the default parent
November 4, 2014 11:26 AM   Subscribe

"Are you the default parent? If you have to think about it, you're not. You'd know. Trust me."
posted by flex (200 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
DrMamaEsq: How Being the Default Parent is Your Fault
posted by flex at 11:28 AM on November 4, 2014


DrMamaEsq: How Being the Default Parent is Your Fault

We don't have kids, but MuddDude is the "default parent" of our dogs and our household. He's the default parent because I'm extremely lazy and take terrible advantage of him. Saying that's his fault absolves me of my laziness - well if he'd rely on me to step up, maybe I'd do more! Maybe that's true, but isn't it my responsibility to demonstrate that I will do more, before he starts relying on me?
posted by muddgirl at 11:33 AM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Thinking back on it, both of my parents were equally the default parent. Huh.
posted by phunniemee at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm not really sure if we have a default parent. I know that by the line up above, that means it's not me, but still.

For our youngest, pretty much all the things being listed here are split between us. My wife handles the clothes, I handle the transportation logistics, etc. When he calls out in the night, whichever of us wakes up first goes to deal with it--if we're both up, there may be a sigh and mutter between us, and then typically whoever didn't go last will go. He'll walk right in on either of our showers.

Logistics for our eldest fall on my wife's shoulders...because she works at his high school. Before then, they were typically mine. At his age, most of his cries for help are technical ones and go to me.
posted by Four Ds at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


My husband is the default earner, the default lawn mower and the default spider killer

Gotta love that 1950s life.
posted by colie at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is kinda the default internet article.
posted by phooky at 11:41 AM on November 4, 2014 [26 favorites]


That was very whiny.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


My wife and I were discussing this and here's the thing; even if you don't have a "default" parent, you really do. I do a ton of housework and parenting and spend tons of time with our kids. Regardless of this, when a "parenting" situation comes up, strangers, acquaintances and even our own parents just go to her. I even get those "haha Dad is a doofus" jokes, and I'll be honest; it's incredibly irritating. I just have to remind myself that I am a straight white man in America and I have it really easy.
posted by selfnoise at 11:45 AM on November 4, 2014 [58 favorites]


lol two parent household problems
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2014 [56 favorites]


Working from home with children around seems like a huge pain. Childcare is expensive, so I can't really criticize, but having my kids in my office would make me super frustrated too.
posted by ODiV at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I calculated the other day that I've changed in the range of 8,000-10,000 diapers. I also sign all those forms promising not to sue.

Still not sure if I'm the default parent, though, because Grandma takes care of a whole lot of details. Thanks $DEITY for Grandma.
posted by clawsoon at 11:50 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hmmmmmm. Yeah I'd disagree with this one. I'm the default parent in that I'm the one who picks up after school, arranges activities, makes sure homework gets done, makes and keeps the dentist and doctor appointments, swaps out seasonal clothes. I'm the soother and the boo-boo kisser. I'm simply *here* for them more hours of the week. But at the same time, my husband is the one who gets 'em up for school every day, does laundry and helps them find something to wear, handles RSVPing to parties, and runs out to pick up dinner when I don't have it in me to cook (which is an embarrassingly high percentage of the time.) We share chauffeuring duties pretty evenly. And when I go away, I trust my partner is competent to handle the household without detailed instructions for him. Nor do I receive detailed instructions when he's traveling.

"My marriage isn't equitable" != "there is no such thing as an equitable marriage."

That said, I've spent seven years now being pissed off that when someone calls to make a playdate or arrange for something to be sent in for a class party, they always ask for me, even when my husband answers the phone.
posted by Andrhia at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2014 [13 favorites]


I am one hundred percent the default parent. However, I started as a single parent, so this may be related.
posted by corb at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


My husband is the default earner, the default lawn mower and the default spider killer.

Speaking as the default spider, I am staying the hell away from that guy (unless there is a missing hyphen or something).
posted by The Bellman at 11:54 AM on November 4, 2014 [32 favorites]


When she cried, he didn't, even for a second, pause what he was doing and consider getting her.

DTMFA.

Wait ... no ... this new theme is really confusing.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:55 AM on November 4, 2014 [17 favorites]


The tone of that article was whiny and sexist. I am the default parent in my house and the father, but the entire article came off as "don't you hate it when us moms have to do all the things and no one appreciates us. Wah." Guess what? That's what being the default parent is and if you don't take it up, no one else is going to do it and your kids suffer.

Also, Writing 101 tip: If you have to say it's satire at the end, it's not satire. It's poor writing skills.
posted by Chocomog at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2014 [18 favorites]


My parents were the default every other day. Literally, they had an agreement. As kids we got quite skillful at managing when crises broke, when calls came in, when to avoid being in the house to avoid getting drafted.

Good skills for the corporate work environment now that I think of it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:00 PM on November 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


My wife would be the default logistical parent, because she's around during the day more. Weekends it's split 50/50, though I wonder if she'd agree with that statement. I'd say in most other areas we split the default duties. She's the default "I can't sleep" parent because she can sing. I'm the default "let's tell fart jokes and watch The Simpsons" or "let's whip ping pong balls at each others heads for a half hour" parent. Emotionally and physically I'd say it's split. Some thing she's better at, some things I am.

I'm probably the default "I dismissed this article after the first paragraph" parent.
posted by bondcliff at 12:02 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hahaha wow I find it terrifying that some folks think this article is "whiney."

Like....so not only does she have to do all this shit that won't get done otherwise, but if she complains about it at all and acknowledges the fact that women are more often in this role, she's sexist and whiney and not sufficiently devoted to her children?

W-WOW OKAY!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:04 PM on November 4, 2014 [107 favorites]


Fuck the author of this article. There are lots of reasons why one parent takes the reins in a given situation. good parents compromise, share the work, and dammit care enough that even if they were in charge of doing it all they would without whining and keeping score. I kinda feel sorry for her kids.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:04 PM on November 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


And now I kind of want to have coffee with the wives referred to in the above comments and ask them how they feel about the division of parenting duties.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:05 PM on November 4, 2014 [25 favorites]


And now I kind of want to have coffee with the wives referred to in the above comments and ask them how they feel about the division of parenting duties.

My wife doesn't drink coffee, so... phew!
posted by bondcliff at 12:07 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Excuse me, good parents what?

No. No, no, no, fuck no, a thousand times fuck no.

I care about my daughter like the blazing heat of a thousand suns. I also work full time in addition to being her default parent. It is exhausting. It was more exhausting when we were poor, but it is still exhausting now. To say that if I complain, if I utter one word about not being charmed and delighted every millisecond to be having essentially two full time jobs, makes me not a good parent is to be an asshole.
posted by corb at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2014 [81 favorites]


It's kind of interesting that I'm the only person so far whose confessed that I feel guilty for not helping out more, and I'm a woman.
posted by muddgirl at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2014 [25 favorites]


good parents compromise, share the work, and dammit care enough that even if they were in charge of doing it all they would without whining and keeping score. I kinda feel sorry for her kids.

Seriously, what? I don't see any evidence here that she's taking out any frustrations on her kids. She is frustrated with her husband, which -- while, okay, it's not the 100% perfect ideal for kids to see an imperfect marriage -- is totally reasonable, and furthermore, why is it her problem to fix, and her burden not to "keep score," and her duty to give 200% for her kids? The husband is the one shirking responsibility!
posted by Ragini at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2014 [26 favorites]


My husband is the default earner, the default lawn mower and the default spider killer.

We have two young children, and each of us is the default parent for specific things, as in Andrhia's case, and not necessarily in traditionally gendered ways. I do all the kids laundry, make their lunches and breakfasts, and am the go to for diaper changing when we're together, for example. My partner is typically the one the kids go to for comfort when they get hurt, is the only one who can nurse our toddler, and takes them to school / daycare. Etc. It's not perfect, but it's as close to our ideal as our current schedules, biological limitations, and the kids' preferences will allow right now.

We're lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of progressive people, but also have had the experience of others assuming a traditional, heteronormative division of labor, despite how we present ourselves to the world year in and out. And I guess that's how things work in their families.

Which leads me to wonder what exactly these men are bringing to the table that makes their partners / wives tolerate it. The article does a decent job of hinting at the draining hell traditional mothering likely is.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


> Fuck the author of this article

Jesus, that's a strong reaction.

> There are lots of reasons why one parent takes the reins in a given situation.

Yes, as she says more than once in the piece.

good parents compromise, share the work, and dammit care enough that even if they were in charge of doing it all they would without whining and keeping score

She's not whining and keeping score. She's venting in a humorous way, and noting a division of labor that usually falls along lines of gender.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2014 [20 favorites]


Parenting can be tiring, and sometimes you're too tired to figure out why you're tired, let alone figure out how to stop being tired. I'm glad for those of you who have healthy relationships that let you sort this stuff out in a healthy way with your partner. Have some sympathy for the rest of us, though. :-)
posted by clawsoon at 12:11 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Let's just say that she's better at parenting than writing about it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:13 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I will also say that there's a thing where sometimes when I'm driving from school to the other school to the after-school activity with a quick frog-march in between for snacks and homework -- in those times, I have been known to harbor a bitter resentment that this is my job and always my job and why the hell do I have to do all the work around here this is so not fair.

That part of me is both irrational and factually incorrect, and I imagine my husband sometimes feels exactly that same lingering resentment why does it have to always be me this totally sucks when the little one is whining to him about how she can't find any socks and she needs some helllllllllp and I'm still snoozing cozy in bed. It's normal and human to feel like you're getting an unfair share of the burden even if that might not actually be the case.
posted by Andrhia at 12:18 PM on November 4, 2014 [10 favorites]


Hahaha wow I find it terrifying that some folks think this article is "whiney."

Like....so not only does she have to do all this shit that won't get done otherwise, but if she complains about it at all and acknowledges the fact that women are more often in this role, she's sexist and whiney and not sufficiently devoted to her children?


She's the one who had children, with that particular partner. Sorry, but it's whiny to complain after the fact.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article is a tough topic, because it seems that its either it's read by mothers who are the "default parents" who say "amen, preach on," or by fathers who take what is in their eyes as a significant share of the duties and say "not all relationships are like your relationship." There's not a lot of conversations to be had between these two groups, because neither side needs to work harder in their current roles.

I know the break-down isn't so starkly binary, but I'm using bold statements like those used in this article, because in reality, it's a lot more fluid, and that doesn't make for pithy observations or well-tweeted articles.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:21 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


When she cried, he didn't, even for a second, pause what he was doing and consider getting her.

THIS IS THE TRUEST ARTICLE. SOB.

It's not that my husband - who works from home just like I do - who can feed the baby a bottle and change her diaper and put her to bed and buy her clothes that fit and age appropriate toys and prepare her food and decide it's time to eat some solids and on and on on and on just like I do, it's not that he doesn't want to do it, or that he doesn't do it if I ask, it's that most of the time I have to ask in the first place.

Do you know how exhausting it is to ask, again and again, if he can please go get her when she's crying? He does it! And he's a great dad! But I had to ask. Even if he does do it of his own volition, he always looks at me for a split second first, just in case I was already on the way to doing it myself and he was therefore off the hook.

And none of it is done out of malice or laziness just... gender inertia, I think.
posted by lydhre at 12:21 PM on November 4, 2014 [160 favorites]


Gender inertia is my new favorite catchphrase. I dig it. It is so applicable to practically everything wrong in my male dominated office right now.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:23 PM on November 4, 2014 [82 favorites]


> She's the one who had children, with that particular partner. Sorry, but it's whiny to complain after the fact.

Oh, for Pete's sake. You made your bed, now lie in it?

You're calling a huge part of the feminist movement of the 1970s whiny.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:23 PM on November 4, 2014 [35 favorites]


(Are there really people who don't understand that the term "whiney" is itself fundamentally misogynistic? Constantly re-using it isn't going to bolster any arguments or convince anyone.)
posted by The Bellman at 12:24 PM on November 4, 2014 [27 favorites]


There's not a lot of conversations to be had between these two groups, because neither side needs to work harder in their current roles.

I would say that the father's perception of how much work they do may be missing the hours they are not spending with the children.
posted by corb at 12:27 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


She's the one who had children, with that particular partner. Sorry, but it's whiny to complain after the fact.

I....guess that I emphatically disagree!

I personally feel that silencing and shaming people who want to talk abut the difficulties of parenting is cruel and alarmingly lacking in empathy. Becoming a parent doesn't mean you stop being a human being, or stop having needs. Having your life as a parent turn out in ways that aren't what you hoped they would be is...pretty shitty, really! Being a parent is an irreversible chain of events, the outcome of which is impossible to know going in.

Like I am honestly pretty flabbergasted, I don't know what else to say.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:29 PM on November 4, 2014 [68 favorites]


You're calling a huge part of the feminist movement of the 1970s whiny.

I'm not, at all. I'm saying that picking the right person to be your co-parent is really important.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2014


Perhaps better phrasing would have been : fuck huffpost for printing this article, which to me reads like a passive/aggressive whine-a-thon with a 'just kidding' tacked on the end to make it 'satire'.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


She's the one who had children, with that particular partner. Sorry, but it's whiny to complain after the fact.

Before we had a kid, my wife and I agreed that we'd never be the type of people who just plopped their kid in front of the TV. I don't think his cord was cut before we were begging him to please watch Blues Clues so we could sleep for twenty minutes.

My point is, sometimes people say they will do something, and then decide not to do the thing they promised to do. I'm not sure complaining about that is really whining.
posted by bondcliff at 12:31 PM on November 4, 2014 [27 favorites]


Wow, the tone deafness in this thread is fucking staggering.

It is not even a little bit under contest that the vast majority of childrearing and housework duties go to women. There's plenty of time study evidence for that. It fluctuates with women's participation in the labor force (which tends to force men to pick up the slack), but there's really not any question about this.

To insist that this is, somehow, the mother's fault, because she chose to procreate with a specific partner, is frankly pretty nuts. Like, who is she supposed to marry? The reason this is still a pattern is because very few men are invested in an equal division of labor, those who are invested are frequently forced into economic patterns that deny it to them anyway, and those who aren't invested probably wouldn't know what an equal division of labor looked like if it bit them on the ass (see all the studies about perceptions of household labor in couples-- the fact is, men, that you probably aren't doing as much as you think you are, although I applaud your efforts to get closer to actual equity.)

How, exactly, is it this woman's fault, when she is sharing her story of a partner who doesn't help, which is merely an illustration of a larger problem? Christ almighty, Metafilter, I expected better from you.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:32 PM on November 4, 2014 [149 favorites]


I'm not, at all. I'm saying that picking the right person to be your co-parent is really important.

....how would you even know what kind of parent they would be until after you've done the babymaking thing together?
posted by poffin boffin at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [31 favorites]


We don't have kids, but MuddDude is the "default parent" of our dogs and our household. He's the default parent because I'm extremely lazy and take terrible advantage of him. Saying that's his fault absolves me of my laziness - well if he'd rely on me to step up, maybe I'd do more! Maybe that's true, but isn't it my responsibility to demonstrate that I will do more, before he starts relying on me?

muddgirl you're right in that it is your responsibility as a participating adult to share the burden of a household, but MuddDude cannot control you - he can only control what he does. So if he wanted to not be the default parent of your household, he would need to adjust his own actions. I don't think fault is a good word. Maybe cause & effect?

I think part of the point of DrMamaEsq's blog is that she's the default parent because she likes it that way. If she doesn't want to be the default parent, she needs to give up some control.

In my house, I find some areas difficult to cede. So it would be hypocritical for me to complain about being burdened by those areas. That's what I took from her blog anyway.
posted by lyssabee at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah, satire! So we can't hold her to anything.

In any event, she appears to have teenage daughters, not sons.

That will be a factor. That and the working from home.

What's her point, exactly?
posted by IndigoJones at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't understand this blaming her for choosing a bad coparent. I thought people generally understood and acknowledged that a) people are not immutable boulders that never change throughout their entire adult lives, and B) having children is kind of a life-changing experience, and sometimes people don't come out on the other side the same as they were when they went in. Sure, it's part of the risk of having children, but so is the risk that you will have a special needs child or that you yourself will have crippling postpartum depression or any number of other bad outcomes that will be challenging to deal with. I wouldn't really hold it against anyone to be slightly unhappy with those outcomes, or to rant about them occasionally.
posted by annekate at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [10 favorites]


> There's not a lot of conversations to be had between these two groups, because neither side needs to work harder in their current roles.

> I would say that the father's perception of how much work they do may be missing the hours they are not spending with the children.


Again, that's not true for all fathers. My wife has a job that's closer to home than mine, but we get up at the same time, and I take our son to daycare, while she picks him up in the evenings, and makes dinner because I get home later, and I'm slow in the kitchen.

But I play with our son when I'm home, and I let my wife sleep in on the weekends by being the one who gets up when our son does, which used to be between 5:30 and 7 AM (luckily, he's getting older, so he sleeps in). And then the three of us play together all weekend, more or less.

I wish my commute was shorter, but my hours end up not being all that different from my wife's hours. I wish we could both spend more time home with our kid.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am not at all getting the "whiney" vibe from this article. Mainly she's being funny and venting in a pretty healthy way while showing a lot of appreciation for her husband. I'm not quite sure what some of you are reacting to so strongly.

But maybe that's because I am the default parent, and, oh, yes, is it ever exhausting. Great work, rewarding work, blah blah blah all the stuff you are supposed to say, but exhausting. For a variety of reasons, there is often a default parent. Sometimes there has to be, because of logistics. Sometimes people fall into traditional roles. Sometimes one parent is just better suited to it, or wants to do it. Not everyone can manage the perfectly equal co-parenting ideal. If the default parent needs to blow off a little steam now and then and say "Oh, wow, this is nonstop and hard," I don't see the problem with that and I am really amazed at the strong reactions so far.

It is an overworked parent writing humorously about parenting. This is an okay thing, really, even if this style of humor isn't your personal favorite thing.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [22 favorites]


Like, nothing in this article or this thread is an attack on any of you, specifically, as a parent. This is about a big social issue, being illustrated with a case, what C. Wright Mills would call, "The intersection of biography and history." Men don't, on the whole, considered as a group, participate equally in childrearing. And just because you do (and I would encourage the men in this thread to think long and hard about if they do, and if you do, hell yeah, go you!), does not mean that men, as a group, considered wholly, do.

This discussion is nuts and it seems like everyone has gone kind of off the deep end here.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [29 favorites]


Wow, okay, I'm not saying it's her fault. I'm saying that she complains about her life in a really weird way.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:36 PM on November 4, 2014


I feel like this whole article is 'gendertrolling', if that is a word.

I just would declare a standing ovation for all motivated and engaged parents, and call it done. We all deserve more appreciation than we're getting.
posted by newdaddy at 12:37 PM on November 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


[Folks, "go fuck yourself" is an instadelete. Please refresh the page and stop responding to it, you're driving me nuts.]
posted by restless_nomad at 12:40 PM on November 4, 2014 [21 favorites]


lol two parent household problems

I was curious what the current numbers were, and it looks like across the US about 70 percent of children live with two parents (including both married and unmarried (Census pdf, see pp 22-23), but with extraordinary variation by state, income, and race. (As I'm sure we all know, the single parent households are overwhelmingly female-headed.)

I can't easily find numbers for it, but I'd guess that a much larger percentage of households go through intermittent periods of being single-parent households, even though only about 30 percent are single-parent at any given time, because of divorce or death, or things like prison or other reasons one parent may be unable to be a functional part of the household.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:40 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think part of the point of DrMamaEsq's blog is that she's the default parent because she likes it that way. If she doesn't want to be the default parent, she needs to give up some control.

But the actions she talks about taking aren't actually "giving up control" - she's talking about just stopping doing tasks that she usually does. In my household that would solve the immediate problem of MuddDude being overloaded by chores, but MuddDude refusing to do the dishes doesn't guarantee that I'll do the dishes. It just leads to a pileup of dirty dishes. That's why he had to take control of dirty dishes in the first place!

The implication of DrMamaEsq seems to be that "default parents" essentially make up tasks that don't actually need to be done, so it's as simple as refusing to do them any more, and waiting for kids and partners to adjust. I can't imagine that's actually the case.
posted by muddgirl at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2014 [12 favorites]


picking the right person to be your co-parent is really important

I'm not a huge fan of the article, but once you saw the words "default parent" did you have a guess which gender that default parent was?

So many independent choices converging on a common outcome!
posted by leopard at 12:42 PM on November 4, 2014 [20 favorites]


I think maybe we could start with assuming that the author is actually experiencing what she has written here, and is communicating it to us. That's probably a simpler explanation than she is some kind of "gendertroll".
posted by selfnoise at 12:44 PM on November 4, 2014 [22 favorites]


Perhaps the author should read the followup linky:

So how do we break the cycle? Here's the top four things I do:

1. "Ask your father" (or "Figure it out yourself")
2. "That's your job"
3. "Can you call [insert back-up parent's name here]?"
4. "I'm leaving/napping/unavailable."


One of the biggest recurring arguments the wife and I would have is because she complained about being the default parent and I would say, okay, then fucking do something about it. I can't make the kids come to me if they go to you first and you take care of their needs. When you list yourself as the primary contact for the school, [spoiler alert] they're going to call you first. If you want free time then either take me up on my repeated goddamned offer to go out for a night or weekend or however long, or just tell me "hey I'm bugging out these days". Really. It's not a trap.

Even now after years of couples therapy she'll still get into these ruts and after a week or so of sulking she'll complain about how I always get to do everything I want and she never does. The biggest effect that therapy has had is that now I can say to her with an absolute straight face, "You sound really upset. I'm sorry you're upset," instead of screaming WHAT THE FUCK I STAYED HOME BOTH WEEKEND DAYS BECAUSE YOU ASKED ME TO AND THEN DIDN'T DO ANYTHING BECAUSE YOU WERE TIRED.
posted by disconnect at 12:45 PM on November 4, 2014 [14 favorites]


I'm not disagreeing that inequality and gender inertia exist, and yeah it's probably even the dominant paradigm. I'm reacting to the statement that if you don't know you're the default parent then the other parent is definitely shouldering an unfair burden. It's that way a lot of the time, for sure, but it doesn't have to be like that. And I speculate there are some marriages just as she describes that could be evened up a lot with some honest talk and compromising.

Of course there are probably some marriages that would fall apart if the default parent tried that straight talk, soooo there's that, too, I guess.
posted by Andrhia at 12:46 PM on November 4, 2014


I cannot believe we're still rehashing this same discussion Metafilter. Is it really so controversial, in 2014, to point out that being the default parent still sucks, and that yes, who most often becomes the default parent is not really random? Yes, there are relationships that don't fall into this mold (and I sure hope that when my husband and I have kids, that our relationship doesn't), but it's hard to avoid the gravitational pull of a traditional division of labor, even when you start out fairly equal (like this author, who had a corporate job just like her husband when they first had kids). She points out in the article that this is not how it always pans out, that there are families where the father is the default parent, so how is this gender-trolling or whatever? No one has a perfect idea how their life is going to turn out, no one has 20/20 vision of the future. Sometimes things don't pan out exactly the way you planned, and it's perfectly ok to talk about the ways in which that happened (not whiny at all), and particularly the ways in which society at large seems to encourage particular patterns of labor division and not others. How are we ever going to have an honest discussion about division of labor within families if mothers get jumped on like this for honest sharing?
posted by peacheater at 12:47 PM on November 4, 2014 [29 favorites]


The implication of DrMamaEsq seems to be that "default parents" essentially make up tasks that don't actually need to be done, so it's as simple as refusing to do them any more, and waiting for kids and partners to adjust. I can't imagine that's actually the case.

OK, re-reading one more time she names one specific instance where she could give up control - by not being the messenger for school messages, since her husband deals with school situations anyway. That's a situation where her husband is already handling business, she was just unnecessarily inserted.
posted by muddgirl at 12:47 PM on November 4, 2014


> When you list yourself as the primary contact for the school, [spoiler alert] they're going to call you first

So... did you list yourself as the primary contact for the school?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:48 PM on November 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


lol two parent household problems

Heh. It looks super hard - hell, whenever one of us is away a rough approximation of it IS super hard, so I guess that's fair enough.

I guess I still get to be smug about the relationship problems of people without kids - just split up already! There's nothing stopping you!
posted by Artw at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was clearly the default parent, arranging the playdates, paying for summer camp, getting her to the doctor, etc. But I never complained about it! She's grown up now, and I have so many wonderful memories, so many playgrounds, museums...Isn't it often the case that the default parents are happy to be the default parent? It was in my case. (I'm the dad, by the way.)
posted by kozad at 12:51 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


What I took away from this was - holy shit, the parenting workload gets that much worse when the kid(s) get(s) older and is going to school???? I am the default parent. I am going to print out these articles, ask my husband to read them, and possibly draft a labor division contract.
posted by kitcat at 12:51 PM on November 4, 2014 [15 favorites]


Personal experience is not universal. My parents weren't like this, and my wife and I aren't like this. That doesn't prove or disprove what is presented as a universal thing in this post.

I think what some people (and I) feel is whiny about this post is that the concept of a default parent is presented as a thing, where all I'm getting is this person's experience. She should be blaming her specific spouse, not some concept of a "default parent".
posted by DrLickies at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


The implication of DrMamaEsq seems to be that "default parents" essentially make up tasks that don't actually need to be done

I saw it more as "you are capable of making your lunch, so make it or be hungry." Clearly if your deadbeat husband is going to let your kids starve in your absence, you have to step up.

I suspect she exaggerates for effect the chores she now refuses to do for her kids - I'm not sure I would trust my teenager to pay the cell phone bill.

Stuff like dirty dishes gets trickier because then it can turn into a waiting game, and who has more tolerance for mess. Clearly I'm on MuddDude's side in that regard! You probably could have guessed that :)
posted by lyssabee at 12:55 PM on November 4, 2014


Okay, yikes. This thread went off the rails quick. Most of you get that #notallmen is not super helpful, right? So what's with the #notalldads thing going on here?

To my eyes the point being made is the somewhat bland (and I thought, understood in progressive circles) truth that standards for men and women are usually different and especially when it comes to traditionally gendered roles. Meaning that if the dishes don't get done or the baby isn't picked up right away, it is far more likely to be the women who feels bad or is even judged for it. So of course she's more likely to just take care of things because the cost of not doing it is higher.

I mean yeah, dads who do everything totally exist, but it doesn't invalidate the fact that a lot of mothers & women struggle with this even in relatively progressive, examined relationships. I've certainly had to have the "can you think about why you assume I'll do this?" conversation with my co-parent a couple of times, and he's a feminist and very involved father. It slips under the radar sometimes.
posted by annekate at 12:56 PM on November 4, 2014 [57 favorites]


So if something isn't 100% universal, then it must be a purely individual thing that is of no relevance to anyone else?

I suspect you've mis-identified the source of the whininess.
posted by leopard at 12:56 PM on November 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


This shit makes me rage because dis-aggregating myself from the larger issue is hard. Harder than smug dismissals make it sound.

This article bothers the holy shit out of me because while I work longer hours than my wife on the job, I'm also the more involved parent. (Due to schedule weirdness -- she's not a slacker.) An enormous amount of myself is tied up in raising my children. So the cry of "men don't carry their weight," with the addendum of "they may think they do, but they don't," fucking pisses me off on a personal level. Because it's a monstrous load of smug, smarmy bullshit from where I live.

Yes, I do absolutely understand the larger topic. It's not controversial. It's absolutely true. In the aggregate, women do far, far more childcare than men, and that men often overestimate their contributions. Yup, an obvious truth.

It's also fucking enraging to me personally, which I know is pointless. At the very best it treats me as either deluded ("oh look, he thinks he's doing his fair share, how cute"), lying, or a whiny prick looking for special snowflake status.

So the article is correct, the gender imbalance of childcare is way off, and it still makes me want to run around slapping people in their smug fucking faces for my own selfish sake. I do not pretend this makes sense.

Separating personal experience and life as it is lived from larger statistical truths leads to weird, incoherent results. ("I'M SO PISSED OFF! FUCK THIS! SURE, IT'S ALL TRUE, BUT STILL, FUCK THIS!") The human brain is a land of contrasts.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:56 PM on November 4, 2014 [27 favorites]


She should be blaming her specific spouse, not some concept of a "default parent"

Whatever is or isn't going on with the specific families of people in this thread, it seems...kind of weird to pretend like "default parent" situations of the sort that she's describing aren't incredibly, inescapably common. Like basically any time I interact with families that aren't gender-progressive nerds, the hilariously unbalanced devision of labor is both obvious and upsetting.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:58 PM on November 4, 2014 [18 favorites]


ok, for the first 2 years or so, i was the default parent and it was a lot of damn work - then i got a job and she became the default parent and then we got a divorce and she was still the default parent except that i had to fill in a lot of things she missed and then our kid turned 18 and i am the default parent because she threw her out of her house for no better reason than she's 18, i don't even have her phone number and she never calls

and my kid may be going to adult special ed for the next 8 years and i'm still going to have a demanding job and it's all up to me to make it work

default? no, i'm now the only parent

oh, well

and no, the woman who wrote this article isn't being whiney, she's just telling it like it is
posted by pyramid termite at 12:58 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every couple I know with kids has a default parent. They're super progressive, liberal and try to be equitable. They're not really into gender roles as a whole. But still. It's really obvious from the outside that there's a default parent. It's the one that is always asking the other to do something. Even if they do it every single time without fail, that means they're not the default. They can rely on the other person noticing that something KID needs to happen and letting them know if they're the person that needs to do it. This is even true of the couples I know that will tell you explicitly that they split everything evenly. They do a pretty good job, but one of them is still the last defense against utter chaos.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:59 PM on November 4, 2014 [53 favorites]


the cost of not doing it is higher

This! Epiphany. Thank you.
posted by kitcat at 1:02 PM on November 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


Like basically any time I interact with families that aren't gender-progressive nerds, the hilariously unbalanced devision of labor is both obvious and upsetting.

Yup.

See also: male parent referring to 'babysitting' his own children, a thing which makes me froth with irritation.
posted by winna at 1:02 PM on November 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


I can't make the kids come to me if they go to you first and you take care of their needs.

Yes, you fucking can. You can do this the same way we became the default parents in the first place - by noticing the needs before anyone else did and taking care of them. Kids don't do that shit at random. They know which way their bread gets buttered.
posted by corb at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2014 [85 favorites]


I am not the default parent. Not even close. That shower/necklace thing...total reality. Why did you go to the back to ask your mother to find your other shoe? I'm right here...
posted by Chuffy at 1:06 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Equitable parenting, like the future, is already here; it's just not evenly distributed.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:06 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


So what's with the #notalldads thing going on here?

Not a justification, but an explanation: I think it provokes a slight stronger reaction because the dads responding are the ones who are doing the work. Being responsible for this stuff sucks and doing that and also hearing about how you're probably not doing enough can feel like a more personal attack than it is. I don't have kids, but I'm the (male) default doer of household stuff and I know that's sometimes my gut reaction to these sorts of threads. I've learned to take a step back and not post that reaction, because it's not helpful and my relationship isn't typical, but when you're doing the work, being told that you should probably do more can feel more provocative than it is. Learning to take that step back is hard.

Meaning that if the dishes don't get done or the baby isn't picked up right away, it is far more likely to be the women who feels bad or is even judged for it.

Oh god yes. Dishes are my msotly job and I'm perfectly happy to have dishes in the sink for a couple days. My wife is a lot more likely to feel anxious and judged about dirty dishes in the sink, even though doing dishes is never been an expectation for her in our relationship.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:07 PM on November 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think a lot of the people in this thread are missing a key part of the author's point. Being the default parent (or not) is not about literally how much time you spend with the kid, or what tasks you do each week. It's about carrying the mental and intellectual workload of parenting. Do you know when your kid's last doctor and dentist appointment was and when their next one is? Do you know which vaccines they are still due for? Do you know what birthday parties they have RSVP'd for in the next month, which ones they still haven't RSVP'd for, and what gifts you are planning to buy for each? Do you know which of those children didn't get invited to your own kid's last birthday party so socially it's a little awkward? Do you know how many boxes of Kleenex you had to provide to the classroom in September as part of back to school supplies? Do you know what size of shoes each one of them wears and when they last grew a shoe size and which pairs were replaced and which still need to be? What tests are coming up this week at school?

If you can't answer these questions nearly instantly without thinking, you are probably not the default parent. Default parents are carrying another person's (or two or three) entire mental life responsibilities in addition to their own.
posted by amaire at 1:07 PM on November 4, 2014 [129 favorites]


male parent referring to 'babysitting' his own children, a thing which makes me froth with irritation

I was home with the baby for a couple of weeks after my wife went back to work, and one day I met my mother somewhere, where she proceeded to tell people that I was "babysitting." I said, fuck no, I am parenting.

Thing is, I've heard the same thing from friends' wives ("Oh, so-and-so is home babysitting today.") What year is it?
posted by uncleozzy at 1:08 PM on November 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


My partner is definitely the default parent for our two year old. For our seven year old, it depends on the task. I don't remember the thread or who it was who mentioned building a support ticket system for when Mommy hugs are desired but only Daddy hugs are available, but I'd subscribe to that kickstarter.

That said, I have to second this sentiment:
If you have to say it's satire at the end, it's not satire. It's poor writing skills.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:09 PM on November 4, 2014


I can say with pride the workload is very well shared in my own family and in raising our kids -- we do specialize in some areas where each of us has a particular skill -- but almost every other family that I know has the mother as the default parent. It isn't even a contest. And this rant matches exactly what I hear from my friends. I know a lot of women with kids under 10 who have never had a weekend away from them since they were born, while the husbands are always off here and there.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:10 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it provokes a slight stronger reaction because the dads responding are the ones who are doing the work.

Really? I'm surprised that there are these super-hard-working default parent dads who live in this progressive universe where default gender norms don't exist, and yet even these heroes don't identify with default parent moms, but instead take personal offense at the idea that the default parenting dynamic exists and is systemic.
posted by leopard at 1:13 PM on November 4, 2014 [59 favorites]


Thing is, I've heard the same thing from friends' wives ("Oh, so-and-so is home babysitting today.") What year is it?

The great thing about sexism is that both men and women can join in!*

*this is actually a terrible thing
posted by winna at 1:13 PM on November 4, 2014 [12 favorites]


And by the way, this blog is in no way a competition between husband and wife for who has it worse... he'd be the first to admit that I got the short end of the stick. His face hurts when I rattle off only the few things I manage.

It's not a competition because they both agree she already won? That paragraph feels like it started and ended in different places.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:15 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


amaire's hit on an important point, I think. We're talking not just about second shift or double burden, but also about emotion work and cognitive load.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:16 PM on November 4, 2014 [33 favorites]


I suspect you've mis-identified the source of the whininess.

Care to point me in the right direction?
posted by DrLickies at 1:21 PM on November 4, 2014


WidgetAlley: ...cognitive load.

Thank you! I've been trying to remember that term since I first heard about it and related it to parenting - even (or especially) the low-level, constant, routine stuff like "listening for something to go 'crash' while you're in the bathroom".
posted by clawsoon at 1:26 PM on November 4, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yes. For the default parent, it's the emotional and cognitive load that are the most costly. It is the constant thinking, committing to memory and planning that happens in the background, like a second consciousness overlaying the non-parent consciousness (ie. the consciousness devoted to being at work, for example). That load is invisible and it's hard to explain/demonstrate to the back-up parent. And it's the load that threatens to finally break you. I didn't really know it had a name until right this moment.
posted by kitcat at 1:34 PM on November 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


Yeah, I just had to say to the organizer of Kid BlahLaLa's activity, "Don't call my husband when you have a scheduling question. I'm the brains behind this operation." I'm def. the default parent.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:34 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ding ding ding with amaire's comment!

And, also, that being the default parent IS a lot about being in control - for me, anyway. I am much better at keeping track of all the fine details than my husband is. I admit, I have re-stuffed cloth diapers that my husband had just previously stuffed because he didn't do it the "right" way. And it takes a lot of WORK to even things out a bit - especially when each of us has flare-ups of thinking we are doing more than the other. It is even harder when it starts out one way - where his job was 45 minutes away and mine was 10 minutes away - and changes - where his job is now 1 mile away and mine is 4 miles away. We've only recently started splitting duties where he drops the kid off at daycare and I pick up - with one day a week where we swap. I still am the default for the little ever-changing tasks and administrative tasks - paying for daycare, finding new bigger seasonally appropriate clothing, packing lunch and snack and the next day's bag for daycare. But he has thankfully become the default at the big, common tasks - like cooking, grocery shopping, adult laundry. But it took a lot of work to get here and there's still work to do!
posted by jillithd at 1:42 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's about carrying the mental and intellectual workload of parenting.

Oh, this is a wonderful point. And this is also why the "if you have to think about it, you're not the default parent" thing is true. To use my partner as an example, he does a lot of parenting work for our oldest while I care for a new baby. He gets him out of bed, makes food, does baths, does bedtime, rough-houses, plays with legos, takes him to the park, etc etc. But I am absolutely the one who knows the shoe/diaper/clothing sizes, sets the routine, comes up with strategies about behavior problems, reads the parenting books, calls the doctors, manages child care needs when we have them, and so on and so forth.

On the surface you'd think he is the default parent, but I'm in fact responsible for almost all the executive-level parenting. And if I'm honest with myself, that's probably more because of traditional gender roles than any logical reason or particular proficiency on my part.

I actually in no way think this is unfair in our specific case, because we have a good partnership and there is a lot of give-and-take depending on the situation and our individual capacities. But as a wider social thing, yes, it is absolutely unfair that women more often than not are the de facto CEOs of the family and household.
posted by annekate at 1:45 PM on November 4, 2014 [26 favorites]


I think also the go-to parent can sometimes be the one the kids find to be earlier to manipulate/wheedle/nag, so it's not always entirely a sign of industry or parental virtue to be that parent.
posted by newdaddy at 1:52 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


They do a pretty good job, but one of them is still the last defense against utter chaos.

In my experience, when one person things they are the last defense against utter chaos, at least part of the inequality can be explained by unnecessarily high standards. I'm not a parenting expert; but most people can probably think of families where children are doted on, and families where kids are pretty much left to their own devices outside of the required parenting. If people from different outlooks get married, that's going to be a problem- in parenting, cleaning, etc. This is not to dismiss or disagree with the general domestic imbalance women face.

And corb, you probably know exactly nothing about other people's families.
posted by spaltavian at 1:56 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


> This is not to dismiss or disagree with the general domestic imbalance women face

It is, because you're saying the unequal work load comes from "unnecessarily high standards," implying women need to be more like men -- the ones with the standards at the proper level -- rather than expecting men to pick up the step.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:04 PM on November 4, 2014 [38 favorites]


In terms of housework my household goes paid cleaner, me (a man), wife. (More to less). In terms of childcare we do paid childminder, me, wife. In terms of executive decisions we do wife, me. That might be gender stereotyping, or it might be our personalities...

So women do most of the home work here, but they get paid for it! I'm second, which is frustrating, but then the child does like me much more than he likes his mother, so that kind of makes up for it.

I worry that's because children are more likely to suck up to their fathers because their fathers are more likely to kill them, but Metafilter hates evolutionary psychology, so I'll assume it's because of my great parenting and time investment.
posted by alasdair at 2:09 PM on November 4, 2014


I agree that this has a lot to do with the emotional and cognitive burden being the executive parent. I agree that women tend to play this role more than men. My husband does much more of the physical parenting (hefting, toting, wrestling into clothes, bathing), AND he probably spends more time parenting than I do, but I am definitely in charge of all the big and little details of parenting.

My big question is why does it so often break down this way. I have better handwriting, so I fill out the permission slips and school forms. I am more organized, so I manage the kiddo's calendar, including doctors visits. Why do I take her to almost all the doctors visits solo? I wouldn't want to miss them, so I would be there anyway. I write the checks ... because I have better handwriting. I reorgnize the drawers as she sizes out of clothes, because I am more organized. And I care that the drawers are organized. I file her school and health information in the file box ... I think I'm just a sucker on that one. No one likes doing it, and I'm not particularly good at it. I think I am the default parent primarily because I care more that those details are properly taken care of, and because we have this idea that I'm better with organization and dealing with people. I think if I didn't do them, they wouldn't get done, or maybe not to my standard.

(I did not enjoy her tone, I did not find it funny. But I definitely take her point, about the emotional and cognitive burden of always being "on.")
posted by semacd at 2:12 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


>t is, because you're saying the unequal work load comes from "unnecessarily high standards,"

I am in fact not saying that, and it would help if it would not lie about what I say directly under my comment. My comment was painfully clearly about the one specific situation I responded to. I said nothing about what "women" need to do.
posted by spaltavian at 2:12 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


This article spurred some good discussion for me and my wife about our roles in the house. The default parent label resonated a lot with her and I empathize with her frustration. I genuinely try to carry my load around the house when I'm not at work but the kids and everyone else are honed into seeing her as the arbiter of all these duties. For my part it is supremely frustrating to try to help the kids with something and all they want is to get past me and have mom do it.

Maybe if I were a more awesome dad or something it would make a difference, but it is hard to be the standby parent and drop into the house routine from work and have it all mesh. If the default parent has anything going for him or her, it is the consistency of it. Besides, life gets busy fast with kids and the parents pretty quickly segue into their areas of influence. There isn't time or energy to collaborate on everything and cross train to be interchangeable parents.
posted by dgran at 2:14 PM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Really? I'm surprised that there are these super-hard-working default parent dads who live in this progressive universe where default gender norms don't exist, and yet even these heroes don't identify with default parent moms, but instead take personal offense at the idea that the default parenting dynamic exists and is systemic.

YES OH MY GOD. There's probably eight or nine million things to unpack in a situation where dudes still can't actually identify with women even when those women's lives are literally almost identical to their own but instead I'm just going to drink heavily, forever, and be glad I'm not ever going to be a parent.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:18 PM on November 4, 2014 [36 favorites]


In my experience, when one person things they are the last defense against utter chaos, at least part of the inequality can be explained by unnecessarily high standards.

Yep. I mean, does the kid need to be picked up this very minute? Are they actually going to run out of socks in the morning? If a parent wants to run a five-star hotel experience for their kids, well, that's going to be exhausting. I'm more of a camp counsellor sort of parent.
posted by amorphatist at 2:18 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Last year, my husband had to go to curriculum night at the school, because I had a gig and was unavailable. And because he is used to just being a person in his own right and not the executive producer of the whole family, when it asked for "your contact information," he only put down his own email address.

As a result, his was the only email address on the first email blast the teacher sent out so that all the parents could have each others' email addresses. And so he got every reading report, every playdate invitation, every birthday party reminder, every request for donations, every reminder that this Tuesday is Picture Day, every reminder that this Friday is Twins Day, every reminder to dress up in your best gear from $LocalSportsTeam, every concerned email from another parent because your child and her child are having some sort of spat, every question from another parent about what birthday treats she can send in exactly that your child can eat despite her ridiculous and counterintuitive dietary restrictions, every exasperated note from the teacher reminding parents to please reinforce with their children that they are NOT TO LEAVE THE CLASSROOM TO GET BUGS FROM OUTSIDE, every everything. And he had to deal with it all. I mean in most cases "deal with it" meant "either decide to ignore it or else forward it to me to deal with," but I coasted along in blissful ignorance unless he specifically informed me that something needed my attention.

It was extraordinarily eye opening for him. He had no idea. And he is an incredibly hands-on and involved parent and partner, he definitely does more than half the housework, he is the default nighttime parent, he often gets up with the kids in the morning and gets their breakfast and checks to see if homework is done, etc. But he simply had no idea how much regular management of the kids' lives I was involved in. This year he had to go to curriculum night AGAIN, because I had rehearsal, but you can bet your damn ass he put down both of our email addresses this time.
posted by KathrynT at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2014 [83 favorites]


This article *pretends* to be about being the "default parent", which is totally a thing, but it's actually about being a mom.

I am a dad. And a legitimate "default parent". My wife died when my daughter was very young, and even though I have a new partner now, my daughter still came to regard me as the go-to parent for everything after her mom died.

But this isn't about being the default parent, it's about being a stereotypical mom:
Default parents know the names of their kids' teachers, all of them. They fill out endless forms, including the 20-page legal document necessary to play a sport at school, requiring a blood oath not to sue when your kids gets concussions, because they are going to get concussions. They listen to long, boring, intricate stories about gym games that make no sense. They spell words, constantly. They know how much wrapping paper there is in the house. The default parent doesn't have her own calendar, but one with everyone's events on it that makes her head hurt when she looks at it. They know a notary. They buy poster board in 10-packs. They've worked tirelessly to form a bond with the school receptionists. They know their kids' sizes, including shoes, dammit.
I don't know how much wrapping paper we have. I have my own calendar with work stuff on it. I don't really buy poster board, but I guess I might someday. I don't care about being close to school receptionists, and I have to check if I want to know my daughter's show size.

This is because, default parent or not, I'm a "dad" and dad's aren't judged mercilessly by their peers for not knowing/doing these trivial things. I am a "good dad" because I provide for my daughter, play with her, and put her to bed at night. Nobody expects this stuff from me based on my gender, not on my "default" status.

Sorry, but the article, despite it's pretense, is about how hard it is to keep up appearances as a mom.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2014 [57 favorites]


But this isn't about being the default parent, it's about being a stereotypical mom

I feel like you hit on something here then rolled right past it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:32 PM on November 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


Amorphatist, consider that every camp counselor has a camp director above them who is paying the rent for the camp, collecting tuition, hiring the camp chef, ordering the camp food, arranging for the camp bunk beds to be repainted, making sure that there are supplies on hand for your water balloon activity, getting the camp insurance coverage renewed, etc. (to draw out the metaphor).
posted by amaire at 2:32 PM on November 4, 2014 [17 favorites]


non-default parent: does the kid need to be picked up this very minute?
default parent: Well, if we wait another half hour she's going to be tired and harder to get to bed tonight and she has an early day tomorrow, and don't forget we still have to get to the store before it closes to get lunchmeat plus those library books are overdue and so we need to drop them off and remember, she hasn't had a bath since Thursday and we didn't call grandma yesterday for her birthday so...yes. Yes, we do.

non-default parent: Are they actually going to run out of socks in the morning?
default parent: No, but we will run out on Wednesday. And I have a late meeting tomorrow. So, are you going to do the laundry tomorrow, then?
posted by kitcat at 2:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [59 favorites]


amaire, that's a far fancier camp than I aspire to...
posted by amorphatist at 2:37 PM on November 4, 2014


default parent: No, but we will run out on Wednesday.
non-default parent: Going to school wearing week-stinky socks was considered character-building back in the old country, and what are you trying to say about my mother's child-rearing anyway?

Anyhoo, I do not dispute at all that the burden still usually falls dramatically on the female parent. For largely societal/structural reasons. Yet, when I look around at some of the other parents we know, who probably fall significantly further along the overparenting spectrum than my partner and me, I can't help thinking "you're doing this to yourselves". Whether it's for keeping up appearances, or because said parents genuinely believe that childrearing their little rugrats is such an Apollo-esque endeavor that it must consume all available resources, I think the engagement meter could be dialed back a couple of clicks without the children turning out feral.
posted by amorphatist at 2:48 PM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


it's hard to avoid the gravitational pull of a traditional division of labor, even when you start out fairly equal

It is, on every level and widely unacknowledged I feel. Can lead to a lot of resentment on both sides even as you feel yourself sliding into the stereotype with no conscious volition like a werewolf or something. Can be very frustrating for everyone.
posted by smoke at 2:56 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm reminded of when I was playing club volleyball as a wee one and the other girls and parents thought my mom was dead and/or my dad was divorced. (They do not get along and he doesn't talk about her or wear a wedding band, so it wasn't entirely an unusual thought.)
posted by sperose at 3:01 PM on November 4, 2014


It's pretty well established that women's earnings decrease as a result of having children, while men's increase.

That's not for no reason, and it's probably not all simply because of stereotypes in the workplace.

Once upon a time (in the 90s), I arrived at work one day to be told that we were having a mandatory surprise team building day for management. We were all to get on a bus and head to some undisclosed location and be incommunicado for the day.

I was the only woman, and I was the only one who raised any objection at all. Plenty of the men were dads of small children, and many of them had wives who worked outside the home. But not a single one of them even thought for a second about the possibility that their kids' schools or daycares may need to reach them in an emergency.

I outright refused to go, and I was treated like a troublemaker, as though I was demanding some sort of Special Lady Accommodations simply because I had adult responsibilities.

Yeah, that was twenty plus years ago, but I still know plenty of dads with young kids who have time consuming hobbies like video games that primary parents just wouldn't have the time for, and I was even talking to a dad of a five year old recently who was pontificating on how important it is to unplug and not always feel like you have to be reachable at all times. (It was extra irritating how pompous he was being about it, as though his parental neglect makes him some kind of enlightened sage or something.)

Of course it's not applicable to every couple, but it'd be hard to deny that there's a pretty strong trend.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:04 PM on November 4, 2014 [24 favorites]


It's about carrying the mental and intellectual workload of parenting. Do you know when your kid's last doctor and dentist appointment was and when their next one is? Do you know which vaccines they are still due for?

I don't know any of that for myself, so the odds that I'll keep track of that for the kids is effectively zero. Last year I had a pretty serious reaction to a medication and I have ZERO idea what it was. Before kids, my wife would have remembered that, but there's only so much cognitive space and I was replaced by the kids.

I'm not sure what my point is here, other than I am highly unreliable with regards to medication. And paying utilities. And where our savings are located...
posted by bpm140 at 3:06 PM on November 4, 2014


I don't know any of that for myself, so the odds that I'll keep track of that for the kids is effectively zero. Last year I had a pretty serious reaction to a medication and I have ZERO idea what it was. Before kids, my wife would have remembered that, but there's only so much cognitive space and I was replaced by the kids.

This is the whole point of the goddamn article, not an argument against it. I can't tell from your tone whether you recognize this or not.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:15 PM on November 4, 2014 [23 favorites]


This is because, default parent or not, I'm a "dad" and dad's aren't judged mercilessly by their peers for not knowing/doing these trivial things. I am a "good dad" because I provide for my daughter, play with her, and put her to bed at night. Nobody expects this stuff from me based on my gender, not on my "default" status.

I think this touches on something key. Just based on one data point (of me and Mrs. Kabanos): When the exhaustion and the overload of parenting results in errors, slip-ups, missed appointments, tantrums, calls from teacher, and/or injury, the father's reaction is "Oh shit!", address it, and then carry on. The mother's reaction is the same, but with the added bonus of guilt.

Even in arrangements where both parents conduct roughly equal physical roles, and carry similar emotional/cognitive burdens, I'd suggest that women more often have the additional burden of guilt (or guilt-avoidance). You can argue about whether this is from internal or external expectations, but it goes to show how deeply embedded gender stereotypes are.
posted by Kabanos at 3:16 PM on November 4, 2014 [23 favorites]


We are a two mom family. Ha ha! Does that mean that we are twice as good at knowing exactly how much wrapping paper is in the house?

No, it totally does not. I am the default parent. This is perhaps due to the fact that I have the more flexible job, that I was the oldest child, my partner the youngest, and partially because I am more of a control freak. It pissed me off pretty much immediately after the first kid arrived on the scene, and it pissed my partner off that I complained about it so often. Like seriously? How does she not know that we need to check if the snow pants still fit in October? So I ask her to check. And she forgets. So I remind her again several times until I give up and check myself. And then go buy the new pants when the old ones don't fit. Maddening.

But my wife is a good person and I love her and she loves me so along with occasional couples counselling (the best!) we have developed some strategies. Best one: sent the kids to school in her first language. Hahahahaha. She has to do way more homework help. Sucker.

Obviously gender norms play a huge role in determining who becomes the default parent. But there are other issues at play here, so, women of Metafilter, don't think you can go all Ellen Degeneres and solve this problem.
posted by Cuke at 3:18 PM on November 4, 2014 [18 favorites]


One of the lifesavers for us has been a gmail address that does nothing but forward to both of our individual gmail accounts, and a "household" Google Calendar to go with it. It helps us address the "what's going on and who has to be where at what time" and notifications issue.
posted by scrump at 3:23 PM on November 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


I hate pie. Yell at me for that.

Leper outcast unclean!

W/rt the FPP, I am not a parent, but what I am becoming over time is my Father's default parent. I take him to appointments, I remind him to shower, I have all his vital information (SSN, Medicare #, doctor's numbers) saved on my phone, I manage his finances and his banking and fix his computer and find the book he lost on his Kindle. When he falls in the shower, the assisted living facility call me as the EMTs are taking him to the ER. My sister takes him shopping and makes him Sunday dinner and takes him to church.

And yeah, I'm a daughter, and the youngest, and the distribution of labor absolutely has to do with gender. But also to do with geography and work schedules and cognitive load.

Most of the time I don't mind; I don't feel unappreciated. But my three brothers aren't here doing this; I am. So there's a bit of resentment there, because I know that if they were local, I would still be doing most of the work.

I don't know how to make this all more fair. Much of it obviously has to do with cultural expectations for women, and not just as mothers. We are taught to be caretakers, and even those of us who never married or had kids may find ourselves in that role because otherwise it won't get done (or not to our standards), and we can't accept that.
posted by suelac at 4:03 PM on November 4, 2014 [16 favorites]


I'm surprised that there are these super-hard-working default parent dads who live in this progressive universe where default gender norms don't exist, and yet even these heroes don't identify with default parent moms, but instead take personal offense at the idea that the default parenting dynamic exists and is systemic.

I'm more or less the primary caretaker (my wife is the general appointment maker family, but that's because I get REALLY REALLY stressed about talking on the phone, just as a general thing, but as far as logistics planning and implementation, it's me). I'm a Dad.

I don't live in a universe where gender norms don't exist, but my family actively chooses not to accept them. The reason I personally don't identify as the "default parent" is because I think the term has a level of connotation beyond the level of the individual family. I'm not the default parent, I'm a parent that got to choose to be the one that was around and devotes more energy to the day to day work of parenting. It's a tough role, but at least I have the luxury of having taken it willingly. The fact that most women don't and ARE seen as default is completely systemic and a problem*

Even knowing and truly believing that, I had a REALLY hard time not getting offended and asking "but what about me?" in this thread. Quite honestly, the two reactions I tend to get when people find out I'm the main caretaker are either excessive amounts of praise and then addressing any parenting stuff to my wife, or a blank stare and then addressing my wife about any parenting stuff. In a lot of ways, us dads are made to feel like we're just play acting as parents. Parts of the article and this discussion sort of jostle a sensitive spot from that. The thing the stopped me is that when you get down to it, all that disbelief in my (and other Dad's) ability, and all the snubs, and everything else are just others way society enforces the idea that women are the caretakers and men can and should just let them deal with it.

*Which reminds me: guys out there who really and truly want to fight this assumption, don't just do parenting stuff because you were asked to or the mother can't, just do parenting stuff because you're a parent. Especially things that your wife usually does because you don't know how to. Women aren't just born knowing how often Dr. appointments need to be made, or what drawer socks go in, these are things you can and should learn. And, if that means that you tell your kids "I'm going to do this, Mommy won't, so if you want _____ to happen you're going to have to come to me," then say that, and mean it.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:04 PM on November 4, 2014 [27 favorites]


It's not that my husband - who works from home just like I do - who can feed the baby a bottle and change her diaper and put her to bed and buy her clothes that fit and age appropriate toys and prepare her food and decide it's time to eat some solids and on and on on and on just like I do, it's not that he doesn't want to do it, or that he doesn't do it if I ask, it's that most of the time I have to ask in the first place.

ARE YOU ME?!

But seriously, I am clearly the default parent in my relationship. Part of this is situational (we both work from home, but I freelance and he has set hours and a supervisor who will get him in trouble for doing childcare while working), part of it is biological (breastfeeding), part of it is preference (I hate pumping and actually prefer to breastfeed her), but nine months in, I'm not only the one who feeds her, but the one who takes her to baby group and to all appointments and who generally feeds her solid foods and bathes her and supervises her even when my husband isn't working. He is more than happy to do it if I ask, but I always have to ask.

And let's not even get into household maintenance stuff. I am the supervisor of our household. Of course, much of this is because I'll get judged if I don't do it. Sure it is. When I had a four month old who wasn't sleeping, and our apartment was a mess, and my sister was coming to visit, and my husband said, "I'm sure she'll understand," I was the one who had to sit there while my sister told me she was REALLY REALLY CONCERNED at the dirty dishes and unvacuumed floor and how she was shocked, shocked that my daughter wasn't ill. A messy apartment or an unwashed child is assumed to be due to bad mothering, or bad womaning. I don't care that much--my standards are pretty low as long as everyone is healthy, fed, not covered in cat poop, and books are being written. But I care a little, and a lot of that little is not wanting to hear shit about it, mostly from female family members.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:10 PM on November 4, 2014 [29 favorites]


Quite honestly, the two reactions I tend to get when people find out I'm the main caretaker are either excessive amounts of praise and then addressing any parenting stuff to my wife, or a blank stare and then addressing my wife about any parenting stuff. In a lot of ways, us dads are made to feel like we're just play acting as parents.

Oh man, I don't even have kids and that annoys the heck out of me for you. I can't even handle it when people ask me if my boyfriend is free ("I don't know I'm not his keeper!") so I can't imagine actually being responsible for someone else's schedule and then having a stranger ask your spouse. I don't think I do this, but I am going to be extra-super-careful-sure not to do it in the future.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:15 PM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


I am the default parent. This was, for the most part, a deliberate decision on our part; I am a stay-at-home mom, which we always intended for a couple years, but became compounded and lengthened when one of our children developed some developmental delays. I am thankful that this was an option our family had, and I am not resentful about being the default parent. And some of this is also differences in personality; I am good at juggling tasks and remembering random details, while my husband is a lot more linear. He can finish big tasks that take a lot of focused efforts much better and faster than I can, but he is terrible at remembering four different shoe sizes and which child needs more pants and where we keep the swimsuits and making dinner while supervising homework and all these little tiny tasks.

But I do get resentful about how much invisible work goes into "default parenting," and how that work goes unrecognized and unappreciated. The other day I snapped at my husband something about, "Do you think the clothing fairy weeds out their too-small clothes?" Which is the pettiest thing in the world. All of the things that I do that go unrecognized are pretty petty. It's the aggregation of all those petty thing that becomes a big issue, and can weigh you down, and make you feel put-upon or sulky or depressed. (And, in fact, studies show that the partner responsible for more day-to-day unending chores, like laundry and dishes, is more likely to be depressed even if the division of household labor is equal in hours. It's sad-making to do sisyphean chores, instead of those where you accomplish something and get to stop.)

My husband knows this is a lot of work, and he makes an effort to recognize the "petty" household tasks that I do and to thank me for taking care of things like scheduling and doctor's appointments and flu shots and so on. He's cool, guys. (And I do the same for him, since it's hard for little kids to connect a parent going to work to earn money with, you know, them having a roof over their heads, so I try hard to make visible to them their father's hard work for our family and to appreciate him for it and not act like it's just expected and default.) But it still is sometimes very depressing when I am sorting train underpants size 5 from train underpants size 3 (you have NO IDEA how long this takes) for the 12th time this month under the unending laundry pile and bored and frustrated and sick of sorting train underpants and nobody will notice the amount of work I put in on this FRANKLY VERY STUPID TASK, least of all the beneficiaries of it, who will probably instead complain bitterly that they want the GREEN train underpants and only the RED train underpants are clean. Or when some particular fiddly task that I usually do (picking up medicine, let us say, where exactness matters and isn't just an issue of being controlling, and he's going to have to do some paperwork) takes me longer to explain to him how to do than it would take to just go do it myself.

If it matters, my best at-home-parent friend is an at-home dad, who has many of the exact same complaints about being the default parent and how much of his work goes unrecognized and uncompensated, but he is even LESS allowed to complain about this publicly than women are, since default-parent-dads are less common. There are definitely gendered components to the whole thing, since women are far more likely to be the default parent for a variety of structural reasons, but the real underlying complaint is uncompensated, unappreciated, largely invisible labor ... that people make fun of you for complaining about, or dismiss you as spoiled if you feel weighed down by it, as some people were so quick to do in this thread! And that IS a very 1950s attitude, that homemaking work -- housework, child rearing, etc. -- isn't worthy of public consideration, isn't hard or sometimes soul-destroying, and that complaining about it is "whining." Not cool.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:46 PM on November 4, 2014 [59 favorites]


The other day I snapped at my husband something about, "Do you think the clothing fairy weeds out their too-small clothes?"

Haaaahahahahah. My husband and I were discussing this post at dinner. We agree that labor is mostly evenly split in our house, but I'm still the default, and I brought up clothes buying as a specific thing that I do. "Yeah, but you like doing that!" I should have been more specific. Buying the new clothes is fun. Figuring out who needs what (why did I have a September baby after a July baby- none of the 3 month clothes are working! Summer onesies !=! Fall baby), what no longer fits, where and how to store the old stuff....I do not enjoy these things. But I do them. For I am the default parent.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:14 PM on November 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


amaire, that's a far fancier camp than I aspire to..

Hah. Someone has no idea what goes into running a run-of-the-mill camp. Protip: they still need insurance, balloons, food and a schedule.

Anyway, I don't have kids, but I just had a similar conversation with my boyfriend about household stuff a couple weeks ago. We moved in together in the spring and I sat him down the other day and said "look, I am not going to be the default bill payer and rental agency communicator and grocery buyer." It's not that he wasn't doing these things if I asked him to, but having to remember to ask someone to pay the gas bill is not really that different from just paying the gas bill. Plus, it feels petty.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:16 PM on November 4, 2014 [12 favorites]


The clothes sorting is... a spectacular example and one that strongly resonates with me. Just this morning I was folding three loads of accumulated baby laundry and thinking that I needed to make room in her drawer for bigger pajamas (Carter's runs small and Hanna Andersson tends to run big, one of the things they don't tell you in the baby owner's manual) and buy her a heavier sleep sack for the winter and realized that if I waited for my husband to magically become aware that these things needed to happen I'd have a naked, frozen child to deal with.
posted by lydhre at 5:27 PM on November 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think the satire might have been more effective if it had been done Jeff Foxworthy style:

If you leave the state for the weekend without, you know, telling the kids you'll be gone or when you'll be back or saying goodbye...you might just be a "backup" parent.
posted by drlith at 5:32 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pieces like this really need to account for the fact that couples with the economic power to choose the allocation of family labor, the only real control for this society-wide experiment, overwhelmingly choose the traditional allocation. Neighborhoods full of two million dollar houses, and the officer housing areas of military bases, and other places with economic security, are inevitably full of SAHMs with awesomely impressive resumes. The evidence supports an argument that thoughtful people actually want this for their homes and children far more often than not.
posted by MattD at 5:38 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


SAHMs with awesomely impressive resumes

Hi, this is me. "Want" is not exactly how I'd describe it. In a perfect world, I'd still have my "impressive" job and my babies and a healthy marriage. It turns out that this cannot be accomplished, and because my husband's earning potential is much higher than mine, I'm the one who stays home. I'm taking the career hit because it makes more sense that way, even though I know that I'll never recover that lost ground.

I wouldn't have chosen a different path. But do I wish that there had been another path available to me? A magical one where I could have a fulfilling job and be home for the first 6 months of my babies' lives and see them for more than 3 hours a day and run the household and be a supportive and engaged spouse? Hell yes.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:09 PM on November 4, 2014 [27 favorites]


MattD, that doesn't follow at all. People living in the officer housing areas of military bases don't have the complete freedom to do whatever they want, for one thing if Officer Dad decides to quit they don't get to live there anymore! Same thing for Mr. CEO and his two million dollar house.

You're basically saying, "Look, the Obamas are the most powerful couple in the world, and they choose for Barack to put in more hours at the office at his more prestigious job while Michelle is lower-profile, thereby proving that this arrangement is what they would truly desire if they were free of any constraints."
posted by leopard at 6:22 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is actually one of the things that makes me not want to have kids. Because I'm a woman, and I don't know how to ensure in advance that I don't become the default parent. Because although I am terrible at things like doing the dishes after every meal and picking my socks up off the floor, I am also just the kind of hyper-aware, mental list-making, shop-ahead-before-you-need-it type who will invariably become the default homemaker. And I also have chronic anxiety, so being that person makes my life worse. And it's bad enough right now, when it's just me. I am very afraid that if I get a partner, I will end up taking on this role for two, and if I have kids, I'll take on this role for three or four or five people. And I don't trust myself to be able to stop it from happening, no matter how well-meaning and enlightened my partner is, especially since thousands of years of human society have conditioned us that I should be the default homemaker. And that's a big part of the reason I don't want to have a family. At least if I stay single, I'm only responsible for taking care of myself.
posted by decathecting at 6:23 PM on November 4, 2014 [17 favorites]


> The evidence supports an argument that thoughtful people actually want this for their homes and children far more often than not.

Wanting to have a full-time parent is not the same as wanting to have a burnt out and resentful parent, which is what the article is about.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:35 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is it possible to be the default parent when you don't have kids? Is that like being the man of the house without the respect? It's not bad but between my husband and I, I'm usually the one planning dinner so we don't have pizza or Thai food every night, planning trips, making sure to send his grandma flowers for her birthday, and other odds and ends. There are some things I like about it, sure, but would it kill him to look up a dinner recipe once in a while? And I saw someone rant about how their wife just needs to ask but that's loaded because if you ask, then remind, it's nagging and I don't want to nag, because I don't want to be a stereotypical nagging wife but also because it sucks. It's like being the mom but to a peer.

In many ways, husband and I have a relatively easy division of labor and I am so grateful for the things he does but I'm concerned that I'm going to become the default parent because I'm already the default person. When he wants to know if we're free for something, he asks me instead of looking at our calendar. I'm interested in considering buying a place and I think he is too but when I ask him about it, he says, yeah, just tell me where to sign. No, I'm not making the biggest financial decision we have made to date without your serious input.

(Sorry, rant over. I guess I should try to think about how my husband would talk about this but I think he'd say his thought process is like, you booked our vacation? Awesome!)
posted by kat518 at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2014 [22 favorites]


The misplaced anger from/for the men who are the default parents is kinda hilarious - you're like black swans complaining about shades of white feathers. A silver lining in being sick a lot has been that my husband who is a great dad already had to take over a lot of that. The only thing I am solely responsible for these days is math homework. Yesterday my oldest son mentioned he was going for a holiday job and that he'd already talked to dad about it, and I got choked up because that used to be My Job, those conversations with the kids about life decisions as the Main Parent, but I was sick that day. But he's curled up next to me now listening to an audiobook, and I can go to a hospital for a week and know the kids will be just fine with their dad, and that's better.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:43 PM on November 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


I think "who does the most work around here" is a top theme in struggling and failed marriages - even in relationships that don't involve marriage. If there are little kids involved - and everyone knows that little kids require almost continuous attention of some kind from somebody - those kids become THE focus for complaint; even once the kids are grown and out of the picture, though, the parents are so used to complaining about doing all the work that they keep right at it. The hard stuff comes when there's no partner to complain about, though - then you really are the one who has to do all the work, and if your child has some hard times and troubles, there's no other partner to blame it on, either - nope, there's just you.

We have kids when we're young and strong enough to be able to do all the work to make a home a home - and it takes every ounce of strength we have. I just couldn't read all the comments above, but I read a lot of them and I didn't see anything mentioned about how much all this taking care of little ones becomes almost trivial when they turn into teenagers. It's not a joke - it's the harsh truth that all the stuff you're dealing with when the kids are young is just warm-up/preparation for when they hit middle school and high school. That's when you'll appreciate the muscle you've built up in your body, your heart and your brain with all the exercise you got when the kids were little.

Magazines have been publishing articles about the joys and struggles of parenting for many, many years and many of those articles have been humorous, sometimes side-splitting (remember Erma Bombeck's The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank? And so many others), and to call those articles whiny or poor parenting says more about the reader than it does about the author. Maybe it's time to lighten up a little.
posted by aryma at 6:43 PM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


I must add that in my own personal life and in the lives of nearly every adult I know who has raised children, it's pretty well agreed that it was not only worth it, but perhaps the greatest thing we've ever done. Even with the hard knocks.
posted by aryma at 6:46 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't understand the barging in during showers thing, but I'm not a parent. At a fairly young age I think there needs to be a serious discussion about privacy. I can't see myself doing anything like tying balloons or putting on necklaces while I'm in the shower... I'd tell the kid they need to wait.

I had a friend whose 17-year-old daughter thought nothing of walking in to talk to her while she was pooping. And my friend didn't mind. I just... Hell no. Not for me. The only time I'd ever even knock when my parents were in the bathroom was if I had an emergency and really needed to go.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:12 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


My mother decided that handling my brother and I was too much just after their divorce, so my dad, driving to a new house, turned around, drove back over two states, and grabbed us and we pretty much stayed with him after that.

Hint, no uterus.
posted by bswinburn at 7:15 PM on November 4, 2014


I've gotten a couple of questions on the topic, so here's how we're doing our "one email to rule them all" thing in Gmail:
  • Set up a new Gmail account.
  • In that account, create filters that take all mail sent to the new account, and forward it to your individual accounts.
  • Profit!
  • If you're feeling really sassy, use the new account's Google Calendar to set up a "household calendar", and add that calendar to your own individual calendars.
We've been using this system successfully since March 2008.
posted by scrump at 7:18 PM on November 4, 2014 [16 favorites]


Is it possible to be the default parent when you don't have kids? Is that like being the man of the house without the respect? It's not bad but between my husband and I, I'm usually the one planning dinner so we don't have pizza or Thai food every night, planning trips, making sure to send his grandma flowers for her birthday, and other odds and ends.

Oh yeah, that's a thing, for sure. You're doing the emotion and logistics work to preserve your identity as a couple and to ensure your joint success. One thing I think that everyone who has mentioned, "Just stop doing it! He'll pick up the slack eventually!" in this thread is missing is that, in either relationships or with children, the stakes are entirely too high for it Not To Get Done for any length of time. In some ways I think this is the worst double-bind that people who are socialized to be caretakers (largely women but not exclusively so) are placed in, because the only way out of the trap is to Not Do It, but Not Doing It means literally everything about It will almost definitely explode around you in a way that ruins your life on some level.

I have been in relationships where I was always, always the one to start conciliation after a fight, and always, always the one to schedule couple activities. It was not that I wanted to do these things. But let's say I stopped. Suddenly a clock is ticking. Is my boyfriend going to figure out that he has to pitch in on these things too (beyond well-intentioned promises to do them that he then forgets about-- which means I have to nag him about doing his share-- which means I'm right back to being the caretaker of the relationship again!) before we break up because we no longer have the semblance of a functional relationship because I've stopped enabling it? Even worse, what if he still leaves all the work to me, but we now just have worse fights and half the date nights? What if he's willing to make the trade? If you value the person you're with, it becomes an almost unacceptable risk to destroy every good thing you have because you want to split the load 50/50, when the other person can't even see the difference. I imagine it's even worse with kids, because you literally can't let some things slide, or officials will start getting involved. But without just stopping doing the extra labor, there's often no way to demonstrate how much extra work you do as caretaker, and there's no incentive for the other person to really, seriously, no REALLY devote a lot of brain space to making sure they put in their time. It's like, if you stop doing the dishes because you've done every single load of dishes since you moved in together for the last 5 years, in the four months it takes your SO to step up to the plate (heh), you still don't get clean forks.

Plus, if you're upfront about the fact that you're not going to play the game, you are-- not undatable, but certainly put at the periphery. I am "weird" and "angry" to some people (including, I think, to my current SO and a lot of his friends, on some level), because I have very strong boundaries about the kind of work I will and will not do. If that what it takes, that's okay with me, but I am in a privileged position of independent finances, no kids, and a career ahead of me, that allow me to even make that choice.

(I will say the man I'm with now sat me down and said, "Hey, I recognize you've been shouldering a lot of the work of this relationship recently--" and I said, "Stop right there," and dropped to the floor and rolled around like a happy kitten to let him know how fucking thrilled I was that he figured that out. But it takes a certain kind of person to stop and go, "Wait, maybe it's not her job to comfort me if she's mad at me," the first time you have a real fight, and it was literally just a crapshoot that he didn't walk out on me for not providing what he expected first.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:00 PM on November 4, 2014 [37 favorites]


The default parent in our household changed over time. When the kids were in elementary and middle school, it was my (ex) wife. Once they got to high school, it was me. Now, the ones in college default to same sex parent or to the one they think will say yes to whatever insane scheme they are conjuring up.
posted by 724A at 8:26 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


If I start talking about being the default parent, a long, whiny, bitchy, resentful rant will take up many paragraphs. If you are not the default parent, start recognizing how much work it is to do all that clothing sorting, to make sure there is always clean, adequately-fitting clothing that your child will not be mocked for wearing. To sign the kid up for tutoring, ski lessons, meal programs, summer camp. To schedule dental appointments, fill prescriptions, and take care of the hamster whose wheel makes that noise all night. And to do it on a tight budget. And for those who are divorced, to make the time to be sure that the other parent is informed about all the stuff. Then step up and do more of your share.

And a hug for every kid who didn't have a default parent at all. More of them than you think.
posted by theora55 at 8:33 PM on November 4, 2014 [17 favorites]


As a stay at home mom I do more parenting things than my husband but I'm not the default parent. We both have household and kid things we're in charge of and we talk every now and then about how that's working and if there are things we want to swap. It's not evenly split, but that works for us.

At the moment I'm in charge of the schedule (and I do ask parents of friends which parent I should email about playdates), dinner planning (and either making or letting my husband know when he's cooking), laundry, and making sure homework gets done. My husband is in charge of dishes (though I help out sometimes I can go days without noticing a pile of dirty dishes), making school lunches and snacks, school mornings, and bedtime. He's the one who knows the shoe size, he's much better at listening to inane stories than I am, and I have no idea if either of us know how much wrapping paper is in the house, but he does the gift buying. When forms come home from school, I start filling them out, but eventually I turn them over when I start losing my mind, and he finishes them. Technically I should be the one to know when my daughter's extra curriculars are, but actually I look them up on the calendar every time (and have alarms set so that we leave in time).

I see parents getting into the realm of mom knowing everything and I think it starts when you do learn everything about your new baby and you want to make sure that dad knows all the correct things too. I think it was easier for us not to do that in part because my husband stayed home one day that I worked (while I stayed home three days he worked -- the other day was grandma). Just having one solo day every week let him know our baby just as well as I did and I have seen that continue through her life.

I think the other thing that has me conscious of what parent is responsible for what is that my parents have been divorced as long as I can remember. My dad did the appointments that I can remember and more extra curricular stuff, my mom the clothes. They both cooked equally since our (my and my sister)'s time was split equally. So I start off assuming my husband can do everything, it's just a question of how to divide it.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:46 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


This article bothers the holy shit out of me because while I work longer hours than my wife on the job, I'm also the more involved parent. ... At the very best it treats me as either deluded ("oh look, he thinks he's doing his fair share, how cute"), lying, or a whiny prick looking for special snowflake status.

Being responsible for this stuff sucks and doing that and also hearing about how you're probably not doing enough can feel like a more personal attack than it is.

Note that the article acknowledges right up front that the default parent is not always female. If what you're saying is: "I'm the default parent, and I'm male!" then, by the author's logic, you're the opposite of deluded, precisely because you know you're the default parent:

Are you the default parent? If you have to think about it, you're not. You'd know. Trust me. The default parent is the one responsible for the emotional, physical and logistical needs of the children. Spoiler alert: It's typically the one with the uterus.

I mean, it's certainly possible to take issue with the claim that there is always a default parent; but saying Not All Men is not even to quibble with the article. (Nthing that it's odd how male default parents breeze right past the possibility of identifying with female default parents.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:27 PM on November 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


I don't understand the barging in during showers thing, but I'm not a parent. At a fairly young age I think there needs to be a serious discussion about privacy. I can't see myself doing anything like tying balloons or putting on necklaces while I'm in the shower... I'd tell the kid they need to wait.

I have been having conversations with my 3.75-year-old lately about this exact thing, after habitual shower-interruption culminated one Saturday when I locked the bathroom door and he banged on it for my entire shower. I was almost in tears by the time I finished that shower. I let both my husband and son have it as soon as I was dressed: spouse because he needs to step in when shit like that happens, and kid because he needs to learn that people have boundaries and sometimes need to be left alone.

They're both doing much better, though I had to clarify recently that I am not done showering until I am fully dressed; hearing the water shut off does not mean mommy is receiving demands again.

It's funny, because my husband was the stay at home parent for the first 3 years of the kid's life, but I've always been the default parent because I'm the one that does all that invisible cognitive work to keep things from becoming chaos. Though he does know what size clothes to buy, and what kinds of wrapping paper we have.

I am definitely resembling all the remarks here.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:33 PM on November 4, 2014 [18 favorites]


guygesringtone: "Quite honestly, the two reactions I tend to get when people find out I'm the main caretaker are either excessive amounts of praise and then addressing any parenting stuff to my wife, or a blank stare and then addressing my wife about any parenting stuff. "

I've said it before but this was my family's experience of having a very engaged dad be a stay at home dad and primary carer and default parent for years. People would track me down and interrupt me, walking away from him, to ask questions about our child. And when queried, would shrug and laugh as say 'well, my partner wouldn't know'. He's a stay at home dad, if he didn't know how much food to put on her plate, what she does or doesn't eat, he'd be doing a shitty job of it.

kat518: "Is it possible to be the default parent when you don't have kids? "

After a particularly shitty Christmas, featuring walking through a mall sobbing with a screaming child desperately buying gifts for my partner's family, I gave up. No more. I'm not in the secret santa, the kris kringle, any of that, and he is responsible for thinking of and buying the gifts for his family and I will do mine. So his mum hasn't gotten a Christmas gift for two years, other people for even longer, and birthdays are similar. And he likes giving people stuff, but without me saying "It is two weeks until Christmas, we need to go shopping" he will just forget. It's not a priority because he doesn't get the flak for it that I do. This year he requested that a couple of people not buy him birthday gifts because he has not once gotten them a gift since I abdicated.

And I will be the one called the Grinch, I will be the one ostracised and criticised for my lack of Christmas spirit.

He still asks what I think, he still asks me to order or buy a thing he decided on, and sometimes I have done that when the risk factor is too high. His mother does feel bad when he doesn't get her stuff. His sister-in-law will take it personally if the gift isn't what she likes. There are consequences that he doesn't face, and consequences he can brush off because they don't have an emotional resonance with him.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:50 PM on November 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


In my experience, when one person things they are the last defense against utter chaos, at least part of the inequality can be explained by unnecessarily high standards.

That is so not what I'm talking about. It's not even close. UTTER CHAOS is when there is no food in the house, because no one went grocery shopping. It's' when it's 7pm and the 3 year old hasn't eaten since 1:30 because the non-default parent wasn't paying attention. It's when the kid doesn't have clothes - not a single piece - that's the right size. It's when they haven't had their booster shot because the doctor's appointment got canceled and no one called to reschedule.

Telling the default parent relaaaaax, it'll be fine is basically just not getting what this is about at all. It's thinking that the summer camp runs itself, and that no one is making sure that when they tell the kids to make their own snack there's food to make that snack from. Someone still has to do the stocking of supplies even at the most relaxed camp.

Seriously - my friends are about as far as pulled together and of exceedingly high standards as one could get. They have messy houses, and messy cars, and things don't get done All The Time. Because that's how we roll. But there is still a line that must be held against utter chaos. Beyond that line lies illness, unnecessary emotional turmoil, and kids that grow up feeling neglected.

If you have the luxury of relaxing and knowing that things will get taken care of, you're offloading the cognitive load onto your partner. If things just magically Work Out it's not because the Universe is good and kind. It's because someone else took care of it. And it just looks magical to you, because you slacked off and it got done anyhow.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:16 PM on November 4, 2014 [62 favorites]


UTTER CHAOS is when there is no food in the house, because no one went grocery shopping. It's' when it's 7pm and the 3 year old hasn't eaten since 1:30 because the non-default parent wasn't paying attention. It's when the kid doesn't have clothes - not a single piece - that's the right size. It's when they haven't had their booster shot because the doctor's appointment got canceled and no one called to reschedule.

Can personally attest that these and many many other fun things happen when there is no competent default parent (mental-illness-related inability on the part of one parent, unwillingness/inability to pick up the slack from the other). My siblings and I survived, but we suffered in a lot of ways, including physically, emotionally and socially, from not having any of these "caretaking" things done by anyone. We also didn't learn a lot of basic organization/habit-forming/hygiene/etc skills (because nobody was either teaching or modelling them), and had to pick them up as adults. I started to type out some details but it's a little too personal...in short, yes, a lot of the time the "default parent" duties are pretty damn important for meeting their kids' very basic needs. Sure, you can go overboard with what you (or society) think is needed for your kids...but that doesn't change the fact that the default parent is often seen to be responsible for all sorts of very basic tasks as well - the ones that really do need to be done to avoid the chaos and neglect that have real consequences for the kids.
posted by randomnity at 10:54 PM on November 4, 2014 [24 favorites]


If things just magically Work Out it's not because the Universe is good and kind. It's because someone else took care of it. And it just looks magical to you, because you slacked off and it got done anyhow.

QFMFT. Once, when I was too sick and exhausted to go grocery shopping for three weeks (pneumonia), I ended up serving my 4 year old garlic croutons for breakfast and nutella for lunch because it was literally the only food in the house that I could give her, everything else we had was like frozen spinach or oxtails or a bag of flour. Because despite the fact that I was grey with illness and too weak to walk the length of the house without sitting down and resting -- and still responsible for a 4 year old and a 4 month old for 12 hours of every day -- it had not occurred to my husband to go grocery shopping. Now, I handle the food in our house by explicit and enthusiastic agreement, this isn't something that's just slid to me because vagina, but still, you would have thought that at some point during those three weeks during which I was gravely ill it would have occurred to him that I probably wasn't taking the kids to Costco to stock up on comestibles.
posted by KathrynT at 11:14 PM on November 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


I also manage the organization of drawers between seasons to see what fits. This is a crap job that only the default parent even knows exists.

Bah. I only got to the 3 graph before it quit. I call B.S. (at least for my family). For my parents ... maybe.

I am a stay-at-home dad, but perhaps because we were formerly a two-income household, my wife and I are used to sharing chores.

I do all of the cooking, cleaning, and school transportation because I'm a homemaker--that's my job. My wife still helps a LOT with the chores when she is home.

Perhaps it's because of the reversal of traditional roles, but even though I do most of the work, I don't feel like the default parent. When a kid cries, it's 50-50 who gets her. When we go to bed, it's 50-50 who checks on the kids. I dunno. Life moves forward.

My husband is the default earner, the default lawn mower and the default spider killer

Gotta love that 1950s life.


I guess you said it better and faster. So, yeah, a lot of people are still living in the 50s, or earlier. Women are still treated like property in horrible arrangements. But I still think we progress. Sloooooooooooowly.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:16 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This discussion is reminding me of the way that small IT teams often function. There are 40 or 50 different pieces of software to keep track of, all with their own licensing and constantly updated support renewal periods and required version upgrades and coordination of new purchases with accounting and production. Typically, more and more of that responsibility falls on the one person who informally took on doing some of that in the first place. Let's call them the "License Mom".

Same thing with backups. Again, constantly changing requirements as the important data moves around, lots of mind-numbing repetitive-and-routine-but-critical tasks to stay on top of. It becomes easier and easier for all of that responsibility to drift into the hands of the "Backups Mom".

Ditto with complex networking, firewall, storage, etc. issues. One person starts doing a little bit more of it than everyone else, and soon they have taken over the entire responsibility.

There are two results of this: First, job security. No-one else knows how to do all the things you do, and chaos would result if you didn't do them.

Second, though, as a direct result, is the inability to ever take a vacation. Same reason: Chaos would result if you did.

The result in IT departments is often the same sort of overwhelmed resentment that many of the "default parents" are expressing here.

There's only one solution that I've seen work reasonably well for small IT teams, and that's documentation. Document, document, document. Put it in the wiki. Put it in a shared spreadsheet. Put it in a shared calendar. When you're ready to take a vacation - and you have to insist on taking a vacation, because you'll never otherwise get one as an IT person - walk through your documentation with the person who's taking over your responsibilities. Day-to-day, whenever someone asks "How do I...?", say, "Did you check the wiki?"

On the one hand, it makes you replaceable. On the other hand, it lets you take a vacation.

I'm not sure if I'd suggest this approach in a relationship - regularly raising your eyebrow at your partner and saying, "Did you check the wiki?" might not go over so well for some - but it sounds like some of the couples above who navigate this stuff fairly well are already doing some of this sort of thing, like scrump's shared Google Calendar.
posted by clawsoon at 12:16 AM on November 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Gender inertia is my new favorite catchphrase. I dig it. It is so applicable to practically everything wrong in my male dominated office right now.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:23 AM on November 5 [58 favorites +] [!] No other comments.


Eponysterical!
posted by zardoz at 1:16 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


prize bull octorok's comment about "two parent household problems" applies to the IT comparison, too. Woe is you if you're a lone IT person; your life is no longer your own.
posted by clawsoon at 2:45 AM on November 5, 2014


Nthing that it's odd how male default parents breeze right past the possibility of identifying with female default parents.

The longer this thread goes on, the weirder and more obvious this gets.
posted by winna at 4:09 AM on November 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


I think the reason some people (or at least I) are put off by the article is it is written in a manner which implies she had no control over her relationship reaching it's current position. For instance, she points out that her partner failed to go to the crying child, but does not mention saying anything to her partner about it. Maybe she did, but its not in the text.

But its definitely, obviously true that there is often a default parent, and that that person is usually the mother, and that in many cases this is due to gender bias rather than genuinely fair assignment of labour. I know that I get frustrated that men can get away with not doing their fair share, and this assumption that certain jobs and roles should be assigned on gender rather than who is the most competent/enjoys them the most.

I do have a minor quibble on the idea that knowing particular details about your children makes you the default parent. Obviously if you know all of them then that is the case, but I think all couples settle into a routine where one thinks about, say, timing or scheduling, one about finance, just because its often easier, and one tends to be better at it. On a recent outing in London it was I who insisted that we had to leave at a particular point in time to catch the train we needed to catch back, lest our son go to bed far too late. This was due, however, to my having a better grasp of timing than my wife, rather than me being better about considering the welfare of our son.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:00 AM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Nthing that it's odd how male default parents breeze right past the possibility of identifying with female default parents.

I haven't seen nearly as much pent-up resentment from the male default parents in the thread, which might be part of the gulf. Perhaps - and I'm only guessing - this is because male default parents have more often consciously chosen their position, rather than being inexorably wedged into it by gender expectations. As a result, male default parents may be able to identify with the routine of being a female default parent, but not as much with the emotions. And it's in the emotions that identifying typically happens, isn't it?
posted by clawsoon at 5:02 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also: Many of the male default parents in the thread seem to have gotten their role via open, respectful communication with their partners. Many of the female default parents expressing frustration, by contrast, seem to be caught in a communication trap with their partners: "Passive-aggressive whiner" if they don't ask for help, "nagging bitch" if they do. That difference is also going to reduce identification between the two groups.
posted by clawsoon at 5:23 AM on November 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


Well, in this thread some dads have expressed resentment at how society assumes that only moms can be real parents, so this still seems like an interesting failure of empathy more than "nothing in my experience has suggested that societal expectations could have the slightest impact on my freely chosen life."
posted by leopard at 5:35 AM on November 5, 2014


That's a fair point, leopard, though the resentment is flowing in pretty much the opposite direction in the two cases. "Everybody thinks I should be the default parent" vs. "Nobody [except my partner] thinks I should be the default parent". Is that enough of a difference to make my idea plausible?
posted by clawsoon at 5:41 AM on November 5, 2014


> she points out that her partner failed to go to the crying child, but does not mention saying anything to her partner about it

But why is it her responsibility to make sure the crying child is attended to, either by herself or by her husband?
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:54 AM on November 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


For instance, she points out that her partner failed to go to the crying child, but does not mention saying anything to her partner about it.

Well, but isn't that her point? Being the default parent means that it is assumed, by default, that you'll be the one who picks up the crying child. If you have to say to your partner "Hey, the child is crying, go and pick her up", then you're still the default parent because you have to specifically ask the other parent to do it. It's not about whether her partner does anything, it's about whether the task in question falls, by default, to her.
posted by Catseye at 5:57 AM on November 5, 2014 [28 favorites]


I thought about this thread this morning as I went through my daughter's school uniform drawer to find the one skirt that would both look OK in school pictures (because I was the only one who remembered it was picture day) and had built in shorts (because it's one of the days she has gym, and she insists on wearing a skirt with built in shorts on gym day -- but not pants, never pants on gym day wtf I don't know either) and I knew it was in the drawer, because I planned the laundry last week and rotated the order in which she wore various pieces of uniform to ensure that this particular skirt would be clean on this particular day.

Just one of those incredibly minor things, but I probably thought about it for 3 or 4 minutes every day for a week.
posted by gaspode at 5:58 AM on November 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


For instance, she points out that her partner failed to go to the crying child, but does not mention saying anything to her partner about it.

Well, but isn't that her point? Being the default parent means that it is assumed, by default, that you'll be the one who picks up the crying child. If you have to say to your partner "Hey, the child is crying, go and pick her up", then you're still the default parent because you have to specifically ask the other parent to do it.


Well sure, in that one particular instance. But it could have been a starting point for having a conversation about, "say fella, you need to be noticing when kid needs something or is crying, it's not my job to tell you each time it happens, let's work on that." I think Cannon Fodder was saying that we have no way of knowing if that kind of conversation happened after the one described incident.
posted by JanetLand at 6:11 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Being the default parent means that it is assumed, by default, that you'll be the one who picks up the crying child. If you have to say to your partner "Hey, the child is crying, go and pick her up", then you're still the default parent because you have to specifically ask the other parent to do it. It's not about whether her partner does anything, it's about whether the task in question falls, by default, to her.

This is a fair point, but I think things degenerate to that point when the default parent has become so critical of the things done (and not done) by the other partner that it fosters indecision. I've experienced times where I literally feel 50/50 sure whether I should tend the new fire or finish watering down the old fire. If there is any luxury the default parent enjoys, it is making a decision and knowing damn well that no one will give him or her shit for it. The "other" parent can easily live in a state of panic and indecision, not because he (and I'll admit is almost always "he") is a lazy oaf or doesn't care, but simply because it seems the right choice to defer judgment.

As I read over this the obvious mature alternative is for both adults to respect that each other are doing their best to triage the situation and when they disagree about incident response to replay the incident in conversation at a later point to get more on the same page together. But reality is the constant stress of parenthood often makes these situations go nuclear with contempt and hurtful things said about the "other" parent's commitment and judgment.

Should the default parent also bear the burden of being a cool headed counselor now? I don't mean to imply this, but the interaction I describe above is a vicious cycle and the author of the piece, I would posit, is entirely unaware of it. The "other" parent lives it almost daily and it is hard dynamic to break.
posted by dgran at 6:15 AM on November 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


That's a fair point, leopard, though the resentment is flowing in pretty much the opposite direction in the two cases. "Everybody thinks I should be the default parent" vs. "Nobody [except my partner] thinks I should be the default parent". Is that enough of a difference to make my idea plausible?

That is exactly what I was trying to express earlier, and I hope that I didn't come across as unsympathetic towards default parent moms. If anything I was trying to show that even the worst part of my set up is only bad because of the very dynamic the article was talking about played out over a societal level. Honestly how a guy can come away from years of interactions, all implying that he's not the REAL parent, the Mom is, and never have that moment of epiphany where he thinks "hey, that's because everyone expects women to shoulder this extra burden just because they're women. That must suck." is beyond me.

Bah. I only got to the 3 graph before it quit. I call B.S. (at least for my family).

I don't think it's a very accurate description of MY family either, but it's an accurate model of a family dynamic that a lot of people have. I think the few counter-examples people have made in the thread don't make it B.S., just offer a sliver of hope that things can change.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:18 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


But it could have been a starting point for having a conversation about, "say fella, you need to be noticing when kid needs something or is crying, it's not my job to tell you each time it happens, let's work on that." I think Cannon Fodder was saying that we have no way of knowing if that kind of conversation happened after the one described incident.


Indeed, I am happy to agree that the husbands behaviour wasn't particularly brilliant in this situation, but it is possible to address a situation with your partner if it does bother you. Of course, she may have done this, or she may have reasons for not doing so: this isn't explored in the article.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:29 AM on November 5, 2014


I knew it was in the drawer, because I planned the laundry last week and rotated the order in which she wore various pieces of uniform to ensure that this particular skirt would be clean on this particular day.

Just one of those incredibly minor things, but I probably thought about it for 3 or 4 minutes every day for a week.


That's a great example of the granular and detailed thinking that parenting takes. What has to be negotiated at the household level is whether the couple wants to divide that thinking up in a fair way ("You take care of doctor appointments and I'll take care of the uniforms") or if they want to have a default parent but with the other person taking on other roles to still leave things fair. What the FPP and many of the anecdotes here indicate is that this is not happening in a lot of situations, instead leaving the woman as the default parent (complete with all the judginess and lack of respect) and without necessarily a fair and supportive division of mental labor.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


But it could have been a starting point for having a conversation about, "say fella, you need to be noticing when kid needs something or is crying, it's not my job to tell you each time it happens, let's work on that."

The thing is, that conversation is ALSO work, and it's also default parent work, because the other person sure isn't going to notice on their own. It's emotional labor and executive thinking about the dynamics of the relationship, which is also undervalued but highly stressful and definitely work.
posted by corb at 6:44 AM on November 5, 2014 [43 favorites]


UTTER CHAOS is when

So, true story. Just recently there was a big stressful time in our life where I had just started working at a new job and was commuting by bus, so was pulling 13-14 hour days. My husband's job hadn't started yet, so by necessity he took on parenting responsibilities while I, exhausted, sank into a coma at the end of each day. This went on for a week, and then the weekend came. I saw my daughter, and told her to brush her hair. "I can't!" "Why can't you?" "Because it's all in one big knot!" My kid, like a typical lazy tween, hadn't brushed her hair or showered the entire time her dad was watching her, because he hadn't brought it up and she could get away with it. She had brushed the very top, but he hadn't thought to check the underside of the hair, because he didn't realized how tangled kid hair can get. Her hair was effectively dreadlocked, and we spent a miserable, miserable day slowly combing it out to sanity.

Not a bad guy! Trying his best! But the ultimate responsibility for "child hygiene" usually fell on me, because I have to think about "Did you wash there? Are you trying to get away with wearing that shirt for the third time? Are those fresh socks? When did you last brush your hair?" on a constant low level train, and so he generally doesn't bother.
posted by corb at 6:51 AM on November 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


corb: Her hair was effectively dreadlocked, and we spent a miserable, miserable day slowly combing it out to sanity.

Would your day have been less miserable or more miserable if you had asked her dad to help her comb it out while you took a break? (I'm asking sincerely, because I could envision it going either way; either a whole lot of emotionally draining relationship work to get him to do it, or a nice afternoon letting him worry about it while you relaxed.)
posted by clawsoon at 6:59 AM on November 5, 2014


More miserable, because his solution was "maybe we can cut it all off." And that's maybe what someone was talking about upthread - the non default parent suggests something that would be easier/less work, but more detrimental on, say, the self esteem of a tween entering middle school, which is something that the default parent also needs to have on the back of their mind. If the child goes unshowered/dirty/unbrushed/what have you for long, she will become That Dirty/Smelly Kid, and once that moniker is applied it is hell to get it off.
posted by corb at 7:02 AM on November 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


I have kind of a different take on this from spending a lot of time reading about supporting new moms with nursing and bonding, talking with a lot of moms on this (this is not meant to be a universal, still just me and my personal experience with other moms, but I know it's not just me). And I will add that I tend to relate to women who are not very career driven and are nurturing intuitive types, the sort that tend to prefer spending time with their children and being the default parent...

So with that in mind, I will say that I think a LOT of people who go through the process of carrying a child for 9 months supporting a nursing relationship where they are in charge of most of the feedings and a lot of intensive bonding and nurturing during that time-- a lot of dads (just going by reports and guy friends I have who are fathers) are actually WILLING to support that relationship which is actually wanted by the mother. Some dads actually feel a bit left out of some of this bonding and are holding back because mom and baby seem very deeply bonded. They are trying to respect the reality of the intensive work her body and psyche have done to create this new person and the bonding that starts in the womb and continues through the birth and nursing relationship. The more I have read about bonding and human development the more I feel that my intuition and sense that there was a very REAL phenomena of bonding that has physical and emotional components seems to be supported by a lot of research.

I don't want a world where the day after giving birth I'm supposed to share the nursing relationship and bonding with the father in the same way. He did NOT carry a child for nine months in his body, he did NOT go through an intensive labor and birth experience to push a child out of his body (or a surgical procedure leaving all the difficulties of that experience). He did not have the child in his body feeling the bodies rhythms and heartbeats as the entirety of their world for 9 months.

Part of this whole "men and women need to do parenting equally with 50/50 split in parenting tasks" seems to rest on the assumption that there is no difference in bonding between people who carry and birth and nurse new people with their bodies and people who don't. I feel like this is destructive ideology, the kind of destructive ideology that literally destroyed my motherhood because noone believed my bond with my child was real. Any caregiver is as good as any other, so why not take babies from struggling and under-resourced mothers and hand them over to others? Who cares? It's all the same really. Unless it's literally, not.

I don't want a world where I'm forced to use a pump which I HATE to supply a man with the opportunity to do exactly half of the feeding, I don't want to split the bonding time 50/50 of a under year old nursing infant in the event of a divorce acting like it's all the same. I don't want to be forced to put my child in day care at 6 weeks because our culture sees bonding with mothers as irrelevant, any caregiver is the same, right? Why should we help mothers spend time with their babies when it's cheaper and more efficient to separate mothers from their infants and herd babies into groups and force their mother back into the labor force, instead of helping mothers financially with that bonding period.

I think gender is an obnoxious concept- people are who they are. And every situation IS unique, it's totally ok for a father to be the one who is more bonding immediately after the birth, sometimes nursing doesn't work out and it doesn't make sense for mom to spend more time with baby than dad- the whole concept of fixed gender roles or that gender has to match biological features, it IS all restrictive and should be a flexible and personal and individual path with each person determining their gender presentation and preferred tasks and responsibilities.

So I DO support the idea of flexible roles and each situation being unique. But I really don't want a world where people who did not carry and birth a child are demanding their equal rights to feed and bond with their children in exactly the same way and with the exact same time as a person who just gave birth- forcing lactating people who just gave birth to pump milk or accept bottle feeding of their infant for half the time. And since single parent births are very common, how we frame this issue as a culture has real implication on the rights of parents who birth and lactate and how they are supported with those bonds. In how we financially support and protect that period, in how support that bonding period in situations of single parent births who in the event of a healthy and strong bond and lactating relationship should have different time constraints on custody.

And I have personally known a number of dads who have backed off making such demands out of respect for the relationship that seems to be there with the mother. And yes if the mothers eems to have a stronger bond and desire to take over some of that realm, it doesn't make sense to then be upset with the dads for having backed off, especially if it's a common thing that moms tend to often WANT that type of relationship and not want to share it exactly 50/50 especially in the beginning. Over time it makes sense for responsibilities to be shared more, but I also think specialization is an ok thing and it work. The process of dads taking on more responsibilities, and getting the joy of more of the bonding time that comes with it, is one that should involve communication and kindness form both sides. I don't think it should be assumed that forcing everyone into 50/50 roles here is innately more enlightened than forcing everyone into "male and "female" traditional roles. Parenting is hard and each parent will have their own gifts and needs and desired tasks. It's a process that should be unique to each family. I think this is a great topic and I think it was great for the author to write about it because it IS restrictive for the default to be that mothers take on the responsibilities, but that default role also confers rights and privileges to mothers that I think often turn out to be good in many cases. Sometimes it's being done because it seems like a lot of women who have birthed and nursed children want that respect of the relationship, duties, and bonds that developed during that time, and wisdom and intuition they have about their children's welfare and care that resulted.
posted by xarnop at 7:05 AM on November 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


> I don't think it should be assumed that forcing everyone into 50/50 roles here is innately more enlightened than forcing everyone into "male and "female" traditional roles

Good thing that nobody's trying to do that, then.

I'm a full-time mom and the default parent. And I'm okay with that! But I also am okay with complaining about it with other default parents, especially other mothers. Venting and humor and tequila is how we get through the days.

I don't understand the anger and defensiveness I'm seeing here (not in your comment in particular, in this thread in general). If it doesn't apply to your household: great. If it does apply and you're not the default parent: I don't know, maybe check in with the default parent and see how they feel about their workload. If it does apply and you're the default parent: want to meet up for coffee, if you have the time?
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:26 AM on November 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


"I'm a full-time mom and the default parent. And I'm okay with that! But I also am okay with complaining about it with other default parents, especially other mothers. Venting and humor and tequila is how we get through the days."

:) Totally agree! On my end I'm just terrified of the reverse ideology- since... I have experienced what it's done to me and other vulnerable women who don't have grounds to justify their rights to be with their children or support services to make that possible if we apply the idea that motherhood is exactly the same as father or any other caregiver. Which unfortunately we do force on the most vulnerable women.
posted by xarnop at 7:35 AM on November 5, 2014


See, xarnop, on the other hand I would have greatly appreciated a more even split of duties right off the bat. I hated breastfeeding, I switched to pumping exclusively ASAP, and quit that too as soon as I got over the mommy guilt that stems from the fact that society DOES tell us that mothers have a magical special bond with their children and that they should love every second of the all-consuming care they need from the moment they are conceived.

I resent the thought that I was more bonded to my child than her father was. I resent the thought that, biologically, I was predestined to love her differently, by giving up my body to her needs, but most importantly, that doing it selflessly, without complaint, and with nothing but pure maternal joy, was required or I'd failed as a mother.

I'm glad you felt the way you felt, I really am, but it is the mainstream view of motherhood. Those of us who did not feel that way were shamed right from the delivery room, hell, right from the moment we peed on a stick and got a positive.

And in typing this comment I am purposefully resisting the urge to add how much I love my daughter, how much every one of her smiles lights up my world, because I know that I am still trying to justify to myself and others the lack of a visceral bond with her just because I was her mother and she was my child.
posted by lydhre at 7:46 AM on November 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


I completely believe you lydhre, but that ideology that IS nothing special about the bond between mothers and children was also literally forced on me my people who believed I didn't deserve my daughter and that there was no bond between us worth protecting.

I litearly had my child taken from me my people who believed I had nothing to offer my daughter and that my daughter should be with wealthier people. So there are people being forced into things they suffer greatly from any time a rigid ideology is shoved on everyone.

Not everyone has that bond, but some do. That's all I'm saying. And yes, those of us who are poor, we DO have our right to be with our children stomped out. In the states women who are poor have 6 weeks to be with their infants. Women who are comfortable without time with their infants more easliy climb career ladders and they help set the template and ideology about how we treat and support more vulnerable women. They help set corporate policies for women at the bottom.

And if the default of people in power is that the bonds don't matter it really does hurt other women too. You're not alone in being hurt by being pressured into a type of bond with your child that didn't match the reality. The truth is, for the lower classes, the default is set to no one having a special bond with their children.
posted by xarnop at 8:07 AM on November 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


So, I will say, for all my frustration in this thread, my husband is great. And he works outside the home to provide our sole income, and I am a stay at home parent, and a lot of the "default parent" stuff that I've taken on is as a result of that split and is by mutual communicated assent. There are things that he's default for -- he does 100% of our bill management, for example, and he's Laundry Guy, and he's the default NIGHT parent which is *awesome*, and that default night parenting starts right after dinner for him, he's the one who bathes the children and puts them to bed. My only real issues and gripiness about the division of labor is that I don't think he realizes how hard it is; he wants me to get a full time job once our children are both in school, which I am theoretically on board with, but I am by god not going to be stuck taking on 30-40 hours of work outside the home PLUS doing everything I'm currently doing, and I don't know if he's prepared to take on any of the rest of that burden.

One of the best things we did as parents is that when our children were nursing, my husband assumed responsibility for all the diaper changes when he was home. ALL of them. He had the luxury of taking six weeks off when our first child was born, and I tell you, I didn't change a diaper for those six weeks. If we were out and there wasn't a changing table in the men's room? He would use the women's room, hollering "I need to come in and change a baby!"* before he went in. Not only did it help spread the necessary-but-not-really-fun parenting out, but it let him be intimately involved in the care and health of his child, and really helped lay the groundwork for her being OUR baby and not MY baby in a way that I appreciate even more in hindsight than I did at the time. He only took a week off with our second kid (different job) but still took on all the diapers when we were together. It really made a difference, and I highly recommend it.

*While changing diapers in the ladies' room he would inevitably get coos of admiration from the women present, with comments like "Oh, it's so good of you to help out!" to which he inevitably responded "Oh, you may have misunderstood -- I'm her father."
posted by KathrynT at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2014 [28 favorites]


I haven't seen nearly as much pent-up resentment from the male default parents in the thread, which might be part of the gulf. Perhaps - and I'm only guessing - this is because male default parents have more often consciously chosen their position, rather than being inexorably wedged into it by gender expectations. As a result, male default parents may be able to identify with the routine of being a female default parent, but not as much with the emotions. And it's in the emotions that identifying typically happens, isn't it?

Yes. Also, as many of the default-parent dads have pointed out in this thread, while 50% of the time they get a brush-off by people who assume that dad can't possibly know anything about his kids, the OTHER 50% of the time they get enormous social approval and support for "going above and beyond" what society expects of dads.

Moms never get that approval. Ever. Often, they don't even get it from their partners or, as some commenters have hinted above, from their *female relatives* either.

It's a lot easier to deal with a grinding workload when at least some of the time, you're getting kudos for it.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:19 AM on November 5, 2014 [21 favorites]


(And I know that the good default dads of Metafilter are aware that those kudos are somewhat misguided or misplaced! But honestly, you still get the momentary emotional lift of "hey, someone noticed" even if your immediate response is, "look, I'm a dad, it's my job." It would be a better world, I'm arguing, if *everyone* got routine back-pats for holding down the fort, even if holding down the fort is just kind of part of being an adult.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:23 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think the thing that strikes me the most about the "not all fathers" objection is that, as a woman, and particularly as a woman who has spent a lot of time in male dominated domains, I am so used to the casual assumption of (straight, cis) maleness and other othering behaviors that I've actually had to make a conscious effort to notice it and point it out.

This article acknowledges that you exist, explicitly. It states, accurately, that mothers are the default default parents, but that default parent dads also exist. When I've run across something that acknowledges that I exist as a minority gender, I've always been happy and grateful just for the recognition because I am so used to thinking of myself as some kind of bizarre, one-off outlier exception to the rule who doesn't even merit mention in mass communications. (And when I have raised objections to the assumptions, I've frequently been told exactly that.)

So it's disturbing to me that so many default parent dads relate primarily to the 'dad' angle rather than the 'default' angle in this piece, and it's also a little disturbing to see just how unused men are to not being the primary audience.

I'm not discounting the real problems that primary parent dads face. It's ridiculous and horrible seeing men treated as though they're incompetent at child care and other domestic work, and those attitudes are shitty for everyone involved.

This article is not doing that, though.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


"I'm glad you felt the way you felt, I really am, but it is the mainstream view of motherhood. Those of us who did not feel that way were shamed right from the delivery room, hell, right from the moment we peed on a stick and got a positive."

And I think that sucks but I feel like there's a weird dismissiveness you're giving me as if "mainstream" means my experience is invalidated. As someone who chose to birth a child as a teen single mother as a result of abuse, I can guarantee you I was shamed every stretch of the way and my motherhood invalidated every where I sought desperately for help.

I still feel like the dominant narrative of liberals and feminists is actually more favorable towards the stories, needs, and policy desires of women who want less time with their children not more.

The idea that I think it's possible men sometimes back off the responsibilities and rights of parents to respect the bonds some mothers have with their children is not a statement that discounts the existence of mothers who don't feel that way, just a point that each situation is individual and that parenting duties should involve communication and an understanding of needs of both parents (in two parent homes) not an assumption of defined gender roles or even 50/50 roles.

The way to get healthy roles is through seeing the actually needs of individuals involved, and the fact that sometimes or often the people who birth and nurse children might need and deserve more time, or develop a different type of bond does not mean that will always happen or that it needs to be the default. I don't know, I feel most of the time when I talk about bonding with my child in feminist communities where I would hope all perspectives would be valued I actually get told my experience is offensive and too common a narrative and when I try to fight for the rights of women to have those bonds and time with their infants and young children respected and financially and communally supported I get told talking about the existence of those bonds is offensive because some women don't have them so we can't fight for all mothers to have expanded rights on those grounds.

It's just, very frustrating and I still think it really hurts vulnerable and low income women who don't have the feminist community fighting for their rights to be with their children on their side nearly as often as they should. They get offered year round school and year round full time day care as liberal proposals because it's rarely on the table to rethink welfare for new moms as a concept and support universal access to resources to spend time at home with infants for mothers and parents. And I DO think the fight to prove day care and mother care are exactly the same, always, feeds what resources are offered to those who are vulnerable.

It shouldn't be offensive to state that sometimes mothers do have a different bond, because it is sometimes true, Maybe what some dads need is more communication that in their situation, the mother is NOT feeling like they want that default duty, and it is a great thing for this article to promote such discussions in communities and among dual parent couples. And I think it's GREAT for couples to approach parenthood with the assumption that the task load should match the needs and abilities of each parent involved and involve communication and understanding of each other.

I'm just trying to say people who birth and lactate should have preferential choice in protecting their bonds with their children- which in fact INCLUDES the ability to know the other parent seems to have a stronger bond/knack for caregiving and respecting that and assigning taskloads in the family accordingly. If it still won't get across that I support birthing people rights both to access to their children and to know they need another caregiver situation than there is no other way I can say it that will get the point across.
posted by xarnop at 9:49 AM on November 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


I was able to apply lessons learned in this thread this very day in my IT department. A huge load of shitwork came in, all of which coincidentally happened to fall in the domain of our "default IT parent". (Or... maybe not so coincidental, now that I'm thinking it over.) He spewed forth resentment at the shitwork being dumped upon him.

I offered to help; received rebuffs and objections from him ("it's no problem, I'll do it..." "I'll get you to help later, but first I need to..."); recognized that they mostly came from the exhaustion of the mental planning tasks that "default parents" take over by default; took over some of that planning work by being persistent, detailed and flexible, then proceeded to the shitwork; saw him much happier a few minutes later.

Once I had started, our manager also offered to help. He got a single "it's no problem, don't worry about it" and went back to his desk. He's been having some serious marital difficulties lately, and now I'm wondering if the way he defers all the "default parent" stuff to his wife - enough of which I've overheard when he's on the phone with her to be certain is going on - is part of that.
posted by clawsoon at 9:56 AM on November 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think what happened to you is monstrous and that as a society we should not have let that happen. To you or anyone. I think the push back you get in threads is because (from our perspective) what happened to you is rare, and this casual taking for granted of women's work is common, pervasive and soul crushing. It's not necessarily right that we think that! It's just the perspective we are most familiar with- having experienced it ourselves and seen it most commonly among our friends.

I don't think for a minute that anyone in this thread or any other thinks that what happened to you is right. I think all of us want society to be structured in such a way that YOU got to make the choice to be a mom, as you so clearly deeply desired to be. It is absolutely heartbreaking to me when I read your story.

At the same time, I don't have anything constructive to say about it. It's completely outside my sphere of experience. I would be really interested to read a FPP about it, and especially the discussion so I cou learn more. It would be great to have that conversation when it's framed to be about that so that you wouldn't get the enormous push back. Because even though your experience is valid and real, it does sometimes read as a derail. It's not that it doesn't have something to do with the topic at hand. It's just orthogonal and it seems like people can have a hard time adjusting their conversation to make space for it. That's not particularly your fault, but I think it has something to do with it often being the end of a long thread.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:03 AM on November 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


My wife and I talked about this last night, and we don't think there is a default parent in our house. We specialize in some areas where one person is better skilled than the other, but most things are shared responsibilities. I think it shows in that our kids do not have a preferential parent that they run to for things (unless it is lego -- then daddy rules). So it is possible. But it takes open discussion and effort from both parents to ensure and maintain that equality. One thing that my wife brought up was gatekeeper parenting which she sees in a lot of her friends who have non-involved husbands.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:06 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Once again, I realize that my decision to not marry or have children is the right one. It all seems like "nine parts mess to one part magic," as Cersei Lannister so eloquently put it. Sure, I'm the default grown-ass adult around here, but my cats have smaller brains and lack opposable thumbs. (Which is probably a GOOD thing.)

It strikes me that the persistent societal drumbeat of "you're not a real woman if you don't marry and have children" is so persistent because otherwise women would opt out in droves. It honestly seems like a poor bargain from my perspective.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:09 AM on November 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


It strikes me that the persistent societal drumbeat of "you're not a real woman if you don't marry and have children" is so persistent because otherwise women would opt out in droves. It honestly seems like a poor bargain from my perspective.

I travel in circles where the women are opting out of that bargain in droves. The drumbeat isn't less persistent but we may be getting better at tuning it out. Alternately, it may be that the world is getting horrible enough that it just no longer even seems possible?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:20 AM on November 5, 2014


I think the idea that mothers and children might have a special bond is a taboo thing to say in feminist and liberal leaning communities- and it's perfectly relevant in this article. The fact that I had to back pedal and describe WHY I had reason to believe this is because it's such a taboo thing to say that it's almost shocking in liberal/feminist leaning crowds (especially online general interest feminism not socalist/anarchist leaning feminist circles who tend to support more bonding time for parents and mothers in my experience).

I don't think it's all that rare for single moms to deal with fathers demand equal custody of very young or still nursing infants, and I'm just thinking how nice it is for some women when the guys respect that bond if it's there. I just don't think it's universally jerky sexism that always drives guys backing off and letting mom call the shots.

I shouldn't HAVE to defend that position with a big long explanation by how I've been harmed by society but since people seem to find it so shocking a concept that a mother-infant bond could even exist, I DO feel like Iw ant to be able to explain that it's actually a huge problem on that end too.

BOTH default motherhood, and women who are denied the right to assert their motherhood and bonds with their children exist are problems- and how we expect new moms to just hand over their babies to day cares and to the father is actually a very common narrative and reality for a huge portion of moms. I recognize that I wrote too many words in this thread but to be honest, I don't think I did, I think there was a weird pushback against me saying something very simple, that mothers can have a special bond through the birth and lactation experience. It's not universal, just a thing that can happen, and may contribute to why men are working from there since most families start with mom having more rights and duties especially IF they have a nursing relationship, which of course not everyone does. I don't think it should be considered offensive to mention this.
posted by xarnop at 10:44 AM on November 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I really appreciated your contributions, xarnop. And I feel similarly, too, in that even here at MeFi, saying anything good about a breastfeeding relationship gets push-back. To bring this back to the original article, I think that part of the conflict of being the default parent may stem initially from that breastfeeding relationship with a newborn. Because the mom is pretty much all the baby wants for weeks (or months), at least in my experience, it probably helped make my detail-oriented brain more obsessive of all those day-to-day baby details! And dads can definitely adapt to that by not trying to involve themselves in those day-to-day details or not even getting the chance to involve themselves in those day-to-day details. I think that that, along with other career-related complexities going on in my kid's first year of life, forced the "default" label to me. And, as I said above, it has taken a lot of WORK to balance it out a bit more.

Reading the other comments in this thread have also helped me recognize and appreciate the work my husband has done to help equal us out better.
posted by jillithd at 11:39 AM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


mothers can have a special bond through the birth and lactation experience.

I would totally agree with this, but at the same time I don't think it overlaps hugely with the 'default parent' issue as presented in the OP.

I'm cool with doing 100% of the breastfeeding, because in my family's case that's something I'm the one uniquely qualified to do and it's an important part of the relationship I have with my kid. I am not cool with doing 100% of the laundry, or the being the one to notice that the nappy rash needs some cream, or the remembering what size clothes the kid wears at any given time.
posted by Catseye at 11:40 AM on November 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


> I think that part of the conflict of being the default parent may stem initially from that breastfeeding relationship with a newborn

I wonder if the fathers are more likely to be the default parents in families where the baby is bottle-fed instead of nursed. Even if it were the case, it would be difficult to work out the cause and effect there.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:47 AM on November 5, 2014


I wonder if the fathers are more likely to be the default parents in families where the baby is bottle-fed instead of nursed. Even if it were the case, it would be difficult to work out the cause and effect there.

I mean maybe now? But there were a lot of generations where breast-feeding just Wasn't The Done Thing, and it isn't like those generations were shining eras of egalitarian parenting.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:03 PM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


xarnop, thank you for your comments about nursing. Your experiences have been very similar to mine--I've been told flat-out that I was being selfish for not pumping more and therefore giving my husband the opportunity to feed our child, or else that I should let my husband just give formula (yes, the risks of formula are overstated, but my husband's family has more food allergies than you can shake a stick at and I felt strongly about making exclusive breastfeeding work). Yes, being the default, nursing parent--the only source of sustenance--was damned hard for a long time, especially when we were dealing with tongue and lip ties, clusterfeeding, and an oversupply. To his credit, my husband took on 100% of the cooking and shopping while I was pregnant, and continued to do that, plus diaper feeding, through the first six weeks or so, and I really credit that with a lot of our success at breastfeeding.

It's still challenging in some ways--nursing in public, my daughter's own idiosyncratic nursing preferences (laying down in bed together). And yet I absolutely love breastfeeding, which often feels taboo to say. I love the way she looks when she falls asleep in my arms, the oxytocin rush, the fact that the first sign she's learned is "milk" and that she'll gleefully sign it over and over again as she nurses: milk milk milk milk. I'm very committed to making our nursing relationship work for as long as it works for her. To hear I should trade her for a pump and then hand over my milk to her father, even though that feeding relationship isn't and wouldn't be the same, just to be equitable, feels very threatening of something very precious to me. But it's often touted as the cure-all for any workload problems. Just the other day, a friend answered my mild kvetching about this stuff with "just put her in daycare a few hours a day. Sure, you'd have to pump, but you'd get more done." And it's not a solution for me, not if I'm trading something I love (breastfeeding) for something like "taking on an even bigger share of household chores that her dad could be doing anyway."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


mothers can have a special bond through the birth and lactation experience.

I would totally agree with this, but at the same time I don't think it overlaps hugely with the 'default parent' issue as presented in the OP.


Yeah ... but ... that non-overlap has implications both ways. Yes, the OP is still valid in its own terms. And also: yes, the OP presents things in a way that's unhelpful for people in some different (and mostly lower) niches in the same complex system of power. (Not that I'm saying this is the article's fault! It's a tiny little article! A tiny, interesting, insightful article, which is already doing impressive demographic weightlifting for its genre and size!)

A related case from U.S. second wave feminism: its conversations neglected the experience of women who were mostly low-income and Puerto Rican or Native American or African American, and had been sterilized without consenting, often without even being told. So these women and their allies had a problem with conversations that seemed to valorize technologies that could prevent or terminate pregnancy, as if these technologies were inherently liberating. So the conversation changed -- maybe not enough -- but that's part of why, nowadays when we talk about access to contraception or abortion, we talk about it under the more general umbrella term of reproductive rights. And choice.

Plenty of mainstream feminists have fought e.g. the dismantling of welfare programs which had allowed women to stay home with their kids. And there are perfectly valid reasons for not making such fights a top priority, reasons having to do with the political landscape, the allocation of scarce resources, etc. But it's also true that a lot of feminist talk (including mine) gets structured in a way that makes it tricky to incorporate xarnop's concerns. Not impossible, not at all. Just more work.

Again, not work that needs to be done by this teenytiny article. But worth putting on a to-do list.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:15 PM on November 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


dgran: "If there is any luxury the default parent enjoys, it is making a decision and knowing damn well that no one will give him or her shit for it. The "other" parent can easily live in a state of panic and indecision, not because he (and I'll admit is almost always "he") is a lazy oaf or doesn't care, but simply because it seems the right choice to defer judgment."

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo. No.

The default parent gets judged too, and gets shit for it too. See, they're the one that everyone talks to, everyone interrogates. I get blamed for the parenting decisions my partner makes, because I am the default parent.

And "why do you make this so hard on yourself, just shave the kid's head/force feed them/stop being a short order cook/why not be a french mama?" is all a judgement placed squarely on the default parent and sometimes it is by the other parent.

For a long time my partner would do the bedtime routine and then I would nurse the baby to sleep. It turns out that during the bedtime routine he played with her - wrestling, throwing her up in the air, big scary bear growls, the works. Fantastic time was had by all except me as I tried to get the overstimulated child to nurse and sleep. He had not thought of that at all, hadn't thought through the sleep process, hadn't done any of that. I only found out because I stuck around one evening instead of secreting myself with headphones. His response was that 'it was no big deal' and 'it's not that bad surely'.

I didn't have this innate knowledge about sleep, right, it was through experience and research and all of that. But I am expected to pretend like it's innate? Not say anything because he might realise he's doing something wrong? God forbid I actually know better? The big gap in the non-default parent's knowledge is not knowledge itself, but the capacity and willingness to accept that it is actually work, you need to actively gain that knowledge.

And on the other side, that really really fucking irritating 'dad joke', where when a kid hurts themselves, you threaten to chop it off. Hilarious. Except when the kid is really fucking injured and you're ignoring it by being a dick and trying to make them stop crying, and now they go to any other parent rather than you because you have made it clear your desire for a non-crying child is more important than actually assuaging their fear and pain. Oh wait, there's a name for that, I've been accused of it...coddling, that's right. I get judged for sympathising with my injured daughter, instead of teasing her. But at the same time, if she is injured and I ignore it, I'm judged then too.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:38 PM on November 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


Apparently, many more men say they want to be SAHDs than actually are, while the opposite is true of women (cite).
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:12 PM on November 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


more men say they want to be SAHDs than actually are, while the opposite is true of women

I am a SAHD. Judging from my friends who are other dads, there are a few who would like to stay home and take care of the kids (mostly in two-income families), but they "can't" b/c (surprise, surprise) men often make more money than women do.

As "stay-at-home-dad" (I like to call myself a "housewife" b/c it actually has more positive connotations, imo), I am kind of amazed at how FEW stay-at-home-dads there are, compared to women.

I live in Berkeley, CA, and I'd say the ratio of stay-at-home moms to dads is probably 98:2.

I am never going to complain (except maybe here) about negative stereotypes for stay-at-home-dads, but honestly, I think it's a fairly significant disincentive. SAHDs are generally perceived as lazy bums and/or people who failed at finding a good job.

A LOT of people (particularly ex-coworkers) ask me a LOT how I am enjoying my retirement. I have two young kids (5 and 3); I easily spend 70-80 hours a week (I'd say a decent 20 alone preparing food and cleaning up dishes) being a housewife/homemaker. I am NOT retired! It is stressful and hard work. It is MUCH (MUCH!) harder than my previous, full-time job. (It is also MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH more rewarding. Making one dinner or lunch gives me more fulfillment than anything I ever did at a job ever.)

So, yeah, as the 194th comment in a post about a shitty, shitty article, I am gonna complain, just a little. I don't think a woman who quit her fairly high-paying job at a tech company to raise her two young kids would ever get asked how she enjoys her retirement. That's all.

I do think the "special" relationship between a mother and child is an interesting concept. I always proposed that the reason my kids first word was "dada" (aside from being easier to say) is that they perhaps don't even perceive of "mama" as a separate person from them, i.e. maybe the baby brain perceives the mother-daughter symbiosis as their entire being, and not an other deserving of a word. Just a thought ...

Regardless of that special birth and nursing relationship, however, I think that enough happens in a young child's life to make that relationship fairly insignificant as to whether father or mothers are better stay-at-home parents.

One last thought: I often think of how lucky my family is, or what luxuries we have: we have one parent stay home; we can walk to a local library branch and the grocery store; we have a park down the street ... but are those really "luxuries"? Isn't that what pretty much everyone had in the 1950s. I would never want to revert to the social norms or gender roles of those days, but I can understand why old people wax nostalgic for those days.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:36 AM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


And on the other side, that really really fucking irritating 'dad joke', where when a kid hurts themselves, you threaten to chop it off. Hilarious. Except when the kid is really fucking injured and you're ignoring it by being a dick and trying to make them stop crying

One of the big problems I've had with this whole conversation is that lots of people are treating specific cases as if they are generalities.

My wife is the one who tends to laugh off the kids' injuries and accuses me of coddling them when I comfort them.

I don't think contributing to stereotypes ever helps the conversation.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:38 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I always proposed that the reason my kids first word was "dada" (aside from being easier to say) is that they perhaps don't even perceive of "mama" as a separate person from them

My daughter's first word, sign really, was "milk", her second was "dad" and her third "outside", which gives you a great sense of what babies find important. "Mama" came around the 100th word, only when she starting talking out loud and awhile after signs like "bear" and "apple". I think it was only when she got to that level of vocabulary that the difference between me feeding her and just having me was important. (And honestly, even before she learned "Mama", she was happy enough to say "milk", get me, start nursing, and then stop five seconds later. So she still had a way to just get me, even if slightly roundabout.) But yes, learning to ask for her dad was immensely important. I do wonder if babies really perceive anyone as not being part of them though.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:20 PM on November 7, 2014


I always proposed that the reason my kids first word was "dada" (aside from being easier to say) is that they perhaps don't even perceive of "mama" as a separate person from them

I think it's pretty common, actually. I always thought it was because they hear "Daddy" more than "Mommy." FWIW, when my husband comes home, he gets "Dada! Dada!" When I come home, I get "This! This!"

Apparently, dads pay the career price for taking paternity leave too.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:10 PM on November 7, 2014


dads pay the career price for taking paternity leave too.

Definitely. I was affected by taking 7-8 weeks off after my first daughter. For most of the upper management and execs (men), two weeks was the standard, if that.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:20 PM on November 7, 2014


"If there is any luxury the default parent enjoys, it is making a decision and knowing damn well that no one will give him or her shit for it."
Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo. No.
... I get blamed for the parenting decisions my partner makes, because I am the default parent.


Yep. A key insight into frequent major dynamics of The Default Parent Trap. (A forthcoming major motion picture, I hope, preferably produced in dueling versions from Walt Disney and Kollywood.)

The big gap in the non-default parent's knowledge is not knowledge itself, but the capacity and willingness to accept that it is actually work, you need to actively gain that knowledge.

Hang on hang on. Maybe we need two terms here, to separate out two aspects of non-default parenting. Like, one term for when we're talking about non-default parents who haven't, uh, done the necessary consciousness-raising (e.g., as the OP suggests, non-default parents who are somehow blissfully oblivious to their partner's default parenthood). And another term for when we're talking about non-default parents whose consciousness is just fine, but are still non-default parents (maybe because everyone likes it that way, but usually also for obvious structural reasons including who gets paid more, how US employment is structured so that two half-time jobs do not equal one full-time job, etc.).
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:24 AM on November 9, 2014


And another term for when we're talking about non-default parents whose consciousness is just fine, but are still non-default parents

With all due respect to the amazing non-default parents out there, there's knowing and then there's knowing. my husband gets, on an intellectual level, that it's hard work, and he does appreciate it. But he's never done it, so it's not as real to him. My babies think I'm magic. It's amazing but also terrifying and it's bit something you can really shut off. This is why I think paternity leave is so important; until you've experienced the whole spectrum of parenting, with all the sweetness and tiredness and joy and literally crappy moments, day in and day out, you can't say it's the same.

He is amazing and wonderful, but he still decided to go surfing at 6am today without telling me. I'd assumed he'd go after breakfast, because that's what he usually does. To him, it's just a couple of hours. No big deal. Never mind that he's been gone all week on a business trip, and the girls miss him. He changed his mind when I pointed it out, but no default parent gets to do that.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:54 AM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


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