The Default Parent Syndrome: More Than Just a TikTok Trend – Psychology Today

Our conversations are sprinkled with slips, pauses, lies, and clues to our inner world. Here’s what we reveal when we speak, whether we mean to or not.
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Posted November 14, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
The other day, I was scrolling on TikTok when I stumbled upon a video where a woman was describing a phenomenon that she referred to as “The Default Parent Syndrome.” I found the concept fascinating and started to talk more about the Default Parent Syndrome on my own social media.
It quickly became apparent to me that the Default Parent Syndrome was more than just a TikTok trend and rather an actual experience that was eating away at the well-being and mental health of millions of mothers every single day.
A default parent is typically one who is “first in line” when it comes to caring for children, child-related responsibilities, or home-related tasks. Assuming that there are two parents present, the default parent is more likely to carry the bigger load in parenting.
When we place both of these concepts together, we can see how the Default Parent Syndrome is more than just an individual problem; rather, it is a systemic and collective experience in which there is a bias toward women and mothers in providing primary care for parenting and home-related tasks. This bias is largely the product of decades of patriarchal cultural history that has continued to evolve in various ways throughout our time.
What is most interesting is that today, many women and mothers who struggle with the Default Parent Syndrome will acknowledge that their male partners are “engaged” within the home, “excellent fathers,” and also very supportive; however, these same women continue to report feeling burdened and overwhelmed by the default parent role.
So there is still something happening that is not allowing us as a society to completely dismantle the Default Parent Syndrome despite how much the role of “father” has evolved within traditional heteronormative partnerships.
In my work with women and mothers, I’ve noticed that there are certain qualities, characteristics, and circumstances that may place someone more at-risk for experiencing the Default Parent Syndrome. These include:
For the default parent specifically, four extremely common consequences include:
Many don’t consider that there are also negative consequences for other members of the family who are not the identified “default parent.” For instance, the “non-default parent” may experience:
Similarly, the children who live within a system where the Default Parent Syndrome exists likely will experience:
Dismantling the Default Parent Syndrome requires intention, commitment, patience, and cooperation between all members of the family. Here are five steps to begin doing so with your partner.
Best of luck!
Amber Thornton, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, Motherhood Wellness Consultant, and founder of Balanced Working Mama.
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Our conversations are sprinkled with slips, pauses, lies, and clues to our inner world. Here’s what we reveal when we speak, whether we mean to or not.


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