When it comes to parenting, I’m not the fun one.
Piggy back rides in the pool, fart jokes, and impromptu ice cream stops are my husband’s domain. My parenting specialities are finding lost shoes, lulling overtired ones to sleep, ensuring that there is enough oatmeal, and scheduling check-ups. My non-parenting specialities are cocktail party banter, Billy Madison and Caddyshack quotes, self-deprecating humor, and access to gummy candy. I’m a fun person, I’m just not the fun parent.
Recently, I tried to be fun. I put my son’s underwear on my head to break tension over him getting dressed in the pool locker room. He gave me a look that said, “she’s finally lost it.” It just didn’t fit.
In 2014, Huffington Post published this article, and the term “default parent” was born. If you haven’t read the article, author M.Blanzoned defines the default parent as “the one responsible for the emotional, physical and logistical needs of the children.” This is the parent that the child looks to whenever she/he needs…basically anything. Example: Child walks by the non-default parent standing in kitchen to ask default parent (who is in the bathroom) to make them a snack. I am not the fun parent, but you bet I’m the default parent.
In most families I know, the default Fun One is not the Default Parent. It seems like there is too much for the default parent to do to be the Fun One on top of it. When I discussed this post with the Fun One in my house, my husband argued that the divide comes down to my role as a SAHM whereas he works FT outside the house. M.Blazoned discusses this in her article, but like her, I pointed out that my husband and I both worked outside the home when we had only one child, and I still was the default parent. He agreed. I understand being the default parent because I’m home right now, but it isn’t exactly fun. It’s clear that when the parenting roles were doled out, I didn’t draw the fun swirly straw. I got the classic striped straw with the practical, but sort-of-fun, bendy top.
So what I’m wondering is-can you be the Default Parent AND the Fun One?
I’m not sure.
What I am sure of is that not being the Fun One, doesn’t make me “unfun” or mean. And, it makes me really important.
My 4-year-old son calls me mean at least 9 times a day. I wouldn’t buy him gummy bears, so I’m mean. I said no to the extra TV show-mean. I locked myself in my room when I needed a breather from my kids-mean. I served (gasp!) chicken for dinner-so mean! When his twin sister and my 6-year-old on also grabbed hold of the “Mommy is mean banner,” it got to me. It felt like in our kids eyes’ Daddy=fun, and Mommy=not fun.
I almost became a victim of labelling theory until I realized that’s actually not how my kids typecast us at all. Daddy certainly =fun, but Mommy= loving, compassionate, emotional support. Daddy is a superstar in that department, but in our current parenting setup, emotional support falls on me. And that is actually a very powerful thing. Being the Fun one is important, too it’s just not my job.
When I think of my own parents I realize my mother wasn’t necessarily THE fun one despite being a fun person. She did fun things with us, but my dad had a monopoly on goofiness and over-the top-ness. My mom was the default parent (my parents both worked outside the home), and she was the one responsible for our emotional well-being. My father was, and continues to be loving, but when roles were decided, he got the (very stylish) clown shoes.
My mom was never defined by not being the Fun One. This didn’t even occurred to me because she had a completely different role, one she did better than anyone I know. Default parent wise, we were late to everything (logistics). She cared for my siblings and I in a way that only a mom who is also a RN can (physical). Her default parent super strength was (and is) emotional support. I think all my childhood friends would agree that my mother showed love to every person who has ever entered her door. And there were many times when that felt just as important as being Fun.
I can put the underwear on your head, but it might not fit. My husband can try to put an overtired 4-year-old to bed, but I know I’ll be the one to eventually do it.
Sometimes you need a person to make you laugh, and sometimes you just need a hug and a reminder that it’s going to be ok. My kids are pretty lucky to have parents who understand specialization of labor.