Can Being a Working Mom Cost You Your Role as the “Default Parent?”

One mom gets candid about the cost she feels she had to pay for being a working mom—one she worries lost her the role of her son’s favorite parent.
Dega and Dash

I am what many would call blessed. I have a husband, Greg, who is a true partner in raising our three-year-old son Dash, as well as with household tasks such as cooking, food shopping and cleaning. We have a truly modern marriage where neither of us conforms to gender stereotypes and I have been able to achieve my goal of becoming a mom while still maintaining my career, identity, friendships and sanity. 

We also work together, which, in many marriages and partnerships may complicate things. Luckily, we’ve always found a way to make it work—both our work life and marriage. As entrepreneurs, our work is a bit more complicated and, at some times, demanding than, say, the typical 9-5. For starters, we had no “paid maternity or paternity leave,” so Greg ended up spending a few more hours per day with our son while I honed in more on teh business aspect of things. Again, a dream come true to have a hands-on, nurturing partner who I fully trusted to care for our son while I maintained my career as a mom. 

This would not have been possible without my husband functioning as a primary caregiver whenever needed.

Adjusting to new parenthood together

It started early. I ended up needing to have a C-section during the birth of my son, so Greg helped a lot in the beginning while I was recovering from surgery. Then, due to spending a week in the NICU which involved some bottle feeding, our son wouldn’t latch for breastfeeding, so for his first year of life I would pump and my husband and I would switch off bottle-feeding him, especially if I was sleeping (so incredibly helpful). 

We definitely did not decide for Greg to be the primary caregiver. There was no discussion over who would take on more of the parenting reigns or who would tend more to my son’s needs. My son just straight-up wanted his daddy all the time from the get-go. 

In the work realm, neither of us truly took off and then returned to business; we just did the best that we could to clear everything unnecessary from work calendars and asked a bit more from our staff, switching on and off with our son whenever needed. When you have two huge priorities in your life (raising your child and growing a business) you really can tag team, but when you both need to work, and after a while both want to socialize again, you need to hire help. Full stop. 

So after I recovered from my C-section, we got some part time help from so we could both get back to work more, and then got a full-time nanny once Dash turned six months old. We got an office literally across the street from our apartment building so that I could be in and out to pump and that we could both see him throughout the day whenever we wanted. I pumped at home for 10 months while working. While I truly had no real maternity leave, I was lucky to have the flexibility to work when I needed to and be with my son when I needed to as well. 

Losing my edge over being the default parent

I very quickly realized that there seemed to be an unintended consequence to being a working mom in my case—especially working a little bit more than my husband. Somewhere around the age of 18 months, I realized that my husband was my son’s preferred or “default” parent. When my son is distressed or something goes wrong, he goes straight to Daddy or asks for him. Most of the time, if I’m being honest, he is straight up daddy obsessed

To be fair, this is not necessarily because of anything I did. Some articles and anecdotes suggest the “preferred” parent in some households may be the one who is around less because the child simply missed them, so who winds up being the favorite can be a bit random regardless of the scenario. I’ve also read that, as hard as it is, we as parents should try not to take our toddler’s behavior personally—their prefrontal cortex is still extremely underdeveloped, after all. 

Despite all of that, for longer than I’d like to admit, I was crushed that our son preferred his dad over me. Cue the unwelcomed negative thought spiral. Was it because I couldn’t breastfeed? Was it because I had to work? Is my husband a better parent than me? 

I guess I had always assumed that the mother would automatically be “the primary” no matter what, which raised the question for me: If you are a working mom, do you need to accept that this might not be you? 

To help me process these feelings of inadequacy, I spoke to both a child psychologist and my own therapist and the consensus seems to be that it’s normal for there to be a primary or preferred parent for a toddler, and it’s a phase that is not a result of anything we ‘“do” per se. In fact, it may even change over time. But, despite what child psychologists may say, I couldn’t help but feel regret or sadness in some way—even if these feelings were unwarranted. 

When I imagined being a mom, I never envisioned myself in a secondary role. But, if I am really as progressive as I claim to be, truth be told that might not be a fair assumption. In some families, it needs to be ok for the dad to play the role that has traditionally been “the mom.”

In his third year of life, things have gotten much better. As one attempted solution, at least one night per week I ask my husband to take some private time to himself so I can have one-on-one bonding time with our son. 

Without my husband around, our son has been much more engaged and loving with me, and that seems to carry over into our family time. Whether or not this changes anything, I figured it’s a nice time for us to spend together anyways. 

My advice to other moms in the throes of worrying that they’re not their child’s preferred parent:

  1. Don’t take it personally or think it’s because you did anything wrong
  2. Understand it’s a phase—and the tables may turn! 
  3. Find some 1×1 bonding activities to do with your kiddo / “special time” without your significant other

At the end of the day, I am thankful for many aspects of our family dynamic, and have worked with my own therapist to gain acceptance over toddler behavior I cannot control.


  • Degelis Pilla

    Degelis Pilla is an investor, entrepreneur and cannabis industry enthusiast. She is the Founder of TribeTokes and was previously an executive at Instafluence, an analyst at Sands Capital covering nearly $2 billion in global retail sector investments and an investment banking analyst at J.P. Morgan. She's a proud mom to three-year-old Dash, soon-to-be mom of two and is based in New York City.

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