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12 Reasons Moms Are Burning Out as the “Default” Parent

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Moms are often the go-to parents for everything related to parenting. Do you always find yourself chosen to discipline, dry little and big tears off the little eyes and manage the kids’ daily lives even without a calendar? Does the school call only you when they need to communicate something about your child’s school progress? You’re the default parent.

Psychology Today defines a default parent as being “first in line” for children’s tasks and responsibilities. Being the default parent is exhausting. As much as mothers love their children and would do everything for their children, this role can lead to significant stress and burnout, especially since a lot of it is behind the scenes.

This article examines the primary causes of parental burnout among mothers and provides practical solutions to help manage or even prevent burnout.

1. Unrealistic Parenting Expectations

overwhelmed mom with a baby and laundry basket
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Many moms feel the pressure to be perfect—to have the cleanest home, the best-behaved kids, and a flawless daily routine. These unrealistic expectations can be overwhelming and unattainable.

Set realistic expectations for yourself and your family. Understand that perfection is not achievable, and having off days is okay. Celebrate small victories and give yourself grace.

2. Lack of Support

tired mom on white bed with baby
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Moms are doing the most, if not all, of the childcare responsibilities. This lack of support can lead to feelings of isolation and exhaustion. It’s essential to have a support system in place, whether it’s your partner, family, or friends.

Reach out for help when needed, and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Communicate openly with your partner, family, and friends about your needs and ask for support when necessary. Building a supportive network can make a world of difference.

3. Lack of Self-Care

Tired mother fell asleep after reading fairy tale story book to her baby
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Most moms have time for everything and everyone except themselves. They frequently place their needs last and focus solely on their children’s well-being, which is their default setting. This neglect of self-care can quickly lead to burnout.

It’s not selfish to prioritize self-care activities that recharge you, even if it means taking small breaks throughout the day. Exercise, creative outlets, and meditation are excellent ways to nurture yourself.

4. The Perception of Insufficient Time

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As a mom, does it feel like 24 hours barely scratch the surface of the things you need to do? The average day can be a whirlwind of activities, from school runs to meal prep, leaving little time to breathe, let alone accomplish everything. By the time the day ends, the default parent is exhausted, and they’ll need to wake up and do it all over again.

Practice time management and focus on what truly matters. Let go of non-essential tasks or seek help from professionals or support groups. Some balls are definitely going to fall; it’s OK to let the not-so-important ones slip to prevent burnout.

5. Gender Norms

Thinking mom holding her baby at home
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Traditional gender roles can place the bulk of parenting responsibilities on moms, reinforcing the idea that they should handle everything related to the children. This expectation can lead to added stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Challenge traditional gender norms and encourage equal division of childcare responsibilities with your partner. Work together as a team, communicate openly, and share the load to prevent burnout.

6. Societal Expectations

Shocked mom with her baby in kitchen at home
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Society often imposes high standards on moms, adding to the pressure to be “more”—more nurturing, more present, more perfect. Most expect moms to be the default parents, even if the family dynamics dictate otherwise.

Trying to live up to societal standards is exhausting. Set boundaries with work, social commitments, and household responsibilities to protect your well-being and family time. Plus, do yourself a favor and stay off social media. Focus on what genuinely matters to you and your family, and let go of societal judgments.

7. Mental Load

tired mom cleaning a mess with toddler and baby meditation
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The mental load refers to the invisible and often unacknowledged planning and organizing that goes into managing a household and family. “Mom, what’s for dinner?” “Mom, what shall I wear?” “Mom, what shall we do for the crazy hair day at school?” The questions are endless, and this cognitive labor can be draining, as moms are constantly thinking ahead and anticipating needs.

To lighten the mental load, share the planning and decision-making responsibilities with your partner. Use tools such as shared calendars and apps to distribute tasks evenly, making it a team effort.

8. Emotional Labor

tired mom with baby legos duplo blocks
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Emotional labor involves managing your own emotions while also tending to the emotional needs of others, a duty that often falls disproportionately on moms. This can result in emotional exhaustion over time.

Acknowledge the emotional labor you perform and seek balance by sharing these responsibilities. Encourage open emotional expression within your family and practice self-compassion to safeguard your emotional health.

9. Financial Pressure

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Moms who are responsible for managing family finances often face the stress of budgeting, saving, and ensuring financial stability. This can add a significant layer of pressure. It is worse if the mathematics doesn’t add up and the budget always goes unmet.

While you understand why you can’t have Ice cream Sunday every Sunday, the others may not. Discuss financial goals and pressures openly with your partner to ensure that financial responsibilities are shared and manageable.

10. Lack of Personal Space

frustrated woman mom with a little girl
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Which mom hasn’t gone for a bathroom break in the full audience of a couple of little eyes watching and little hands waiting? Moms often struggle to find personal space, both physically and mentally. The constant presence of children and the demands of parenting can make it difficult to carve out moments just for oneself.

Designate a personal space or time in your home where you can recharge. Even small daily rituals, like a quiet cup of tea, can provide much-needed personal space and help mitigate burnout.

11. Work-Life Balance

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Balancing a career with the demands of being the default parent can be incredibly challenging. Many moms find themselves juggling work responsibilities while managing household tasks and childcare.

Strive for a healthy work-life balance by setting boundaries with your work and allocating dedicated family time. Discuss flexible working arrangements with your employer, if possible, and prioritize self-care and downtime.

12. Guilt and Self-Blame

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Mom guilt is the one universal feeling faced by almost all moms. Many experience guilt and self-blame for not being able to meet their own or others’ expectations. This constant self-criticism can exacerbate feelings of burnout.

Cleveland Clinic suggests taking care of yourself and even seeking help and support to deal with mom guilt. Challenge negative self-talk and be kind to yourself. Recognize that being a good parent doesn’t mean being perfect. Celebrate your achievements, however small, and remind yourself that it’s okay to ask for and accept help.


20 Strong Words Parents Should Never Say to Their Kids

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Countless adults sitting in a therapist’s office today are grappling with the lasting impact of words spoken by their parents during childhood. Regardless of how you perceive yourself, in your child’s eyes, you are nothing short of the most remarkable thing to happen to them since “skip intro.” This underscores the critical importance of being mindful of what you say to your children, as your words become the small but influential voice in their developing minds.

20 Strong Words Parents Should Never Say to Their Kids

16 Common Phrases Grandparents Should Stop Saying to Their Grandkids

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Do you still remember something your grandparents said that made you uncomfortable? As much as we adore our grandparents, their words (even with good intentions) can sometimes hurt our feelings or are plain embarrassing.

If you are a grandparent, using your words mindfully around your grandkids is as crucial as any other relationship. Words hold immense power and shape our kids’ behaviors and perceptions. 

16 Common Phrases Grandparents Should Stop Saying to Their Grandkids

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