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This article was written by Kristen N. Hubbard.

What are Default Parents?

Default parents are those parents who do most of the day to day work of child rearing. This might happen consciously or unconsciously. In heterosexual relationships, women often become the default parent, because working or not, they are still being tasked with the majority of the housework and childcare. Unrealistic expectations regarding what moms should be capable of, whether they are stay-at-home or working, make them vulnerable to burnout. And contrary to popular belief, fathers who are default parents are also at risk for burnout, as well as workplace stigma. Default parents often need help, but fear makes them reluctant to ask for it.     

But what happens when both parts of a couple identify as women, or if both partners identify as men? The work is usually divided evenly, but not always. It’s rare for someone to become a default parent in a same sex relationship. But if it someone does become a default parent in a same sex relationship, it can be especially stressful. The stress of being primary caregiver is made worse by what the American Psychological Association calls minority stress. Minority stress is the chronic stress experienced by groups of stigmatized people which is over and above the typical stress experienced by non-stigmatized people. 

LGBT+ Default Parents

The situation LGBT+ people face can make it even harder for a default parent in a same sex relationship to ask for help. Lack of protective policies increase rates of depression amongst LGBT+ adults and depression can wreak havoc on a relationship. When they’re present, depictions of same sex couples in advertising, t.v. shows or social media, might be unrealistic or misleading. Parents in same sex relationships are under increased scrutiny and face higher pressure to be “perfect”. Default parents in same sex relationships might need more help because of such discrimination. The question then is how do they get that help, especially from a spouse?     

Default Parents, Abandon Unrealistic Expectations

For starters, the default parent in a same sex relationship needs to do away with unrealistic expectations. Psych Central interviewed clinical psychologists Miranda Morris Ph.D and Selena C. Snow Ph.D, about unrealistic expectations. According to Dr. Snow, “Unrealistic expectations are potentially damaging because they set us and others up for failure.” When people don’t live up to their unrealistic expectations, they draw false conclusions about themselves, react in a negative manner and make negative decisions. 

But How Do You Do It?

In order to get rid of unrealistic expectations, Morris suggests keeping a list of all the unrealistic expectations someone might have in any given week and making a game out of catching them in action. Observing how often they occur will allow the default parent to better understand how hard they were being on themselves when they formed said expectation. Snow suggests using the double standard technique, because most people would not berate their loved ones if they failed to meet an unrealistic expectation. Instead, they would probably show them compassion and tell them something along the lines of ‘everyone makes mistakes.’ If a default parent applied this same standard to themselves, it would be easier for them to recognize how unfairly they are treating themselves.

Default Parents and Fear

But even when a default parent has recognized that their expectations were unrealistic, fear may still keep them from asking for help. Default parents asking for help might fear rejection. Default parents might fear embarrassment. Maybe they fear the feeling of failing to solve the issue alone. And there is no shortage of fear available to a parent in a same sex relationship, because society can be openly hostile to LGBT+ people. People in same sex relationships have to be selective about who they confide in. But as difficult as it is, putting aside fear long enough to ask for help starts with LGBT+ default parents recognizing that people are often more willing to help than they might initially think. 

People Usually Want To Help

A study conducted by Stanford University in 2008, found that people frequently underestimate the willingness of other people to help them. The study involved participants asking for favors and estimating how many people they thought they would have to ask before someone would help. Results demonstrated that people were overestimating the number of people they would need to ask by at least 50%. A default parent in a same sex relationship can’t trust everyone with their marital problems. However, seeking out those individuals they trust, whether that be friends, an accepting family member or even their spouse, comes greatly in handy. Aside from finding someone trustworthy, perhaps the biggest obstacle to getting help is how to ask.           

Actually Getting Help

This is where negotiation comes in. Negotiating how to get help for things like household chores and tasks at work has already been touched upon in a previous article. However, to get a better idea of how to actually get help, especially from a spouse, a better source might be Margarita Tartokavsky’s article, “How to Ask Your Spouse for Support—Without Sounding Like a Nag or Critic”. Tartakovsky interviews psychotherapists and relationship counsellors about how to ask for help and actually get it. 

Be Clear And Concise

The first round of advice comes from clinical relationship counsellor Clinton Power and psychotherapist Mara Hirschfield. Hirschfield says that the person seeking support should first identify their need and why they need it. The more clearly they communicate what they need, the better the chance that they will get it. Power suggests methods that the person seeking support can use to identify their wants and needs. They should think about moments when they feel loved and supported by their partner. Then they should think of when they feel abandoned and saddened by them. Focusing on what their partner is doing in those moments will help the default parent identify what they need.  

Own Your Feelings

Next, Hirschfield suggests speaking from a place of vulnerability, as this is more likely to garner empathy. Catherine O’Brien LMFT suggests using “I” statements when speaking in this structure. According to John A Johnson, Ph.D., “I” statements help a message be better received by displaying a willingness on the part of the speaker to take accountability for their actions and feelings. 

Remember That Your Partner Is Your Friend

In the next round of advice, Power suggests using a soft opening. Non verbal behavior is key. Issues are more likely to be solved when raised in a friendly manner. It’s especially important to use loving touches and a gentle tone if the support seeker has “nagged” before. Next, Power advises setting clear boundaries with consequences. It might be that even after all this, the support seeker’s spouse still won’t act. In that case the support seeker should explain what they can and cannot do as a result of that inaction. 

Communication and Counseling

The last round of advice comes from O’Brien. She suggests regular check-ins to make sure that both spouses have opportunities to spell out what they need. O’Brien goes on to advise support seekers to recognize and validate whatever help a spouse offers. Lastly, O’Brien reminds everyone that therapy is a good place for couples to work through their struggles. A same sex couple where one or both spouses are dealing with depression might necessitate counseling. Luckily there are tools provided for finding LGBT+ affirming therapists.         

Too Much Happening To Go It Alone

Saying that a default parent in a same sex relationship goes through a lot is an understatement. They have to deal with minority stress, discrimination and unrealistic expectations on top of being the primary caregiver. But that is exactly why a default parent in a same sex relationship should reach out when they feel overwhelmed. Children and parents alike have the potential to benefit when a family member’s mental health improves. And LGBT+ people deal with enough issues without the burden of being a primary caregiver. 

Hopefully you enjoyed this article about how same sex default parents can get help.