deal to him anymore (because it is not). Step five: enjoy the fruits of your labor.

    I have used this tried and true method with my significant other many times over the years with great success. I still do more (way more), but it is a manageable amount for me and I am less resentful than I would be otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m plenty resentful, but mostly about other things.

    1. Remember it is human, not just a male trait, to ‘fail’ at a task repeatedly so someone else takes it over. You need the patience of Job to allow the continued failure and not pick it back up yourself; but practicing with him will strengthen you for the same thing with both your children. Surprisingly, even housework done incorrectly is better than not done at all. And, over time, pride in doing it well will set in. Your husband, as you clearly acknowledge, does do some things really well.

    2. I absolutely hear you. This is how my husband ended up in charge of the kitchen. He used to do everything kitchen related, because I “gave” it to him and then stepped back. I had very low expectations and it all worked out fine. Over the years I’ve taken on more responsibility in the kitchen out of necessity. He doesn’t get home early enough to make dinner so I make it. I realized it was easy (and a great way to kill time on Saturday morning) to go to TJs right when they opened because no one was there, so I started taking over the food shopping (so my husband could sleep in). He still does a lot in the kitchen, but I seem to be doing more and more.

      I will say that my husband, out of necessity, has done the mornings with my daughter for three years now. It took two years for him to stop calling me at work after drop off to vent about how horribly it had gone. It caused me SO MUCH STRESS that if I could have taken over the mornings, I would have. We had to have a lot of conversations about how it wasn’t fair for him to take an emotional dump on me in the middle of my teaching day, just like I didn’t take an emotional dump on him after he got home from work. So while I do believe that if I just gave him something and stepped back it would probably (eventually) get done, I don’t know if the emotion dumping I would get would make it worth my while.

  9. I’m here because NicoleandMaggie linked to a post of yours over the weekend (I think) and I started visiting. I’ve read a very few of your older posts but am mostly a total newbie.

    To answer your question … no, I’m not the default. There are places where I am, and one where I’m not. My husband and I have one kid (elementary schooler, developmentally typical/average) and two adult stepkids (independent) and one grandchild (preschooler, local). DH has been retired since our son was about 3, I work full-time out of the home.

    There are things that (basically) only I do. But there are also lots of things that (basically) only DH does. Those have increased (outside of bringing in $$$) since he retired, but it’s also always been true that neither one of us has ever been the universal default.

    For one thing, DH is good at sitting still and doing nothing (or practically nothing). That might not sound like a useful skill and it’s often an annoying one, but if you have a sick kid, it comes in handy. He’s also now the default for all school pickups (we share dropoff) and for taking DS to all activities (I manage some, but he’s the default. I pick the activities 90% of the time). He is GREAT at this, way better than I am — when he manages this, if DS needs to be somewhere, he is there. Early, calmly, and ready to participate (I can usually hit 1:3 of those, and never the early one).

    DH manages most of homework. I don’t really like the way he does this (too involved), but I’m not home and I’m glad it’s done when I get home, so I leave it alone. I have never taken DS for a haircut, ever. I have been involved in maybe 2 shoe purchases since he was born. I do buy clothes (or secure hand-me-downs) for DS, but I don’t involve DS except that he gets an up/down vote when things show up in the home and I do try to pay attention to what he prefers (elastic waistbands, shorts/pants with pockets).

    I do laundry (mostly) because I prefer that it be hung to dry. But I recently stopped pairing DH’s socks when I put laundry away, because sometimes I mismatch them and he invariably draws this to my attention. If you want error-free pairing, pair your own darned socks (Haha! Darned socks. Neither of us darns socks.). So now I put them unsorted in a cardboard box on his dresser. We share cooking (I do more than I should considering he’s SAH) and food-prep cleanup. I’ve learned to keep 2 or 3 practically ready-to-eat meals (e.g. cooked ground beef, jar of spaghetti sauce, pasta; cooked sausages + some frozen or canned veggies; bacon, eggs, toast) that can be whipped together in ~10 minutes, so that if he says, “Let’s just go out” I have an available alternative. Going out is time- and money-consuming and at times, annoying — fine as a choice, but not as a default.

    I do very, very (very!) little house cleaning. This annoys him but is possible because I can tolerate mess, and dirt. If he wants the house to be cleaner, he can clean it. Apparently this isn’t that important to him (unless we have people coming over, which he would not initiate but which does prompt him to clean if I set it up).

    My mother did everything because my father did nothing and she couldn’t stand it. I (a) was born in a better era; (b) had more options; (c) chose better; and (d) learned from her mistakes — I tolerate mess and delay just fine.

    1. To be fair, I also do very little house cleaning, but what little gets done, I do. 😉 My husband used to cook, a lot actually, but now I do most of the meal preparation (“cooking” is not an accurate word because it mostly pasta, grilled cheese, pancakes, scrambled eggs, etc) because he gets home too late. On the weekends he’ll do some meal prep. He used to do all the dishes but I am doing some of that now too, because I’m home for summer break.

      It’s funny because my husband is also good at sitting and doing nothing. I am way better at taking the kids out and doing something with them in the world. My husband excels at staying home with them all day, which drives me crazy. I’m glad we are good at different things, but it’s hard because he never wants to take them anywhere so if I want a break, I have to create that space for myself outside of our home, where as I give him breaks in our home all the time.

      My mother also did everything and my father did nothing and I’m sure a lot of my own dynamic is me mirroring what I saw growing up. My mom was also miserable because of how little my dad did (she still is–he was recently out of work for SIX YEARS and only at the end did he finally start pitching in at home, even though my mom was teaching full time and tutoring after school to make ends meet). I want something different in my family too, and I hate seeing us play out the same tired bit my parents have been doing for 35 years.

      1. So — if you (truly) work a 9- or 10-month job (and don’t have to work FT in the summer doing prep for your job, which, I have no idea which is accurate?), maybe it makes sense for you to take on more “household” work (just) in the summer time? I don’t know, but it does seem at least possible.

        How old are your kids? I’ll admit that over the past 2-3 years (my son is now 8) I’ve realized that by far the best solution for my household is to make extensive use of paid childcare (aka summer camps) during the summer months. We have ready access to great ones, DS loves them, we can afford them, and it WAY reduces the extent to which I feel that DH should be “doing something” with DS (instead of just hanging around the house). But any or all of those things may not be true for your situation.

        Two other things that (I think) make a big difference for us — I take one, and DH two, “nights out” per week. For him this is a bowling league. He leaves when I get home, and gets home late — often after I am in bed. So two nights I am totally “on my own.” This actually simplifies matters dramatically as DS is perfectly content with e.g. cold cuts + some fruit for supper. For me, it’s riding a horse or going to the library. I try to be careful (this is a bit more challenging for me than for DH because of when my activities naturally wrap up, but I do ride “at night”) not to get home before DS is asleep in bed. So — at least one night per week, each of us is on our own with the house and the kid, and just has to deal. Getting to completely skip managing bedtime (which does otherwise mostly fall to me and which is a group of activities I enjoy just fine but Not. Every. Night.) once/week has made a world of difference to my sanity.

        Similarly, DH basically “gets” Saturday and I basically “get” Sunday as our day, meaning the other parent is the default parent. That’s not to say we’re not involved with household/parenting activities on those days, but we each take about 6 hours on “our” day (and sometimes more) to leave the house and go do “our” things (for me it’s often more horses) and not be constrained (unless there’s some reason we need to be) by a time to get back to the house, or otherwise available in any way (except of course in a real emergency, etc.). Could you start doing this? Just tell your DH that this coming Saturday you are going to go meet a friend for lunch/go for a swim/go to a few yardsales — whatever your “thing” is — and he’ll need (not you’ll need him to) to block out a few hours to be the one responsible for the kids. When would work best for him?

        And yes, I too struggle with not getting the house to myself. It’s often not DS but DH who is the problem — DS is scheduled in activities but DH is retired. But I squeeze in alone time (which is important to me) when I can and otherwise mostly just accept that this is one of those things I’d enjoy more of than I get, but right now, don’t get (more of).

        1. In the summer time I don’t have to do any prep for school (I would love to, but I don’t have to) so it does make sense for me to take over more of the household duties. He is also helping more with bedtime since I’m around in the mornings now (I’m not during the school year).

          Our kids are 5 and 1.5 years old. This is the first summer I’ve had both of them. My daughter goes to a daycare that requires we pay for her spot over the summer so in the past we’ve sent her. That has been a godsend. But this summer we didn’t need to hold her spot because she’s going to Kindergarten in the fall. I was planning on keeping her there for half the summer but we were having behavioral issues so I pulled her early and put her in some half day camps (I couldn’t afford full day camps because we’re taking her to some therapy sessions that are insanely expensive). My inlaws watch my son for us during the school year so I have him in the summer. Next summer he will be in childcare (same one my daughter just left) and I’ll probably be putting my daughter in some half day camps again, but we can’t afford full day camps or even half day camps all summer.

          I love the idea of each having a weekend day, but the truth is our kids are really intense and it’s hard for one parent to have them for an entire day. My husband would lose his shit if he had to do that. Instead I’ll take them for a while and then he’ll take them for a few hours. But usually I end up running errands during my time. I try to go see a friend if I can every weekend and I try to go out once a week, but my husband has stuff 2-3 nights during the work week so it’s hard to schedule stuff.

          The thing is my husband is good about supporting me to go out and do my thing, but when I come back the house is a mess and the kids are super clingy and he is whiny and I spend a lot of the time away feeling stressed about how everything will be when I get back. I need to watch my phone because I’m getting calls about “where is this thing” etc. Having two kids really made the whole thing a million times harder than it was with one. One was manageable. Right now two is really tough. I know it will get better in a few years, but with a toddler and a 5yo (with some sensory/aggression issues) it’s just a lot for either of us to have both kids for long periods of time (or even just for an evening).

  10. Your marriage is my parent’s marriage to a T. My dad has changed my daughter’s diaper twice- which is two more times than he changed my diaper or my sister’s diaper when we were growing up. While my husband and I were trying (and not succeeding) to get pregnant we had a lot of role models through our friends. I made it a point to point out the dads that were very involved in parenting and how he was going to be just as involved as I was with our kids.

    Do I end up making the dr appointments and taking my daughter to most of them? Yes but it’s because I have more flexibility in my work schedule (I work from home two days a week). Do I read more parenting books? Yes but I am a faster reader and if there was one that I thought he needed to read instead of just getting a quick rundown of the book then he would probably read it. But when he is not traveling he is absolutely bathing her and putting her to bed half of the nights. And when she would wake up in the middle of the night- as long as it wasn’t in the beginning when she was still nursing all of the time- he would get up to comfort her half the time as well.

    You can still change things. That whole “sighing” thing wouldn’t cut it with me. Both of you guys contributed to making your kids and both of you have to contribute to raising them.

  11. Yes, I am the default parent…by my choice and our design. I’m a SAHM, so it’s really my job. McRuger does an amazing job at giving me breaks and backing me up. He does the dishes, takes out the trash, cleans the bathroom, and takes the night shifts for the baby. If I need a break, he gives me one…even if it’s a huge inconvenience for him. We’ve talked quite a bit about this, and he feels that since I support him (making meals, doing laundry, putting out his clothes)…that it’s part of his job to make sure I don’t burn out.

    All that being said, McRuger doesn’t notice when things need to get done, or I’m worn down, and I often have to tell him that I need help. For us, it boils down to communication. So long as I’m clear with what I (or the kids) need…he’s happy to do his part. But, the onus is on me to do that.

    1. I would LOVE for us to communicate more. By the time both kids are asleep (between 9:30 and 10:30) we’re both so exhausted and my husband basically refuses to participate in a meaningful conversation. I’ve tried so many different things, but he just needs to turn off and tune out. I’m hoping his exhaustion level won’t be so bad as our kids get older, but I don’t know how to make him more able to cope right now so he can engage in a conversation. Part of the reason I try to give him so much time is so he will have the energy to connect with me when we have those rare moments, but it doesn’t seem to really help. He needs SO MUCH more than I can give him. I really don’t know what the answer is.

      1. “He needs SO MUCH more than I can give him.”

        What does he need more of? Time with you? Energy? Alone time? It seems from your description that he gets quite a bit of “down time” (as compared to you). Can he verbalize what he needs? Does he feel anything is “off” in your marriage?

        **I don’t mean this to come off as snarky or too inquisitive….I’m honestly curious.**

        1. He needs more time to himself and more sleep. I try to take the kids out for a couple hours during both weekend days and I let him sleep in on Saturday mornings, plus I do 99% of the night parenting. If he seems really tired I do the dishes so he can go to bed earlier. I give him as much down time and sleep time as I can, but he’s always exhausted and overwhelmed.

          1. This doesn’t seem fair to me…you need sleep and down time too. I could see if he was a biglaw lawyer dealing with billable hours but you said he doesn’t do that anymore…

          2. Has he seen a doctor? There may be a medical reason behind him being so exhausted. As an introvert who works with the public, I need a lot of downtime, too, and I’m a big fan of 8 hours of sleep, but even with that I was exhausted all the time, so I saw the doctor who prescribed some depression meds, vitamin D and a more intensive exercise regime and I’m doing much, much better. That may be what your husband needs as well.

            1. I am fascinated by the possibility that a doctor might be able to help him. I actually think he should get a sleep study done because if he’s on his back his snoring crescendos until he almost wakes himself (definitely out of a deep sleep but not completely) and I wonder if that is making him more tired than he would be. When he’s on his side (which I make him turn to when his snoring is keeping me up) he doesn’t snore as badly though, so I don’t know. I doubt he’d every actually do a sleep study. Way too many steps and way too much follow through. But maybe he would just go see his doctor…

              1. Vit D ftw!

                Also yes, snoring is a sign of sleep apnea and a whole bunch of other things. If he doesn’t want to go to a doctor, he can also bring it up with his dentist at his next cleaning. (There are some dental reasons people snore/don’t get as good sleep.)

              2. Okay, he’s taking Vit D ASAP. Is there any reason not to take it? If I ask him to take it he probably will.

  12. I am the default parent, but the best decision I made when I started working weekends, (I was a stay at home mom before) was to NOT pre-plan everything. I did that the first few times. Made her lunch, set out activities. Then I realized he is just as much a parent as I am and fuck that shit. He’ll figure it out. They will live through it and learn together. And they did. So awesome.

    Your husband is an adult. A parent. Perhaps, he should rise to the occasion.

  13. Thank you for writing so honestly about your life. Your experiences have helped me think about my approach to life – and particularly money. So thanks!

    Neither my partner nor I is the default parent. Fundamentally, we have always seen our family stuff (caring for kids and pets, making money, housework) as a shared responsibility and endeavour, and it would be wrong to step away from the big stuff as well as the day to day mundane tasks. I think this start point has been key: we each took substantial time off work when our kids were young; we each saw our own and our partner’s work as important (tho ultimately, my partner stepped back from his career when we couldn’t get reliable child care); we have fluid but clear responsibilities; neither one of us claim our needs are more important than the other, as a consistent position (cf. having a bad day and needing some time out); neither one claims that because we are better or worse at something, we should/shouldn’t do it (I think very few people, men or women, are naturally gifted at dealing with whiny kids, laundry, etc cf. some of us are given more leeway to not engage with the stuff we don’t like).

    I’m very interested to read your prioritising your partner’s needs, and your job as default parent and the parent who mops up when stuff goes bad. It kind of reads as though you are not only default carer for the kids, but for your partner as well. No-one’s the default parent for you.

    FWIW: the hardest times for us were when we had two kids under five, tricky child care and two jobs. Things got easier for us. The first day both of our kids were in full time school was one of the happiest in my life. You should see the photo: I was BEAMING.

    1. Thank you for reminding me that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. These early years with two are so hard, but I keep reminding myself it will get better. So good to know.

      I honestly think the dynamic we have going on right now is that my husband really struggles with having the energy to get things done and since I want/feel like I NEED them to get done, I just do them. I was totally leaving the kitchen to him and letting him do it on his own schedule but now that I’m home during the day I can’t handle navigating the messes he leaves, so that has thrown things off for us. I look forward to when I’m back at work and I can leave it in his hands again.

      The thing is, I love my husband, and I want him to be happy. So when I see him struggling I step in to pick up more slack so he will struggle less. But then I’m just enabling him more, instead of making him figure out how to make it better for himself. I think I do this because I’ve watched him not make things better for himself for years, so I don’t trust he’ll ever take those steps, I just trust he’ll come home and whine and sigh and I hate that and want to avoid it, so I do more for him. Ugh. It just feels like an endless cycle but clearly I need to change my behavior for the cycle to change. It really is on me.

      1. My Auntie Eileen used to say, ‘you can’t change them, darl.’ I’ve had to learn to let go of emotional & wellbeing stuff my partner does/not do for himself, and stop trying to Sort It Out for him. I had to change not because I was being unreasonable or enabling or because I was the problem but because I couldn’t change him; change was going to come only when he chose it. Which he eventually did (in some ways, in ways that worked for him).

        You sound like a thoughtful person whose doing a fine job of caring for your family in complex circs.

  14. I would not be able to stay married if we had that dynamic. There were many days when my husband would leave for work and I’d silently weep that he would get to go to the bathroom by himself and have a peaceful lunch with colleagues. He didn’t seem to understand my struggles staying at home. After all, he was the one that had to WORK. He has often said he would prefer to be the stay at home parent. My husband is pretty darn good at parenting our one child, right from the beginning participated a great deal in the feeding and changing of diapers. In fact, it used to irritate the hell out of me when he would continually check on him in his car seat when we were driving in the car. Literally, he would turn around every 15 seconds to check on him when he was sleeping. I swear, I thought he’d get us into a car accident. He’d always want to have pictures of our son during the day and wanted to know everything he did or said. I still make all the appointments and arrangements and do most of the housework, errands, etc, but my work is p/t and sporadic. I’ve seen many young dads these days who are more hands on and in my opinion, they will reap more rewards and gain greater compassion for the work of nurturing and caring for children. There are those men (like your husband) who are more comfortable in the traditional paradigm of leaving the child rearing and everything connected to it to women. I don’t think they think of the consequences to that, however.

    1. Interestingly, my husband absolutely respects how hard it is when I am home with the kids (only during the summer as I’m a teacher) but he is much less validating of how hard things are when I’m teaching full time. I think that is because he knows how exhausted he feels at the end of a big chunk of time with them and how long the days feel on the weekends.

      When my husband is with our kids he is extremely involved and does a fantastic job just being with them and interacting with them on their terms. He does that much better than I do, as I always want to be “playing something” that I understand or that has rules of some kind (or at least consistent, even if they are made up). It’s actually getting things done with the kids (like getting them ready for something and out the door in the morning) that he really struggles with. That is when I feel like I have to step in.

  15. Here from Mel’s Round-Up. I really like your operating system metaphor, too! Regardless of the roles each parent takes on, I think it applies to the lives we lead. I can totally see myself in that metaphor especially after I return to work.

    To answer your question, no I don’t think I’m the default parent. Since I’ve been on mat leave obviously the majority of my responsibilities during the day have revolved around the baby and (to a lesser extent) the house. And I probably obsess over parenting matters a little more than Mr. Turtle, if only because his attention is currently divided between family, work and grad school, and mine is mostly family (a luxury that will end in September). But I don’t “do everything.” There are a variety of reasons: one is that Mr. Turtle really, really wants to be involved in AJ’s life. He truly loves it. That has to be the most important reason. Secondly, I’m just not that good at being supermom/wife. Some days dinner is ready when Mr. Turtle walks in the door, and the dishes and laundry are done, etc. etc. Often I’m phoning him saying “Pick up something on your way home!” and he walks into a house that looks like a tornado hit. Maybe the baby was fussy that day or maybe I spent most of my free time reading blogs or novels. 🙂 We laugh and smile and play with the baby and eat when we can and sort things out when we can. The backyard is complete mess this year, the bathroom gets cleaned when company comes over, but we live with it and don’t resent each other. I don’t know what else to say about that. It’s one of those relationship things that seems really simple when it’s going well and terribly complicated when it isn’t The third reason that Mr. Turtle is involved probably has something to do with the fact I insist on it. I grew up in a house where both parents were very involved with the children (my mom was a stay at home mom) and this is non-negotiable for me. We went to two parenting/birth classes together (non-negotiable). Under no circumstances would he have been allowed to stay home! (The curling team was dropped last year because of birth classes). Other than breast feeding Mr. Turtle does everything I do. I’m not possessive of any of it; I don’t think or act like I’m better at any of it. Some things e.g. calming he probably does better than me, to be honest. So far AJ responds very well to both of us so it works well.

    But of course the real test will be when I go back to work. I just hope we have set a strong foundation so we can deal with new challenges. But the only way to know is to try it.

    I am wondering: have you shared this post with your husband? How does he react to your metaphor and the list of all the things you feel most responsible for? I could see it being a good springboard for a conversation about these issues.

    thanks again xo

    1. I have been wondering how my husband would react to these posts as well. I’m sure he’d say I didn’t give him enough credit or paint a complete picture and that is assuredly correct. But I think he’d also respect what is accurate about what I wrote. Just recently he said that I let him get away with too much and I’ve been wondering what he meant by that. I’m eager to bring it up again and have him elaborate on that statement. I think he is noticing how out of balance things are, and I think he might be willing to do something to change it. Maybe.

  16. You’ve already received so many thoughtful comments, but I thought I’d just answer your question. I’m not the “default” parent because my husband has the more flexible schedule. His mom worked so he had a good role model growing up. However, there are times that society (school, family) sort of push the default mode by assuming that I’m the contact person. You have to be aware of that and ignore anything that isn’t important to you. There are a lot of situations from school activities to gift giving that tend to default to women. I have become aware of that but I don’t worry if we are not baking cupcakes for school or giving good gifts etc…

    1. My husband’s mom did everything for him, which is part of our current problem. How do I expect him to know how to manage all these different things when he never had to manage any of them before… My kids will be learning differently from me. VERY DIFFERENTLY.

      1. I was only home 6 months last year and the Kid’s school nurse called and left me messages all the time, plus often emailed me. Seriously. Frequently. Even after a few reminders that I wasn’t in town so had no idea about spare clothes or some form. Sigh.

  17. My initial reaction is to say, I’m not the default parent and we split everything pretty well (I’d say about 60/40 since I have to maintain the calendar and I’m the researcher). But, then I realized that I’m sitting here in a hotel room during Family Fun night at Adoption camp waiting for an overstimulated 10 month old to just fall the f*ck asleep already while S and X are in another part of the hotel having fun. And I’m missing henna! I want henna! These are the times that I feel a little jealous of my role vs S’s role.

    Come to think of it, I need to find S and make him sit here in the dark for a while.

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