What "Default Parent Syndrome" Really Means
6m read

What "Default Parent Syndrome" Really Means

The "default parent syndrome" discussion isn't new, but it is an important topic to address in any parenting relationship. With the whole family on the same page, non-default parent can recognize all the various ways the default parent holds the family together.

In parenthood, it is natural for one person to carry the majority of the parenting load at times. From managing children's schedules, to taking care of child-related responsibilities, to keeping up with household tasks, to driving kids to and from school, to prioritizing relationships with the spouse or other moms, being the default parent is a big job.

Once people learn what it really means to be the default parent, more respect and understanding given to default parents as they juggle the monumental tasks of parenthood. 

What does it mean to be the default parent? 

African American Father Little Daughter Dog Using Laptop Together Home

The hardships of default parenting are more than just a TikTok trend. A default parent is the one parent who acts as a preselected option when it comes to any responsibility of parenthood.

Even though both you and your partner might function as a team when it comes to raising children, default parents are the ones who carry the bigger load in parenting (in a standard two-parent household - which isn't always the case). The default parent is responsible for their kids' physical, logistical, and emotional needs. They're the ones kids default to when there is nobody else to turn to in order to get their needs met.

Ironically, the non-default parent often doesn't realize the other person is the default parent. And chances are, the default parent knows without a doubt that they are in that role.

You might be the default parent if...

Your child runs to you when they get hurt.

Your child walks past the other parent to ask you for a glass of water.

Your child expects you to drive them to sports practices.

Your child only asks you to prepare them a snack.

Your child follows you even when you need privacy.

Your child would not be supervised if you left the room.

Your child seeks you out first when asking a question.

Your partner might see you as the default parent if...

They assume you will complete all household tasks.

The other parent works outside the home and you do not.

They assume you will keep the house clean and organized.

They assume you are supervising the children at all times.

They expect you to make all doctors appointments.

They assume you will take care of the children when they are sick.

You are not given any breaks when you are sick.

You seem to be the one carrying the majority of the mental load for the family.

You experience chronic fatigue from stress and lack of quality sleep.

The "default parent" discussion is not as new as it seems.

Every few years, the conversation seems to pop up again.

The "default parent" conversation makes its way through mainstream media every now and then, and the most helpful takeaway is just to acknowledge that the default parent exists. Being the default parent isn't necessarily a bad thing, and doesn't mean that both parents are equally important parts of the family.

Talking about the unique challenges and circumstances that default parents face can be the beginning of acceptance, respect, and compassion. Being honest about who is the default parent in a family can help everyone feel seen and heard. When mothers feel like they are being taken for granted, default parenting can become a toxic part of their life.

A good mother isn't a sacrificial one. Good mothers receive adequate support and respect for the monumental work they do for the family.

What does "Default Parent Syndrome" mean? 

Mother with son talking on smartphone

Sometimes, being the default parent is a choice. In some cases, family members have a conversation about dividing roles, and one parent chooses to take on that role. This is especially common when one parent works outside the home and one stays home or works from home.

While moms are typically the default parent, this is not always the case. Assuming that the mother is going to be the default parent is not helpful to the societal conversation around family roles.

Default parent syndrome occurs when one parent turns into the default parent, and the other person becomes the backup parent.

The default parent is the one who takes on the majority of day-to-day parenting responsibilities. In previous generations, the default parent was almost always the woman. In today's society, it isn't necessarily the mom every time.

The default parent is the one who wakes up early to make breakfast, has the children's clothes ready for school, does school drop off and pick up, helps with homework, knows the kids' schedules, prepares snacks for the children, does the laundry for the kids, takes care of the house, makes doctor appointments, and prioritizes everyone's feelings. The default parent knows all birthdays, medication doses, growth and development timelines, and school schedules without consulting a calendar.

The back-up, or alternate, parent is the one who steps in to do these tasks when the default parent is unable to due to work, illness, travel, or just needs extra support. Even though there might be two parents in the household, there is only one default parent at a time.

Default parent syndrome is an important part of the parenting dynamic, and can take a toll on mental health if needs are not communicated and the other parent doesn't pull their weight in the family unit.

Just because a family has two parents present, there is only one default parent, and usually moms play that role. Given the country's patriarchal cultural history, it is understandable that society would view home related tasks and the major job of raising children to be a mom's job.

What are the main challenges for the default parent? 

Pretty Woman Cute Son Reading Book While Doing Schoolwork Together

Despite who is the default parent and who isn't, parenting is tough. There's no way around the challenges of parenting. However, being a default parent can make it even harder.

Here are just a few challenges that arise.

  • Exhaustion and chronic fatigue

  • Feelings of neglect

  • Reaching the point of burnout

  • Feeling resentment toward your partner

  • Feeling like there isn't enough time in your life to take care of yourself

  • Feeling unheard in the relationship with your partner

  • Feeling like all the things are just too much to handle

All of these challenges can have negative consequences on relationships. The default parent experiences challenges that can cause a significant decline in communication and respect between partners. If the default parent has a hard time communicating these challenges, frustration can turn into resentment and contempt, which can negatively impact the relationship with their partner.

If you find yourself feeling like you've taken on too much of the parenting load, don't be afraid to speak up and ask for more help from your partner. Communicating needs is foundational for any successful relationship.

The default parent in the family can be successful with enough support and acknowledgment.

Default parenting is an ongoing conversation in society about the roles of moms, dads, or other caregivers in the family unit. The default parent is the one who takes on most of the various tasks of raising children and managing a household, and often this job falls on moms. By acknowledging that the default parent exists, families can move forward with open communication and default parents can truly feel like their needs matter too. 

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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