This is a concept I’ve struggled to put into words for a while. It’s something I see repeated over and over and over in motherhood spaces: ‘our relationship seemed very equal, he’s a great guy, but then when the baby came, I suddenly became the default parent?! I’m the person who gets up, does the feedings, manages the doctors visits, changes the diapers, researches the best practices… what HAPPENED?’

Well, this happens.*

(*if it didn’t happen to you, it probably didn’t happen because you purposefully stopped it from happening – yay, you! But the dynamic, the uneven experience of parenthood, is still widely experienced, ya dig?)

Y’see, when you get pregnant, you suddenly have to confront how every action could have dire consequences – up to and including the death of both you and you unborn child. Everyone’s REAL keen to tell you all about it – heck, I didn’t even include the unsubstantiated ‘advice’ I got about caffeine, cats, dogs, cars, hair dye, nail polish… you get the point. All of a sudden, you have a million new restrictions on your behavior.

This changes a person. A pregnant person has nine-ish months to really ruminate on how, through their inaction or inaction, their child could die. It gets deep, deep in your brain, often all gnarled up with peripartum anxiety/depression. And then the baby’s here, and…

…and the other parent (usually a father, which adds a bonus layer of ‘men are generally less socialized to take on responsibility for small children’) has to realize that you are now both on deck. Not ‘if I don’t get up, she’ll get it eventually’, not ‘well they’re better at it than me’, and not ‘well, she’s breastfeeding/staying at home, so she takes care of it’. That both of you are the last line of defense, not just the pregnant one.

What I see people struggle with, the same story over and over, is that new mothers are already primed to take it on themselves to be the last stop between here and tragedy, and new fathers subconsciously consider themselves… well, the second-to-last stop.

And because new parenthood is grueling, this gulf that seems small in the beginning entrenches itself as men go back to work, and women go to ‘mommy and me’ classes. Men get raises, women plan playdates. And on. And on. It’s maddening to see the gender roles I’ve so fought in my life cinch around me, despite our best intentions, because the inequality of this experience starts early and grows fast.

Again, if this wasn’t your experience, rock on. But all it takes is a shallow perusal of a parenting subreddit to see that this plays. out. all. the. time. It takes WORK to subvert this expectation and keep it from happening – it takes work just to notice it at all!