Thursday, January 13, 2011

the second shift

There was a time a few years back when I was holding my full-time corporate job while simultaneously completing my doctoral dissertation and planning my wedding. I was so proud of myself for finding a way to exercise, see friends, spend time with my future husband and overall lead a balanced life in spite of the workload. Now I look back and it seems like it was a piece of cake! I'm still working full time, but I'm not planning a wedding or doing dissertation corrections. I am a working mom.

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term "second shift" to refer to the household work and childcare work that mothers who work outside of the home for income routinely do. The second shift, she finds, is there even for moms whose husbands are actively involved and cooperative. The second shift is full of subtle responsibilities that, when considered alone, may not seem important. When considered as a whole, however, they can be quite a challenge. Some of those responsibilities can be things like being responsible for the children's grooming, such as clipping nails and trimming hair, and managing their ever-revolving clothing, such as buying what they need, mending what is torn, putting away the too-small, and storing what will fit a younger sibling in a while. It can be about being the one who buys present's for other kids' birthdays, or being responsible for planning meals, or keeping track of cleaning supplies or toilettries and buying them as they run out. It can be about researching summer camps, after-school programs, pediatricians or babysitters. It can be about opening and paying household bills and managing the household budget. It can be about being the one who manages the appearance of the home, including touch ups, clean up, replacing worn down items.

My second shift is probably ligher than that of many other working moms, as my husband is an involved dad. I'm sure he could write a post about the dad's version of the second shift. I often admire at our human capacity to adapt, especially when change is gradual, and still thrive.

What are your experiences with the second shift?


  1. I hear ya, my husband is stay-at-home but I always find myself clicking in to 'on' mode as soon as I get home, even after a full day of work. I still look after all bills, everything to do with healthcare/insurance/other boring life bits, and everything having to do with the baba (except feeding & playing with him!)-- let alone the cleaning etc. I wish I knew how to make the workload more equitable, but I just don't think he understands how much there is to actually *do* apart from the daily childcare! Sigh.

  2. My second shift used to be rather tough. Then I got around to managing and delegating at home just like I did at work. As it turns out, my husband is great at supporting me to get everything done. I was expecting him to take the initiative, but it wasn't working out because he was not really aware of what needed to be done. It makes sense. After all, I am a perfectionist and he's more of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. I was thinking, Emily, perhaps your husband is like mine?

  3. Husbands have a second shift of their own. I think we tend to take on the work as we see it, perhaps due to our own expectations of what a mom should do and what we saw growing up. Talking it out is a good idea, Lupe, as I am sure dads have a list of things they do and we may not notice them and maybe they are not as aware of what needs to be done (after all, they probably didn't get much modeling in that area from their dads).

  4. I seriously do not know how you mamas do it. I work until I'm just about drooling, and cannot imagine a "second shift". I so commend all the mothers out there. My husband definitely would be involved if we had children but I would be responsible for all the little things. He would never remember to trim nails or fix clothes and I would become so resentful. But it is moms like you that inspire people like me to be better and try harder!