Second Shift—For Women, Work Doesn’t Stop When They Leave the Office
For working couples with children, equality changes in the workplace are not mirrored at home. An unequal distribution of family work remains an issue, with the bulk of the extra work going to working moms.
Despite statistics showing a majority of mothers working outside the home, the problem of women's second shift has received little attention. Dr. Roberta Nutt, professor of psychology at Texas Woman's University and recently named family psychologist of the year by the American Psychological Association, said couples struggle with how they distribute family work.
"Many women are saying, "I can't do it all, even though they were told they can."Nutt said. "What has happened is we have very exhausted superwomen without some plan to make it work."
Nutt said the problem is part of a larger social issue where the expectations of the past are no longer realistic.
“For some women the issue is a sense that they are not living up to their mother's standards – only mom didn't work outside the home," Nutt said.
Examining the family's standards to determine if they are too high or unrealistic and involving all family members in household tasks is important, Nutt said.
"People aren't doing kids a favor by not involving them because they don't develop those life skills," Nutt said. "I've seen teen-agers go off to college who can't cope with the basics.”
"If economic resources allow, hiring outside help can also serve to alleviate stress,” Nutt conceded.
Dr. Gary Brooks, associate professor of psychology at Baylor University, Waco, specializes in gender-related issues. Brooks said problems faced by couples today are part of a broader issue of expectations based on one's gender.
"I think that we fail to recognize the expectations we have incorporated from our culture, which in most cases are contradictory and impossible to live up to,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the pressures of contemporary life give rise to gender role strain and emotional difficulties, creating different sets of problems for both men and women. He typically sees more females come in with problems of anxiety and depression, which he believes are linked to the roles they are playing at work and home. Males, said Brooks, are more likely to come in with problems of substance abuse, violence or work-related pressures. For females the questions may be: Am I a good enough mother? Am I thin enough? Pretty enough? For males the questions may be: Am I strong enough? Successful enough? A good provider?
According to Brooks, understanding women's and men's expectations of themselves and each other is something we have not paid enough attention to and is important to bring about constructive change.
“For women it would be helpful to talk to other people — a network of conversation groups to talk about the pressures of contemporary life. Men need to do a lot more talking to each other and about their responsibilities," Brooks said.
According to the American Psychological Association's Web site (http://helpingapa.org/work/workmom.html), research from psychologists support the concept that working mothers are putting in considerably more hours of paid and unpaid work. The increased self-esteem and social support that many working mothers get from their job isn't always enough to offset the additional strain that many women feel, however. Experts agree that women need more realistic solutions, which can only be brought about by societal change and changes in gender expectations.
Debbie Williams, a professional organizer, syndicated columnist and speaker (http://www.organizedtimes.com), has some useful tips for the overwhelmed worker and parent.
Most projects, Williams said, can be approached using the "one bite at a time" method.
One Bite at a Time
- Don't be afraid to say no—adding on to an already full plate is not in your best interest.
- No matter how overwhelming a task is, you can tackle it one bite at a time. Dedicate some time to a major task, i.e. cleaning out the garage a little bit each day. Note your progress and accomplishment over time until the task is complete. Approach other tasks with this same method in mind.
- Run errands on one day of the week, rather than going back and forth to town.
- Delegate work when you get home as much as you would at work.
- Prioritize: Make lists and categorize them according to their importance.
- Limit interruptions and concentrate on the task at hand till you see it to completion. Then proceed to the next task with the same approach.