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Default Parent Syndrome: Understanding the Struggle and Finding Relief

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Being the default parent is one of the most thankless and under appreciated jobs out there. You’re the one remembering to pack the lunches, make the doctor’s appointments, and help with homework. You’re the one who’s always on call, ready to drop everything to take care of your kids. Whether you’re a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, the responsibilities can get overwhelming. And if you’re not careful, it can very quickly lead to parental burnout, impacting both mental and physical health.

In this post, we’ll delve deeper into default parent syndrome, why it’s important to address this issue, and explore the struggles of being the primary caregiver.

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From first hand experience, I know that default parent syndrome is a very real thing. And don’t get me wrong, I have an AMAZING spouse and father to my kids. He helps me tremendously and for that I’m grateful.

However, that doesn’t eliminate that as the mother, there is both a societal expectation and an expectation from my own children that I am the “default” or the “go-to” for certain things. The one that helps their kids with homework and school projects, that sets up play dates, that shops for her kids, that makes doctor appointments… the list goes on and on. Even if my husband agrees to take something off my plate, I still have to point people in his direction because there is an assumption that it’s on me.

Because I know how draining being the default parent can be, I wanted to bring awareness to this issue so that you can learn to tackle it head-on. Don’t let the stresses of parenthood consume you – let’s take a step back and examine the challenges of the default parent together.

Below, you’ll discover who’s most likely to face default parent syndrome and the obstacles they’re up against. We’re offering up practical advice and strategies to help you step away from being the default parent and find a healthy balance between your own needs and your responsibilities to your family.

What is Default Parenting Syndrome?

mom feeding baby

It’s a struggle that many parents know all too well – the constant cycle of feeding, diaper changing, cleaning, and keeping up with the daily demands of raising a child. The weight of responsibility can be crushing, especially for the parent who feels like they’re always on duty. That’s where default parenting syndrome (also known as “depleted mother syndrome”) comes in, a term that describes the exhaustion and overwhelm felt by the primary caregiver.

Common Signs of Default Parent Syndrome

Feeling like you’re constantly running on empty and struggling to keep up with your kids? That might just be a case of default parent syndrome. This sneaky culprit can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health, not to mention your relationships with your family.

Keep an eye out for these telltale signs of default parent burnout:

  • Chronic fatigue: you’re constantly tired, even after a whole night’s sleep;
  • Irritability: snapping at your children or partner more often than usual;
  • Lack of motivation: struggling to muster the energy to complete your daily tasks;
  • Difficulty concentrating: hard to focus on anything for an extended period;
  • Physical symptoms: experiencing headaches, stomach aches, and muscle tension;
  • Emotional exhaustion: feeling emotionally drained and unable to cope with daily responsibilities;
  • Decreased productivity: reduced productivity at work or home as you struggle to keep up with your responsibilities;
  • Feelings of isolation: experiencing loneliness, since being a default parent and burnout can exacerbate feelings of isolation;
  • Decreased self-care: finding it challenging to dedicate time and energy to taking care of yourself.

It’s important to look out for these common indicators of default parent syndrome, especially if you’re experiencing an increasing amount of overwhelm and exhaustion. Don’t worry though- awareness is the first step to combating overwhelm!

Recommended post: 24 Inspirational Overwhelmed Mom Quotes

Who is more likely to experience the Default Parent Syndrome?

Being a parent can be a juggling act, but when you’re the default caregiving parent, it’s like adding fire juggling to the mix.

Work, household responsibilities, and childcare can all add up, and sometimes it feels like you’re on the verge of burning out. The Default Parent Syndrome phenomenon affects many parents, but some groups may be more susceptible.

Working Moms vs. Stay-at-Home Moms

As a mom, whether you’re working or staying at home, you’re always running the show. For working moms, it’s a constant juggling act – trying to keep your boss happy while also being the MVP of the family.

But for stay-at-home moms, the weight of responsibility can sometimes feel even heavier. You’re the captain of the ship when it comes to running the household, and that’s no easy feat. To make matters worse, your work is unpaid, so it might sometimes feel like your contributions are less tangible than those of your working spouse.

No matter your situation, the non-stop demands on your time and energy can lead to mommy burnout.

Recommended post: Work Life Balance for Working Moms: The Ultimate Guide

Single Moms vs. Married Moms

Being a single mom comes with its own set of challenges. Without a partner to help with caregiving responsibilities, and without the financial safety net to outsource tasks, life can feel like a never-ending cycle of exhaustion and overwhelm.

And even for married moms, traditional gender roles or societal expectations can mean that they too bear the brunt of parenting duties.

Socioeconomic Factors

Did you know that your financial standing and support system can also play a role in default parent syndrome? Yup, if you don’t have the resources to outsource tasks like cleaning, cooking, or childcare, you might end up bearing the majority of caregiving responsibilities. And to add to this, lack of support systems such as family or friends can compound the already-heavy load of default parenting.

Why are mothers typically the default parent?

old woman washing vegetables

Did you ever wonder why mothers seem to be the default parent in most households? Why the invisible load (the often-unnoticed work you do to manage your household and raise a family) typically falls on mom? It boils down to historical and cultural expectations of gender roles.

For generations, society has expected women to be the ones in charge of caregiving and homemaking, while men are expected to be the breadwinner. Sadly, media portrayals of parenting roles haven’t helped, reinforcing this idea that moms are in charge of the kiddos.

But it’s not just societal pressure that makes mothers the default parent. Economic and work factors play a part too. Many women take on part-time or flexible jobs to balance their caregiving responsibilities, which often leads to even more parenting duties at home. This can also mean less support and resources for moms, which can be a lot to handle.

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help the situation. Before and during the pandemic, family responsibilities fell mostly on women and 1 in 10 women even gained new caregiving responsibilities because of the pandemic.

The time has come to ditch the “default parenting” mentality and embrace a more balanced approach to caring for your little ones. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that one parent is automatically designated as the primary caregiver, but it’s time to recognize that everyone needs a break – including you.

By having an open and honest conversation with your partner about your needs and setting clear boundaries, you can start to chip away at the societal expectations that have held you back.

What challenges can result from parental burnout?

The challenges of parental burnout can be overwhelming. As a parent, you always have to be on your toes, and it’s tough to find a moment of peace. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, the constant demands of caring for your children and household can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

Here are some of the consequences that stem from parental burnout:

  • Decreased Productivity: When burnt out, focusing and being productive can be challenging. This can impact your ability to work, care for your household, and manage your children’s needs.
  • Mental Health Challenges: Parental burnout can lead to mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. These challenges can impact your overall quality of life and your ability to function.
  • Relationship Struggles: Parental burnout can strain relationships with your partner and children. You may find yourself snapping at your loved ones or feeling disconnected from them.
  • Physical Health Challenges: The physical symptoms of parental burnout can impact your overall health and well-being. Chronic stress can lead to a weakened immune system and an increased risk of illness.

Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Everyone in your household loses if mom is not feeling her best. However, if you start to prioritize yourself and set boundaries, you’re setting your whole family up for success.

How do you stop being the default parent?

It’s easy to get caught up in the hamster wheel of parenting, work, and household duties. But what happens when you reach your limits? Parental burnout is a real thing and it can leave you feeling drained, frustrated, and undervalued.

If you’re ready to take control and stop being the default parent, here are some tips to help you get started:

Communicate with your partner

One of the biggest challenges of default parenting is feeling like you’re shouldering most of the responsibility. But often, this is due to a lack of communication with your partner. Talk to them about your feelings and explain why sharing the load more evenly is essential. Set clear expectations and boundaries for your roles and responsibilities, and be open to compromise.

Delegate and outsource tasks

As the default caregiving parent, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing everything yourself. But this only leads to burnout and resentment. Start delegating tasks to other family members, such as your partner or older children. Assign specific responsibilities, such as cooking dinner or laundry, and hold everyone accountable. And finally, hire help if you can afford it so you can alleviate your burden and stop doing tasks you hate.

Recommended post: How Savvy Working Moms Get Help With Household Chores

Prioritize self-care

Parenting can be all-consuming, but taking time for yourself is essential. Prioritize self-care activities that recharge your batteries and help you feel more balanced, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends. I know sometimes mom guilt kicks in here, but you’ll be better equipped to care for your family when you care for yourself.

Build a support network

Parenting is harsh, and you don’t have to do it alone. Build a support network of friends, family members, or other parents who understand what you’re going through. Join a parenting group or online community, or seek professional help.

Be realistic

Finally, it’s essential to be realistic about your expectations. You can’t do everything, and that’s okay. Focus on what’s important and let go of the rest. Remember that parenting is a journey, and there will be ups and downs. But by prioritizing self-care, building a support network, and communicating with your partner, you can take control and stop being the default parent.


As a parent, you know all too well how overwhelming it can be to juggle everything that comes with the job. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or working, it can feel like the weight of carrying the household rests solely on your shoulders. But the good news is, you’re not alone. Default parent syndrome is a super common struggle, and it’s totally normal to feel like you’re at your wit’s end.

However, it’s important to take proactive steps to prevent or alleviate burnout, and that starts with understanding the root causes of your stress. By prioritizing your mental and physical health, delegating responsibilities, and seeking outside support when necessary, you can take back control and feel more in balance.

And most importantly, remember that you are doing an amazing job. Your hard work and dedication don’t go unnoticed, and it’s important to celebrate your wins, no matter how small they may seem. So be kind to yourself, take a breather, and remember that you are worthy of self-care and support.

Ready to break free from the cycle of ‘Default Parent Syndrome’ and regain control of your time and sanity? Dive deeper into effective strategies by downloading our free guide, How to Plan a Stress-Free Week without Burnout, and pave the way for a more balanced and fulfilling life.

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