How The Primary/Secondary Parent Model Can Damage Kids

Can we please stop holding this up as the ideal because it’s far from it

Jae L


Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

A child having only one of their parents as their primary carer is still held up as optimal parenting in many circles. Extra points if the primary carer stays home and resists the temptation to fob their child off to strangers while they selfishly pursue a career.

And yes, the thing that binds this package together is that the primary carer is the mother, who is in most cases the person who gave birth.

I was a small child in the 1970s when relationships and parenting were starkly divided along gender lines. My parents were no exception.

Yet I always felt an unspoken unease that that my Dad, the parent who actually seemed to like hanging out with us kids spent only a fraction of time with us. But then there was no point questioning it because it was just the way it was. Dads had to go to work everyday to earn money.

Instead, we got my mother all day. But for sprawling yards and pedestrian and bicycle friendly neighborhoods, we would have spent our downtime stuck in the house with her and her bleach and furniture polish.

Life with my mother was like living in a giant toxic cocktail of cleaning products. The cleanliness of one’s house was the key indicator of a good wife and mother. A hapless townswoman assessed by my mother as falling short of her KPIs with a flick of her pinky across a dusty windowsill had no hope of recovering her good name.

My brothers and I were a household management issue; a hazard to be wrangled along with stubborn stains, a malfunctioning oven or the domestic crisis that was Bill-next-door’s burn off-day coinciding with her washing day.

As soon as we were old enough to roam the neigborhood until dusk, we kept out of her way. Fortunately it suited her too. She had things to be getting on with. I will never understand her blind faith in the capacity of everyone else to keep us safe. But I think it was more that she never really stopped to consider what might happen.

The only ‘fun’ thing I remember her doing was making colored playdough. But I’m sure it was much less about seeing the joy on…



Jae L

Queer, neurodivergent and in the business of defying expectations. Doing my best to answer the questions I keep asking myself.