Default Parenting

I didn't take any drugs during either of my kids' deliveries, I swear. However, I must have been on drugs at some point in the hospital because I think I signed very important paperwork and I just don't recall when. It's a little scary and disconcerting, honestly, because I don't remember reading the fine print, or signing my name, but I clearly signed myself up for something- for life- and frankly, I'm not very happy about it. It was such a foolish thing to do but it must have been the post labor hormones and is definitely one of those parts of labor (like the burning and the delirium) that oddly, I can't recall.

Yes, it must have been in the hospital that I signed myself up to be the "default parent." Like a responsible new parent, I gave their names for their social security numbers and birth certificates. I watched the video and signed that I understood shaking a baby can kill it, and signed that I understood how to properly install a car seat. And I must have also signed off that I promised, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, on sunny days and rainy days, I would always, always, always be there for my kids. Regardless of anything, ever.

I know what you are thinking, especially if you are also a parent. You are thinking, "Yeah, you dumb ass! This is what all parents do when you have a kid. You put their needs before yours no matter what. Welcome to parenthood." I'm not saying I disagree, although the reality of this was a bit of a blow, starting on the first night up until today. I even think I knew that I'd be the default parent, but again, what that really means, and what I thought it would mean are two very different things.

Parenting is one of those areas of life where Andy and I exemplify gender stereotypes. I get it. They came out of me and for about a year, I was the way they ate. They were drawn to me as a survival mechanism and I was drawn to them, hormonally, out of a powerful and an unspoken urge. Yet, after time that urge ebbed a bit (sometimes a lot) and they stopped needing me, like physically, to eat, or to sleep, or to feel comforted. I was replaced by macaroni and cheese and TV. This may have mad me sad and also relieved because those first years of having kids are wonderful but also can feel a bit like entrapment. Plus, historically, men were the hunters and women were the keepers of the home. It made sense to keep the little ones safe at home and not out in the field with bows and arrows. Since the beginning of time, in most cultures, women kept their kids strapped to their backs, or suckled to their breasts as they managed their daily responsibilities. It was hard then and it is still hard now.

In our house, I have never seen a bow and arrow. We buy our food. From the grocery store. It mostly comes in boxes. We empty it into bowls and we eat it. Both Andy and I can do that. We also can both wash the dishes and vacuum the floor because our lifestyle is as home dwellers. Wait,yes we are both home dwellers. There is no need for one of us to keep the home fires burning while the other hunts for game. And last I knew, we both work, a lot, on many nights and weekends and my boss doesn't expect any less of me than Andy's does of him just because we are parents. (Not going to go there about why stay-at-home moms,part-time employed moms, and single parents are also the default parent but that too, is unfair BS.)

When I think about life with my kids, and how we operate in today's society, I literally see a form on a screen. You know how, when you start typing your name in, the computer will often populate the answers for you? Yeah, that's how I see my role as a parent. Every single day, on the parent form, it just populates my name over and over again. That way neither Andy nor I has to think about it; it's just done for us.

Who will make sure the kids get up, get dressed and get on the bus?

Who makes sure the school work is done and the activity calendar is planned? Who knows when there are school vacations and who will watch the kids on those days?

Who makes sure the kids have their annual exams and vaccinations, regular hair cuts, nightly baths, Halloween costumes, birthday parties, money from the tooth fairy, the right shoes and clothes for the right weather, clean clothes and clean sheets? Who signed them up, and takes them every week, to swim lessons?

No need to think about it. The answer is already there...wait, I don't even need to type it, the computer will type it for me: ME.

Halt- all male readers or readers who despise my angry rants. Go away. Now. Buh-bye.

Am I angry about this? Well, yes! I am! It really gets my panties in a bunch that I have to "check the family calendar" before I schedule an evening work event, or a night out with friends. I'm frustrated that I can't just hide in the bathroom for 20 minutes when I get home from work or get involved in a phone call at 7 pm and know that, while I talk in the closet in my bedroom, the kids will be bathed, and in jammies, waiting for their story from me when I am done. It makes me want to shout BAD WORDS that, when we have a work conflict, I am the one to arrange a babysitter.

I'm not trying to say that Andy is a delinquent Dad or a lazy person. He helps with the kids but he's the fill in. And I have to ask him. That's what gets my undies wedged. It also bothers me when he tells me that he "has to work" on nights and weekends, but I usually draw a line and tell my colleagues I must check first. It's not 1950 but I often feel like I've time traveled.

I have control over this situation. I know this. I know this because I complain about it and my friends tell me to stop and they give me good suggestions. Thanks to their advice, I have gotten better, and feel less bitter, because I have forced Andy to take on more parental duties than he is naturally inclined to do. On some days, the parenting feels more evenly balanced. In a marriage, we have to tell our spouse what we want and what we need. They don't just know it through osmosis. (Male bashing aside, I apologize for being gender specific because I am sure it's not just women who struggle with this. Some dads feel this way, too.)

A wise, and amazing stay-at-home mom, friend once told me, "It will never be even. You will never be able to cash back in the hours that you have spent being the primary parent." This is true. I need to keep reminding myself that being the default parent isn't entrapment. Sure, it's often a pain in the neck and causes stress as I juggle multiple responsibilities. Being the default parent is a gift. I have been witness to so many beautiful things my kids have done and said. I am there, in the middle, of all of the little moments. I hold them a lot. I hug them a lot. I learn from them. Maybe I am always the one to drop Char off at preschool or take Caroline to riding lessons. This means I get to talk to them, help them try and succeed, and witness their growth right before my eyes. Every day. Over and over again. And if being a part of this means I have to schedule all of their doctor's appointments, and tell my co-workers I have to check my calendar before committing, I'd gladly fill out that mystery form all over again.

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