I read two blogs this morning about being the “Default Parent.” You can read the original here and another response here. In both cases, I felt a nagging problem with the whole idea of someone being the “Default Parent.” The first article, published in the Huffington Post made me angry. The woman unsuccessfully attempted to say she appreciated her husband’s role in their family while complaining the entire time. The second one fell more in line with how my family works. Yes, one of us does the bulk of the hands on parenting duties, but neither of us has more or less work to do in the family. Neither of us is superior or even thinks of ourselves as superior.
My stance on this matter originates in my own childhood and my perception of my parents. Their roles evolved over time according to who had what opportunities available to whom. Like many families, my mother ultimately ended up doing the bulk of the hands on work. I won’t pretend to know how she felt about that. But as one of the children, I don’t remember ever feeling like this made Dad the “back-up” parent, waiting on standby for my mother to fail to do her job at which point he’d turn on and be the parent. If my dad was at work when I needed to be driven somewhere, it was so that he and his family would have a roof over their heads and food on the table. Pretty important stuff if you ask me. Never did I feel my parents were on unequal footing when it came to taking care of my sister and me. Both gave everything they had to give to the family, and continue to do so.
Fast forward to today. My husband and I have a son. As is typical, I do the bulk of the hands on parenting. But that in no way diminishes Craig’s role as a parent. He is always a parent whether or not he is actively engaged with Alex. He isn’t some sort of back up parent in case I fail. He is there for Alex as much as he is capable. No more, no less than me. We both give our all to this parenting thing. Like any relationship, it’s not about keeping score. Who cares who changed the most dirty diapers? Were they changed? Good. Mission accomplished. Who cares who gave the most rides or kept best track of the schedule? Did Alex get where he needed to be? Good. Mission accomplished. Who cares who put in the most hours with homework help? Did Alex get the homework done? The list can go on and on. The point is, whoever claims parenthood should be helping in whatever way he or she is capable of helping.
I know quite a few single parents. They amaze me. They do all of the things that need doing without a partner. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for those moments when I was about to fall apart because Alex was projectile vomiting and needed comforting as much as clothes and bedding and floors needed the vomit cleaned off of them. Craig was right there ready to help out. Those times when I’ve been sick and Alex still needed feeding and clothing and maybe a ride somewhere, Craig has been all over it. Single parents don’t have that luxury. There is no keeping score, because it isn’t a competition.
Craig is not the back up parent. I’m not the default parent. We are both parents. We aren’t in a competition to beat each other to some imagined finish line. We’re in a partnership to care for this person that we brought into the world. I’d like to think that other parents are doing that as well.