You know what I mean by that, right? What it means to be the “default” parent? For those who may not know exactly what I’m talking about, let me catch you up. The default parent is the one who makes sure that there is food on the table that the child will actually eat. The default parent is the first one to jump to their feet when a poopy diaper is found or someone yells “Booty Wipe!” from the bathroom. The default parent doesn’t even think twice before shuttling little ones off to brush teeth and jammy up when bedtime rolls around.
Here’s my story of what it feels like to be the default parent. Last Fourth of July, when my daughter was just 8 months old, we went to my husband’s brother’s house to celebrate the holiday. After a day of grueling heat and an overtired baby, it was time for fireworks. My normally very attentive husband did not think twice before running down to the dock to help his brother shoot off fireworks. That which, normally, would not be such a big deal, left me with a terrified dog who was whimpering, whining, and barking, and a baby up hours past her bedtime who couldn’t understand the loud booms and was too young to appreciate the spectacle.
Now, many moms would probably have handled this situation much better than I. But I was on my last nerve and took to openly fuming about how unfair it was that my husband got to run off and have fun while I was stuck trying–futilely, I might add–to calm our baby and furbaby. I was lucky to have help in the form of my mother-in-law, but I was so wrapped up in my own frustration that I didn’t even acknowledge her help. I wasn’t just mad about that moment, I was mad about all the moments. I was mad that he was having fun and I was not. It was like suddenly all the times that I had to nurse a baby while my husband slept, or I had to make two dinners because baby couldn’t/wouldn’t eat what I made, or I had to change a blowout because there was no changing table in the men’s room, it all suddenly caught up with me. And I was livid.
So I spent that entire fireworks display ragging about my (wonderful, supportive) husband because I felt like the default parent. Again. And I was exhausted. Then I watched as my mother-in-law’s eyes grew wide and before she could tell me to shut up, I turned to see my husband standing on the other side of the screen door, listening to all the hurtful things I was saying.
I was so embarrassed. And ashamed. But another part of me was also really glad that he knew how overwhelmed I was in that moment. Instead of apologizing, I just word vomited all my frustrations onto him. While he could have easily reacted with more anger, he didn’t. Instead, he took the moment and used it to stimulate a lot of great discussion on how much it can suck to feel like the default parent. He admitted that he hadn’t even thought about who was watching the baby or taking care of the dog in all the excitement.
Looking back, I think him showing up at that moment was a bit of a God thing. God saw the wedge that the devil was exploiting in our relationship and forced us to communicate about it instead of letting those seeds of anger and resentment take root. Now, one year later, we are both much more aware of sharing the burden of parenthood. We aren’t perfect, by any means, but we are making progress.
Progress looks like a PB&J appearing on my daughters plate because I’m busy making steak for dinner. Progress looks like searching out a family restroom at the mall instead of just assuming I’ll be the one to change a diaper. Progress looks like telling the other person, to their face, when one of us is feeling overwhelmed or under-appreciated.
Children are such a blessing from God, but the stress that they can bring is not always conducive to an easy marriage. And the devil can use that stress and tension to push apart loving couples and make us vulnerable to his attacks. But through prayer and communication, we can parent as God intended, as team members working together to overcome the challenges of parenthood and bring couples together.
The first chapter of James has a lot to say about this. In verse 19: Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. So instead of jumping to anger, burying resentment, or throwing daggers of accusation, communicate. Listen, talk, and pray. In verse 5, it says: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. Ask God. Pray alone. Pray together.
I feel very blessed, and it’s a testament to my husband’s character, that my anger led to better communication between us instead of more anger. Looking back, I realize how much my anger hurt us that day when, had I just been honest, we both could have enjoyed that day much more parenting together, as a team.
So if today you are feeling awfully like the “default” parent, open up. Add some extra communication and prayer to your marriage. And if you are realizing that your spouse might be the “default” parent, start that line of communication by thanking them for all that they do and offer to make a plan to better share some of the burdens of parenthood. And I am sure no one will complain if that starts with you jumping to your feet next time your toddler starts yelling, “Poop! Poop!”