Who out there has become the “Default Parent?” You know, the one who automatically is assumed will forgo work in order to stay at home with the kids for sick days, half days, school holidays, snow days, summer camps ending at 3pm, classroom activities and bake sales, and the list goes on and on. Are these kids ever in school?! Is the second shift of home life equally distributed amongst both partners or does one partner, typically the lesser earner, automatically default to grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning?
I argue that lack of fair distribution of home and child-related duties is not one person's fault entirely. However, most often women are the default parent because of society and workplace views, judgment from other mothers and family, lack of communication between partners, and of course that lovely mommy guilt we carry around constantly.
I personally experienced this in my own ten-year marriage. Both of us very successful CEO’s, raising three children – I was most definitely the default parent. I was constantly struck by working mother’s guilt, and truthfully I never really spoke up about my needs. Until, of course, I was stressed and angry and feeling "in the moment." We've all been there.
And now that I am divorcing, with a new career launching start-ups and coaching women in business, I find this topic not only more imperative but very close to my heart. I realized that even in shared custody – I was still the default parent. Why? I was still not communicating my needs or planning effectively. And I had even more working mom guilt since the split.
Funny thing is though, divorce has also shown me just how wonderful shared responsibility is in advancing our careers and just how amazing a partner can be when we voice our needs, or in my case they become more involved by default.
I realized this one day after I picked up the kids at school during “his” time – as I still like to do when I can, and we all prepared for our twins' birthday together later that night. I watched in awe of my ex: as I cooked the family dinner, he came home from a long day of work with a carload of groceries - putting them away, whirling around the kitchen baking a homemade birthday cake, preparing school lunches for the next day and helping me assemble 50 birthday goody bags. All because this was now his new role as a single dad. And, guess what - he was not only enjoying it, but really good at it all! Who knew?! I chuckled a bit to myself – it was, well, kind of awesome!
I realized then that we were a better team than we ever had been, or ever knew we were.
So, I decided to speak up and do things differently in the next phase of my career. In addition to enjoying my newfound job flexibility, I needed to make myself a priority. We looked at the school calendar and created a plan on who would stay with kids, what camps or nanny to have on call and what to do when the unexpected happened. Wow, it felt really good to have a plan in place. Everyone was more relaxed, my kids were happier and my income sky-rocketed because of it.
I urge women, married or not to sit down with their partners and plan ahead – communicate on who will stay home when needed and if that person can’t, then what can they be in charge of? What can the kids start to do around the house? You'd be surprised at all the ways even a 4 year old can contribute when given his own responsibilities! Pick a time when you and your partner are both relaxed, have a glass of wine and put on some fun music while you’re at it. Make that your next date night or shared family time. Because we all know this will save us a lot of fights, time, and earn us more money in the future.
It’s not about demanding things, it’s about communicating our needs effectively and working as a team. Write down everything you do and what needs to be done, then delegate. Chances are your partner will, when given the responsibility, relish in their role as not just an earner but as an active part in raising the family.
And for those women and spouses who can’t delegate certain responsibilities – outsource and atomize, let’s get rid of the shame and guilt around that too! Time is money. It’s 2018 and the resources available to us are endless. A few of our favorites at The Upside – Amazon Fresh, Plated, Tidy.com, laundrybubble.com, Wag!, and Taskrabbit. Ask your school to adopt the Watch D.O.G. program – my kids love seeing their dad on the playground and yours will too. At The Upside, we believe that this will actually grow your earnings and make you a happier, healthier, more efficient consultant, mother, spouse, partner, or co-parent.
I have always had the motto that the more people who love our children, the better off they are. So call your trusted sitter on a snow day. Let her build that fort in the yard with your kids– they will have a blast and everyone in the family will have stories to tell over a dinner, that’s ready and waiting when you get home – from work that you love.
That’s what The Upside is all about.
The following quotes are real excerpts from a moms Facebook group, replying to a post from a working mother stretched to her limit by endless chores at home. The post received more than 150 replies. Any of these sound familiar?
"Yes I have found that my husband reserves his energy for the one-off, interesting house projects and the ones I am responsible are repetitive and purgatorial. But I’m not bitter 🙄 yeah right!"
"I do not understand the male brain and why they choose to help by doing the thing that is completely unnecessary. I feel your pain."
"My husband and I rarely fight but had a legit yelling argument once about this- I was running around trying to get kids dressed for a party and also packed for a weekend away...and he did the dishes. Like, yes, they were dirty but I am trying to get three people out of this house in the next 10 minutes"
"Finding the balance is hard. I have honestly gotten to points of boycotts. I won't touch a single dish for a week, or fold laundry or something else. My husband agrees in theory about the need to split the house work 50/50 but he often doesn't realize how much I do so sometimes, letting him see what would happen if I didn't touch it or remind him helps him be more proactive. It's always a work in progress."
"I try to be mindful not to use the word "help", he's not helping me by doing laundry or washing dishes, he's being an adult, a parent and a partner. Language is important and help implies it isn't his responsibility in the first place, it is.
"He doesn't have someone holding his hand at work and he seems to manage that more than fine, so part of it is about me not just doing things for him because I get them done faster or I want them a certain way."
"I just had a blow out with my husband. A really painful one. We almost divorced over the fact that when I went back to work I hired a housekeeper to come once a week- no joke, it seriously almost lead us to divorce. He has tried to fire her many times but I pay her from my business account so he can't."
"Somehow the idea that women can do it all got translated into women must do it all."
This illustration called "You Should've Asked" will most certainly hit home with many of our readers.
Check out this article in Harper's Bazaar for another writer's take on being the default parent.