default parent




Equity in Parenting: How to step back from being the default parent

It’s 7.00 a m, and Fiona’s already feeling the pressure of the day ahead. As she hurriedly gets dressed for work and tries to stick a bit of make-up on, she hears her husband, Ray, calling up the stairs, “Where are Emily’s shoes? And what should she wear today?” Fiona sighs, abandons the mascara and dashes downstairs, grabbing Emily’s outfit and her own bag on the way.

Minutes later, after strapping the kids into their car seats, defusing an argument over who was first to get to the car and locating Blue Bunny (who absolutely cannot be left behind), she kisses them goodbye, and Ray leaves to do the drop-offs.

Fiona hops into her car, breathes a sigh of relief and is just about to take a slurp of her (now freezing) coffee when the phone rings. It’s Ray again. “Luke just mentioned he’s got training later. Where’s his kit?” Fiona mentally ticks through the morning’s checklist, trying to remember whether the football gear is clean or not.

An hour after arriving at work, Fiona’s trying to tackle her mammoth list for the day when her phone buzzes again. It’s the crèche. “Emily’s not feeling well; she needs to be picked up.” Exasperated, Fiona asks, “Did you call my husband? He’s the primary contact.” The response makes her jaw clench, “No, we thought you’d be best.”

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Many parents find themselves inadvertently becoming the ‘default parent’, bearing the brunt of daily responsibilities and the constant juggling act that follows. In this post, we’ll explore what it means to be the default parent, how this situation is created, and why balancing parenting duties is essential for the well-being of the entire family. I’ll also provide practical tips on how to step back from being the default parent and create a more balanced distribution of parental and family responsibilities.

What is a default parent?

In most households, one parent (often mums!) tends to take on a majority of the parenting and household responsibilities.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

  • You manage all the schedules/routines for babies/children in the house? And then dictate said schedule/routine to others if you are not going to be there.
  • default parentYou know where everything is, so everyone comes to you looking for whatever they want!
  • You’re the one who takes time off work if your child is sick?
  • You manage a lot of the life admin.
  • You are always anticipating everyone’s needs and preparing for those needs.
  • You are always the emergency contact.
  • You know the food the kids will eat/not eat.
  • You know when they are overtired/overstimulated and everyone turns to you to ask, “What’s up with little Emily”?!
  • You manage the clothes in the house, who needs new shoes, raincoats for creche, when they need new sizes, when they need to move cot or room.

The list can go on and on and on… and this means that you are always “on.” Which, as we know, is exhausting and unsustainable long term.

How do you become the default parent?

The transition to becoming the default parent often starts during maternity leave, where mothers spend most, if not all, of their time with the baby, taking on the bulk of the day-to-day household tasks and becoming the go-to person for the baby’s needs.

From day one when the baby arrives into the world, everyone turns to you to ask what the baby might need. Mother Nature kicks in, and you become Mama Bear and end up controlling most things, so letting go of control becomes more and more difficult. (“Ah, sure, it’s just easier and quicker if I do it.” Sound familiar?)

Then, when you go back to work:

  • You are the one that transitions the baby into their new childcare arrangement. 
  • You get the call if they are sick. 
  • You make sure everyone has the clothes they need for each day. 
  • You pack the change bag with everything that’s needed.
  • You ensure there is enough food for the children each day. 
  • You are the one  experiencing the bulk of the ‘parenting guilt.’
  • You plan their birthday celebrations and organise the presents for the parties they go to.
  • You are the one who is still holding on to many of the day-to-day tasks that you took care of while on maternity leave. 

All the tasks, asks, anticipating, planning, coordinating, delegating, communicating, and worrying, take up a huge amount of your physical and emotional space. The mental load is very real and completely overwhelming. You are THE DEFAULT PARENT. 

Check out this blog on tips for working when sleep-deprived or exhausted. 

Here’s how you can step back from being the default parent

1. Communication

Open and clear communication is central to stepping away from being the default parent. Often, the default parent feels their time is not valued as much as others within the household. Encourage everyone (including yourself!) to voice their needs and concerns openly. Use “I” statements to express feelings without placing blame, such as, “I feel overwhelmed when I handle all the bedtime routines alone.” Practice with friends before bringing it to your partner if this helps. 

2. Assess the current household roles and responsibilities

Sometimes, seeing it in writing is eye-opening and can support the conversation around who bears the lion’s share of responsibilities within the home. Create a list of the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that need to happen for your home and family to run smoothly. Consider both the visible and invisible tasks – in the home and outside of it. Then think about:

  • What are the non-essential tasks that you are willing to let go of? 
  • What can you outsource? 
  • What can you delegate?

Tip: If a person is responsible for part of a task, aim for them to own the entire task. For example, if someone does the food shop, they also write the list and check the cupboards for what is needed!

3. Setting Boundaries

Clearly defining each partner’s roles, responsibilities, and boundaries in advance can prevent misunderstandings and help ensure everyone is on the same page. Acknowledge each other’s need for personal time and space. Schedule alone time for hobbies, relaxation, or self-care, ensuring both parents get meaningful breaks.

4. Create routines that work for your family 

Firstly understanding what routines work for you and your family is important. A one-size-fits-all is often not the case. You can then work together to put routines and schedules in place that are realistic for everyone and that will support the needs, preferences, and strengths of each family member. This allows you and your partner to efficiently balance household tasks, childcare, and personal time.

5. Lean on tools and apps to help

Hands up who has a whiteboard in their kitchen? Leaning on tools and apps to help manage household responsibilities is a crucial step towards ensuring equity in the home. These resources can streamline tasks, from scheduling and meal planning to tracking chores and managing finances, making it easier for both parents to stay organised and share responsibilities.

Part of the challenge can be identifying which tools and technology will work in your household. After all, for it to work, it is important to have buy-in from all parties! There is nothing more frustrating than when you are updating the shared calendar, or filling in the whiteboard weekly with the maze of activities and your partner is still asking you “What time do I have to bring Luke to his match later?” 

Using tools and technology that are a good fit for you and your family, ensures that no one parent is overwhelmed or holding all the mental load. 

6. Start small and build

Understanding where each parent is at, and the experiences and feelings from their side can take time and patience. Begin with a few changes and gradually implement more techniques as both partners become comfortable with the new routines. Be patient with each other and acknowledge that it’s a continuous process. 

Don’t forget to ensure open communication at all times. Regularly check in with each other to assess how the changes are working and make adjustments as needed. 

Equitable parenting for a happier home life

Balancing parenting duties isn’t just about easing the load on one parent; it’s about creating a healthier and more supportive family environment for everyone. Better communication, setting clear boundaries, and using helpful tools and external support can make a big difference. The small changes you make and then build on will have a big impact, creating a peaceful, happier home life where everyone can thrive.

A few resources to help with this:

For all things around re-balancing the load, I love Eve Rodsky, author of “Fair Play.” 

Check out Eve’s Instagram Page Here.

Eve also spoke about mental load and invisible labour in this episode of Zoe Blaskey’s “Motherkind” podcast. 

PS I love all the Motherkind episodes so I recommend scrolling through and listening to a few topics that grab your attention.

And, if you’d like tailored support in creating a more balanced and fair approach to home life, feel free to get in touch to see how I can help you with this. You can use the contact form on my website or just drop me an email, here.


Hi, I’m Anne O’Leary, an executive coach, postpartum doula and mother of four. I work with individuals and employers to help parents integrate their work and life in a balanced way after they extend their family. Whether you are heading back to work or back several months and would like support in navigating this transition, please feel free to get in touch to schedule a complimentary consultation here.

back to work, boundaries, mum guilt, returning to work, work life balance, working parents