Defining the role of Lead Parent


Anne-Marie Slaughter’s husband wrote a great article about how he put his wife’s career first. He has a career, yet he takes the role of “lead parent”, a better term than the one I usually hear: “primary caregiver”.  I’ve read many similar articles, and the statistics and anecdotes in all of them are dismaying. This one was no different. But one thing I liked was how the author described his role and responsibilities, giving concrete examples.

Lead parenting is being on the front lines of everyday life. In my years as lead parent, I have gotten the kids out of the house in the morning; enforced bedtimes at night; monitored computer and TV use; attempted to ensure that homework got done right; encouraged involvement in sports and music; attended the baseball games, piano lessons, plays, and concerts that resulted; and kept tabs on social lives. To this day, I am listed first on emergency forms; I am the parent who drops everything in the event of a crisis.

Other things not included here would be: being responsible for buying, preparing and serving food and cleaning up after meals, while encouraging healthy eating and monitoring general health of the children. And beyond the parenting role, but intrinsic to the role nonetheless: being responsible for the house or apartment and its cleaning and maintenance. And likely also the car, as it is needed for shuttling kids to and from activities, grocery shopping and errands.

I was also moved by the implication in his last paragraph that so many men are missing something deep and meaningful in their lives:

At the end of life, we know that a top regret of most men is that they did not lead the caring and connected life they wanted, but rather the career-oriented life that was expected of them. I will not have that regret.

Photo via Flickr.

Author: Caterina Fake

Literature, Art, Poetry, Homeschooling Mother. Founder & CEO, Findery. Co-founder, Flickr & Hunch.

20 thoughts on “Defining the role of Lead Parent”

  1. This is a very interesting article. i have never really thought of parenting, and have never seen anyone else talking about it in this way.
    I might need to ponder about this.


  2. “lead parent” is nicer than primary caregiver ☺️ Hopefully more men in the future will take on this role, if that is best for their families. I think as long as there is a lead parent then attachment shouldn’t go awry.


  3. I like that, I think my husband will too. He was the lead parent, I worked and supported the family. It was a decision we made, I was closest to a college degree and we couldn’t afford for both to go to school. He worked and supported me through college, then I worked and he raised our 4 children. It was better that way, he was the 3rd of 4 and I was basically an only child. He never liked “Mr. Mom” and wasn’t thrilled about ‘primary caregiver’ that is so sterile of a term. He’ll like the lead parent. Now they are all grown and we are grandparents.


  4. Hmm. I’m wondering what the central point is here. Is it a redefinition of motherhood as lead parent. Is it that to be a parent and not to lead is to miss out? Possibly, but then all of us miss out, all of us have regrets. But thank you for flagging what is an ongoing dilemma for many of us.


  5. During the last 16 years of our marriage, 21 total, this role has been filled by both, my wife and myself. As a male, growing up, I never really learned to appreciate this aspect all that well. My father, the one who worked outside the home for the majority, was involved in our lives, but his role outside the home was somewhat of a mystery to a child. We had respect for him and his job, our mother saw to that. She was the primary caregiver for the four of us children. We were there, with her, so nothing really seemed all that remarkable. It was a different story when I became a parent. I worked early in the morning before the kids got up, returned home to see my wife off to work. Then my “real work” began. As such, I have a new found respect for any parent who is at home tending to the needs of a burgeoning family. My three kids have taught me that. If a man wants to “man up” with little children in the home, well, he should “man up” and let his partner go work outside of the home for the first 2-3 years of their children’s life while he stays home. He’ll find a respect for the other parent that he never knew before.


  6. As a father of one (soon to be three) children I can empathise with this. All I can say is, I’m looking forward to retirement, but yes, a lot of time and energy is taken up with work.


  7. Great and interesting article, thanks for sharing the original thoughts..


  8. exactly how I feel about my life.There are so many people missing the point of life,I’m happy I m not one of them


  9. Hi Caterina, Thank you so much for sharing that! It is really interesting and very well written. Im currently working on a post and I want other peoples opinion, thoughts and experiences. Would it be okay to ask you a few questions? Their is five questions all together and they shouldn’t take long. If you wouldn’t mind getting involved please reply back or send me a email to Thank you :).


  10. I am a new reader of and pleased to make the acquaintance. This blog reflects the broad perspectives and shrewd insights that come from a life of caring and a lifetime of accomplishment.

    That said, I feel compelled to comment on this particular post. I might be an outlier here, but I find the terminology, characterization and implications of “lead parent” just a tad disturbing and, by extension, the premise of the post just a bit perplexing.

    – Lead parent implies that the spouse is a trailing parent, lagging behind in the care and caring, day to day, of the children. Marriage is a partnership. Parenting is a joint responsibility. Each parent should contribute to the best of his and her ability, in each his or her own way, and neither should take more or less credit and never publicly.

    – Why is the man heroic when he puts his wife’s career first but the wife is sacrificial if she puts her husband’s career first? In fact, both sacrifice and, in their sacrifices, both are heroic.

    – One could argue that the truly heroic is not the lead parent but the single parent who brings up children, runs a household and manages a career all at once.

    – The list of roles and responsibilities given are hardly noteworthy. Getting the kids out of the house in the morning, monitoring computer and TV use, attending baseball games and concerts, encouraging healthy eating… these are as mundane as they are important. Millions of parents – moms and dads – do these things every day and expect no credit. Also included is being listed first on emergency forms. Well, gee…

    – More important than this shopping list is teaching children to be responsible, sensitive, caring, open-minded, humble and respectful, to appreciate kindness, to listen generously, to be a friend when a friend is needed, to do the right thing even when it is hard… sadly, none of those seem to make the grade. These represent the essence and fruit of good parenting. The other stuff is… well… care giving.

    – The last paragraph – that the regret of most men is that they did not lead the caring life but rather the career-oriented life – is most presumptuous and implies that caring and career are, to the less enlightened, mutually exclusive. This would be truly regrettable. And it is mostly the thinking of a fortunately bygone era (somewhat like the drawing that accompanies the referenced article in The Atlantic). Our hero says that he will not have that regret. Perhaps. But then why so much rationalization and why so much subtle self-praise?

    I suppose I am being overly harsh in my response to the notion of lead parent. The author of The Atlantic article has done the right things (for his family) for all the right reasons. I would have been happier if he had just left it there.



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  11. Woow. Well said. How can he have any regrets? He lived, didn’t just exist as a primary caregiver is whatever the term is these days!. Indeed this parent is surely “The Man”


  12. Reblogged this on MariaJob and commented:
    TuesdayThoughts #BeTheMan, Well said. How can he have any regrets? He lived, didn’t just exist as a primary caregiver or whatever the term is these days!. Indeed this parent is surely “The Man”


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