An article caught my eye this week. The first line asked “Are you the default parent?”, followed by “If you have to think about it, you’re not. You’d know. Trust me.” It gave a humorous and somewhat bleak account of all the things you scope, think about and are responsible for if you are the default parent.
There were definitely parts I nodded furiously and laughed out loud at, but I also realised there are times when I’m not the default parent.
Like first thing in the morning for example. If my daughter wakes up before I do (which she often does) Daddy is her go-to person. Because he’s the morning person, and is often awake or ready to wake when she comes in, and she’s learned that he’s far more likely to respond to her requests for breakfast or to fix the TV, than mummy’s slow and groggy “in a minute” “not now” and “go back to bed”s.
Equally, I am not the parent who multitasks in the shower. I blatantly ignore my kids and they’ve learned that they won’t get a sensible response out of mummy until she’s out of the shower.
Kids will go to the person they’re most likely to get a favourable response from. Daddy is the default hot chocolate maker and sweets dispenser. Daddy is the one who does the funny voices with bedtime stories.
But I am the default spider catcher, the default clothes drawer sorter, the default “make me feel better” parent and definitely the person responsible for figuring out what’s for tea.
What are you the default go-to person for – at work or at home? Here are some common examples:
The default oracle The one who knows everything and everyone. The one people come to before they ask Google, Wiki, the Intranet or the person who’s actually responsible for answering that question.
The default fixer The natural problem solver who’s the first port of call when the stuff hits the fan. The one who gets asked “could you take a look at this” even when it’s completely outside their area.
The default organiser The one who takes the drinks order when you all rock up at a cafe, and has probably phoned ahead, booked the table in the corner and checked if there’s soya milk for the dairy intolerant person. The one everyone else turns to and asks “What’s the plan?”
The default decision maker The one who gets copied in on emails with “What do you think?” and invited to meetings “because we value your opinion”.
The default emergency hero The one who you can always get hold of at the last minute, who you can rely upon to jump into action at the drop of the hat.
The default counsellor The first person people turn to when they need a shoulder to cry on or a sounding board to rant at. The one who knows about all the make ups and break ups in the office, the hospital visits and whose kids are teething.
The default perfecter One person I worked with recently said that her perfectionism became so well known within her team, that someone she delegated to actually delivered the piece of work to her with the words: “it’s not quite there yet but I know you’ll check it through and make it right.”
We choose our defaults, however much it feels the other way. Sometimes deliberately, because actually we quite like being that person (I’m really not that scared of spiders, and I do enjoy cooking). Sometime because we made a decision once upon a time, when it made perfect sense, and haven’t questioned it since. And others, well we just kind of fell into the habit.
It’s good to revisit our defaults from time to time, and to ask how well they’re working for us. For example, now that I’m the one bringing home the bacon, should I be the default one to cook it too? The truth is, I enjoy cooking, so unless I physically can’t be there to do it, I tend to assume the responsibility. But if I’m starting to resent that, I need to be the one to change it.
How do you stop being the default person – if you choose to?
1. Make yourself less available
People will always default to the quickest or easiest route, so making it harder to find it from you can make all the other options much more attractive.
Delay responding, be less accommodating, say no from time to time. Point them in the right direction even if it takes just as much time as giving them the answer or doing it for them. Give them an incentive to go find the answer by a different means.
2. Hand over the responsibility
I have a horrible habit of being indecisive, and sometimes I’m guilty of asking others for their opinion, just to check, and essentially to make my decision for me.
Chief Ninja Graham has pulled me up on this before and asked “why did you need to check with me?” Other times he’s turned around and told me “you decide, I trust you.” Yes, in the same amount of time he could have made the decision for me, but this way he’s training me to let go of using him as my crutch and get used to making my own decisions.
3. Accept it takes time to learn
My husband’s a great cook, but he hasn’t been the one to make sure dinner’s on the table day in, day out for the last 12 years. So it’s going to take him time to learn, to get used to it. And he probably won’t do it the same way I did. He’ll need to figure out his own way of doing things and I need to let him. That’s my learning curve too.
4. Let it go
As well as letting go of control, I also need to let go of being the default person. There’s a part of me that likes being the default person – being wanted and in demand. If I’m honest that’s probably the hardest part to let go of – my ego.
Over to you.
What defaults do you want to change? What are you going to do about it? Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know.