I'm Tired Of Being The Default Parent
While I was working this morning my cellphone rang. I was going to let it go to voicemail, like I usually do, but I knew the number was my kid's school so I answered. "Katelyn forgot her glasses at home. Can you bring them in?" the office staff person said. "Of course," I replied, and without giving the request or my response much thought. But then it hit me: why do they always call me? Why aren't they calling my husband? I know why, though. I'm the "default parent." And honestly, I'm tired of it.
The people who work at my kid's school aren't the only ones to automatically assume I'm the person that handles all things parenting related. If a special event needs parent volunteers, the parent-teacher association calls me. If my toddler needs more diapers at daycare his caregivers reach out to me, and even though my husband is the one who drops him off every morning. If my kid needs a flu shot, the doctor's office calls me. Relatives from both sides of our family tree message me, not my husband, about holiday plans, birthday parties, and Christmas lists. It's never-ending, and it's absolutely exhausting.
Apparently there's a reason why "mom" is always listed before "dad" on healthcare and school forms: we're the ones everyones runs to first.
I know it all seems inconsequential, but when you're constantly being treated like your child's only parent it takes a toll. For example, the other day my son came home and immediately said, “My teacher told me to tell my mom that we have a field trip.” Do I want to know my kid has a field trip coming up? Of course. But why not tell mom and dad about the field trip? Why not say "parents" instead of focusing on mom and mom alone, as if she's the only person who can process this kind of information and act accordingly? My husband is a father, too, yet everyone sees to conveniently forget about him.
His gender precluded him from being the "default parent," even though he was more available to handle any daytime parenting responsibilities.
My children have caught on, too, and now I'm the one they seek out first whenever they need anything. I’m the one they come to with bumps and bruises that need to be kissed. I'm the one they talk to when they need new clothes, can’t find their shoes, or wake up in the middle of the night. Even when my husband is standing or sleeping right next to me, I'm the one they seek out first and foremost. It’s not that my husband isn’t good at doing those things, either, because he is. He's a phenomenal parent... he's just their second choice.
A part of me loves being the first person anyone calls or runs to when it comes to my kids, and it's not like I don't want to or can't handle the responsibilities that come along with parenthood. Kissing an "ouch" and signing forms is part of parenthood. But I'm so tired of being the only parent expected to do them. Even when my ex-husband and I were together, and he stayed at home and I worked outside the house, I was the one fielding phone calls about my children. His gender precluded him from being the "default parent," even though he was more available to handle any daytime parenting responsibilities.
There's no reason to just call mom, anymore. Hell, there never was in the fist place.
And while I am in a much safer, more loving, more equal relationship, not much has changed when it comes to who is considered to be the "default" parent. So again, I have to ask: why? I have a job, too. I have a life outside of my children, too. I have passions and hobbies and friends and other family members that deserve my attention. Like my husband, I am not always available. So why have I been the only parent anyone reaches out to for almost 10 years?
Moms are largely and for the most part presumed to be the managers of families and households. As a result of that presumption and, let's face it, societal norms, we not only have to take care of ourselves but have to manage everyone else's life, too. Even when we have a parenting partner we're the ones taking on the emotional and unpaid labor of setting up organizational systems, calendars, to do lists, and relaying messages to the rest of the family so everyone is cared for.
My husband is infantilized while I am burdened with every single tax and piece of information. My husband is left out while I'm constantly in the know.
As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told NPR, the same thing happened to her when her son was in school. When they called, Ginsburg reportedly told the school secretary, "This child has two parents. Please alternate calls. It's his father's turn." Her request worked, too. Well, sort of. "The calls came barely once a semester and the reason was they had to think long and hard before asking a man to take time out of his work day to come to the school," Ginsburg said.
When I think about all of the times that people default to me, and to other moms like me, I become enraged. As more moms join the workforce, and more families divide parenting tasks differently, the institutions that parents come into contact with on a regular basis need to evolve. There's no reason to just call mom, anymore. Hell, there never was in the fist place.
Being the default parent doesn't just hurt me, either. It's not fair to my husband, who doesn't get to hear about how our youngest is doing in daycare, or learn about his favorite things to do while he's there. He misses out on the small details of his children's lives — like forgotten water bottles, field trips, or school breaks — simply because no one thinks to contact him first.
Just like toxic masculinity hurts men too, so does everyone assuming women are the "default"parents in their kids' lives. My husband is infantilized while I am burdened with every single tax and piece of information. My husband is left out while I'm constantly in the know.
So, where do we go from here? Well, I've started telling my kids to go ask their dad. I've continued to remind the school, doctor's office, and my mother-in-law that they can call my husband or email him, too. And I've started talking more openly about being the so-called default parent and how hurtful it is to everyone involved. Hopefully, more people will listen. My kids' school included.