This term has entered the culture and is now well-known. With a new reissue coming out, it’s worth reading Hochschild’s updates and looking at the way things have changed and not changed for most people. As a feminist, a heterosexual mom in a relationship, and a therapist dedicated to helping mothers build resilience, I am really interested in the way we reproduce our daily lives, so this update is great to get.
But it’s interesting to note, for me, my friends, and for most of my clients--the second shift is still very real, but it is not really that gendered. I am not saying this is true for everyone in the U.S., but in many of the families I know, both men and women seem to come home from a full day of work and start in on the Second Shift. We both do child care, laundry, cooking, planning and all the reproducing of daily life that a family requires. I frankly hear very little about men not doing their fair share--though of course everyone wrangles about who does what, when, or how to prioritize all the stuff we have to get done.
The thing I notice more, and feel concern about, is people in marriages with kids developing emotional distance: not confiding or connecting very much, and letting it go on without repair. Divorce is still very high, even though gender is shifting and women are fulfilled by work and men are more involved parents--the missing ingredient may be adult intimacy in the family.
I hear many women in families complaining about not having an adult life: not much libido, not much to say to each other, lots of irritability and alienation. And I observe that for many people there is little to no adult social time; no going out, and no savoring together the hours after the kids go to bed, enjoying adult conversation and company.
Instead, after the kids go to sleep, people are working late on their computers, watching tv, or going to bed early, night after night. Of course. Of course this feels absolutely necessary just to recover from the relentlessness of raising kids and working full time. But if you want to have a happy life, it can’t be the only thing you do night after night--relationships need attention, and people need to feel special and adored.
Humans need to recline, savor, laugh, think out loud, and update one another on our dreams and our distractions. We need to know how our partner is really doing, and to tell them about ourselves.
This realm of life is too undervalued for many people, and for parents: grown-up time. How to define it? It’s subtle: conversation, flirting, relaxing, seeking to understand. So what gets in the way of making this happen? Exhaustion, overwhelm, too much work, too many commitments and responsibilities. But we all push through that exhaustion to connect with our kids, to show up and be present for our friends, to deal with being creative and alert at work and for other priorities. We must add our primary relationship to this list of important things we get ourselves waked-up for, and we must do it with some regularity.
The Second Shift may have a bit of a negative association now -- but I see it as descriptive and not necessarily a term that names sexism anymore. Because both men and women put in a Second Shift. And the truth is, if we want to have meaningful work and raise kids together in the U.S. today, we’re not going to have much free time. We are going to come home, make some dinner, give baths, do homework, talk about the day, read aloud in bed, and 15-25 other tasks, such as cleaning, laundry, lunch prep, catching up on our own work, mail, and random to-dos.
So for those of us not arguing about household work, in other words, we’re sharing adequately, but we’re exhausted; there is the Third Shift: it’s time to be a grown up. Even if you don’t exactly feel like it yet. Put on some music, have a drink together, and ask a meaningful question to the love of your life. The Third Shift is not the time for starting up your small business on the side, it’s not about catching up on work, or enriching yourself with art or music. It’s about relaxing and enjoying life like a grown-up. Conversation, flirting, talking things through, asking questions, and building intimacy.
To get started you might decide to have one real conversation a day: 20 minutes or so, paying attention as if you are catching up with a beloved friend. Because, hopefully, you are!