My First Week Back Solo Parenting (& Being The Default Parent)
I have been a work-from-home boss for as long as I can remember. I took on the added challenge of a baby in 2019, the worldly turmoil swept the little control I had from me in early 2020, I had a second baby in 2021, and now in 2022 my husband just started back at work after the end of his parental leave for our second child and I am back solo parenting while running two businesses from home. All without childcare. And let me be the first to say that I CANNOT DO IT ALL and it is extremely unfair to expect anyone to do so.
My husband is gone for 12 hours a day, during the sleeping hours, so our family has a later dinner in order for him to be able to actually see the toddler before her 8PM bedtime. Yet, somehow she still wakes shortly after 6AM most days. Ugh! (at least she still naps every day!).
This means that my average day now looks a little something like this (approximate times, which are known to shift slightly daily):
- 6:30AM – husband brings me the fresh-diapered hungry baby to feed (and then leaves for work).
- I breastfeed the baby.
- 7:30AM – I burp the baby and attempt to put them down for a nap (extend the night sleep to 9AM)—fails most days so it usually just gives me the 10-15 minutes I need to pee and tend to the toddler.
- I change the toddler diaper (she has reverted from pullups, great!) and get her to the kitchen.
- I prepare the toddler breakfast and make myself a coffee.
- I tend to the newborn while the toddler eats, and munch on something myself if I was lucky enough for the baby to actually go down smoothly for that nap.
- 9:00AM – I clean up the toddler after breakfast and head to my office where I hope to get an hour of work done while the toddler watches a couple of episodes of cartoons (and HOPE the newborn is still napping or lays calmly in the bassinette or recliner and “plays”).
- 10:00AM – We all head up to the playroom, attempting to help the toddler pee on the toilet along the way, and I feed the baby while she plays and hope to be able to put the baby down for a nap (ends up being in my arms most days after a failed transfer).
- 12:00PM – We all head to the kitchen for lunch once baby wakes up. I hope the baby lays calmly in the basinette while I prepare lunch for the toddler, and feed the baby while she eats.
- 1:00PM – I clean up the toddler after lunch, attempt to get a pee on the toilet (a HUGE task these days by the way so please share your advice!), help her brush her teeth, and send her to her bedroom to get ready for nap (aka prepare pyjamas and a book to read, which usually gets interpreted as “do nothing and then whine when mama helps”, ugh) while I attempt to put the newborn down for a nap (which usually results in the 10 minutes I need to get the toddler changed and sung to in her crib before he starts fussing again).
- 1:30PM – On the rare occurrence that they are both napping I actually get to eat lunch and pee alone (mom goals!), but often it is while baby hopefully lounges next to me.
- 2:00PM – I work in my office until the toddler naps. This often looks like me at my desk holding the baby for half the time (soothing, feeding, burping) and fingers crossed I can lay him down for a little bit and actually get some typing, video recording, or photo-taking done before the next round of hand-heldness (because it results in sleep, fingers crossed).
- 3:30PM – I tend to the toddler post-nap (wrangle for a toilet sit, new diaper, and change outfit inevitably covered in pee—did I mention I hate this stage!!).
- 4:00PM – We head to the playroom. Toddler cleans up her toys from the morning play and inevitably ends up taking 30-60 minutes because she plays with them, while I feed the baby. Toddler gets to watch a few episodes of her cartoons, I play with the baby (tummy time, books, etc.) until the next round of feed-burp-sleep.
- 6:30PM – My husband gets home and takes the toddler to the kitchen to help him cook dinner while I continue to care for the baby (either watching an episode or two of MY show or attempting to get some retouching work done at my desk since it is doable with one hand—thank you tablet!).
- 7:30PM – We eat. Many times, my husband will bring me food to eat in the tv room (same as playroom) and do dinner and bedtime with the toddler (or we swap if the baby is being particularly fussy but is fed).
- 9:00PM – My husband comes to retrieve the sleeping baby (after he has completed his chores) and I can choose to go to bed, work at my desk, stay snuggled up alone on the couch, or do some household chores. Most days it is sleep or alone time. (my husband currently feeds the baby bottles overnight)
Even if you didn’t read most of that, you get the point that I am alone with the kids all day, and barely have time to do my job, let alone any housework or time for myself. Now imagine doing all of that without being able to put the baby down at all without it resulting in projectile spit-up, a full wardrobe change for you and the baby, and not being able to sleep for more than 4 hours cumulatively during the night. That was me.
That first-month postpartum my husband was working RETAIL DURING A PANDEMIC (he got one week before going back, which had to be taken as vacation!) so I was a complete mess and emotionally burdened with a major case of resentment towards them all, on top of the sheer paranoia, plus the anxiety I already live with on a daily basis. At least he was able to take a month off thereafter as parental leave, but that came to an end last week and I was thrown back into solo-parenting and all the emotions that come with it.
Domestic labour is a shit tonne of work and I literally do not have the time or energy for it, so it doesn’t get done unless I sacrifice sleep. The same goes for alone time; other than the days when my husband is home and takes both kids (and I don’t have a client booked), I don’t get any. BUT we also need to take a moment and acknowledge that the same goes for him these days: when he is home, he is either doing his assigned must-get-done tasks or taking care of the kids so that I can do mine. Or napping. We both take the opportunity to sleep a little extra on his days off from the day job because it is necessary. Because we are equals in this partnership, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves…
We may both mentally try to be equals, but I am the default parent—he works outside the home so has the luxury of being able to “clock out” of parenting—which means I am the one stuck with the mental load of running the household 24/7 (I literally think about it in my sleep, or rather when I should be sleeping). Things like family appointments, paying bills (yes, financially too!), arranging activities and play dates, renewing memberships (groceries, library, etc.), buying ALL of the kid things unless I ask that he picks them up at the store when he does the shopping, and so much more.
But the WORST part of being the default parent is that if something falls through with childcare or if my husband needs to work an extra day, MY plans are almost always the ones that get canceled so that I can care for them. And it’s certainly not about the money because if we are being truly honest, I absolutely bring in more than my husband on that one day and my reputation absolutely takes a bigger hit as a small business owner (versus his salaried position that includes paid family leave and sick days). Did I mention that I am also solely responsible for the cost of daycare because I could be staying home with them and am choosing to work instead? Default parent burden. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying these things to throw my husband under the bus, but to highlight the unspoken burden of being the default parent. It was ASSUMED that all of this was my responsibility as a woman (because the household was my task long before we had children) simply because I worked from home and I had already been doing it all for my own apartment before it was ours. However, to leave out the fact that my husband now pays the mortgage while I cover everything else would be a lie by omission, and a disservice to the argument that is COMMUNICATION IS KEY.
We have spoken about the responsibilities, and on a handful of occasions my husband DID offer wholeheartedly to be the default parent while I go back to work (I had an office job at the time), and we decided as a partnership that my business income wasn’t reliable enough to support the household (seasonal services plus the ebb and flow of entrepreneurship was too stressful for everyone if only one salary was coming in). Plus the fact that he sucks at managing the household paperwork (and it was ruining our marriage for me to constantly mother him to do it so we found a way to avoid it). And we have a follow-up chat a few times a year to make sure it is still working for us.
All to say my week has been HEAVY on my mind and as exhausting mentally as it has been physically, and I look forward to the day when I can once again nap when the kids nap, work whenever I want while my husband works, AND still have time to grow our marriage. I know how strong I am, I know how capable I am, but I also know my limits. My defeatedness is real & valid, and I should not have to be able to “do it all” or be considered a failure. AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU!