very busy mum doing ironing while helping three kids with homework and games

Are You On The Second Shift? Why Women Still Have To Do Everything

9 mins

Women have careers, children, homes – and husbands – so why are they expected to juggle it all and put in the second shift every day to manage everything?

After dropping off the children at school and nursery, and before she heads into work, Lucie will dash home to meet a builder who might be able to fix the leaking roof at her villa. And in her lunch hour, she plans to dash to Spinneys to get the weekly groceries then book her SUV in for a service. 

After work, she will take her eldest child to a dentist appointment, and then the two youngest to football and trampolining. All this, along with helping with school work, cooking supper and walking the dog.

So – what’s the problem? Isn’t spinning plates – and putting in the second shift – the norm when you’re a working parent-of-two like Lucie, who lives in Dubai Marina?

‘I get that it’s manic juggling a career with a family,’ says Lucie, a 39-year-old copywriter. ‘But the really annoying thing in all this is that my husband Harry doesn’t contribute anything to running the house or looking after the children. 

‘It’s as if his presence alone is enough. He pops in home when he isn’t working, seeing friends, and playing squash and football. There’s food in the fridge, his clothes are washed and ironed, and his children are loved and cared for. He thinks his time out of work is his to do as he pleases.

‘It’s harder still as we live in Dubai away from both our families, and yes, we have a live-in nanny but it’s not as if I’m not rushing around all the time. 

working mother trying to work on computer while on the phone and looking after two young children at her desk

‘I sometimes think I’m Harry’s PA, not his wife. What I don’t understand is why, in this age of equality, do I have to take charge of everything that needs doing? Apart from being resentful, I’m absolutely exhausted.’

Lucie isn’t alone in her overwhelm and her lack of ‘me time’. Four years ago, a survey by MORI revealed that even with all the gadgets we have to make life easier, nearly 60 per cent of women aged between 20 and 40 in the UK complained they still didn’t have enough time for themselves.

‘There’s a concept that started in the 1980s called The Second Shift when working mothers arrive home from work and they take on another role. But it’s so demanding that it’s like another job in itself’

Sadly, according to Bev Cripps, a resilience coach and positive psychologist, the reasons are historical. ‘However far we’ve come, we still don’t really have equality,’ states UK-based Bev, author of The Lazy Guide to Happy: Low effort happiness solutions for people who are short on time (Authors & Co).

Engrained Gender Roles

‘These engrained gender roles are still very much with us. They can be traced back to generations where women stayed at home and looked after the house and children. Men arrived home from work and their evening meal was ready for them. These cliches from the 1950s have pervaded through the 1960s and 1970s, and they’re still with us today.’

Problem is, most women are no longer housewives. They’re as qualified as their men. They have careers just as demanding as their partners’ jobs. They are just as able. But despite this, the domestic burden still falls firmly at their feet. 

Even now, it’s almost taken for granted that housework is women’s work. And, it seems, it goes beyond that. Bigger jobs – like packing up a home when you move house – often fall on women’s shoulders.

woman holding baby and surrounded by boxes as she is having to pack up the house while working and looking after child
Women now have to juggle childcare, working and bigger jobs like packing up the house alone

‘Household chores are what we call in psychology an affordance – things we accept without even thinking about them,’ explains Bev. ‘From a male perspective, the affordance is how the household works.

‘It becomes reinforced when women have children, and they’re often at home for a while with their baby. Everything that happens in the house is down to them.’

The Second Shift 

And when women return to work, that’s when the real demands ramp up. ‘There’s a concept that started in the 1980s called The Second Shift,’ explains Bev. ‘It’s when working mothers arrive home from work and they take on another role. But it’s so demanding that it’s like another job in itself.’

Jasmine Navarro, who runs a coaching business – NAVA – between Dubai and the UK, feels much of this is down to conditioning and learned behaviour.

‘Historically, women were seen as caregivers, creating an expectation they will excel in managing family, work and societal responsibilities,’ says Jasmine. ‘Little girls observing their mothers may internalise the idea that taking charge is a natural part of being a woman, but this can also be influenced by personality types, such as being a people pleaser or having a strong sense of responsibility.’

women executive in suit on phone while picking up children's toys from the floor indicative that she's started the second shift at home after supposedly finishing work

But our experts’ support for worn-out, frazzled women comes with a warning. Are women being martyrs, which could possibly lead to rushing womans syndrome, offering themselves up as doormats? Bev believes this ‘maternal gatekeeping’ may be a crucial part of the problem.

‘Women need to move away from their idea of perfection and believing that if a job isn’t done to their own standards, they may as well do it themselves,’ continues Bev. ‘That kind of thinking closes down all options of getting help to load the dishwasher or wipe down the kitchen counters. You may not want your child to be brought up in a dirty, untidy house, but it doesn’t mean you have to do all the housework yourself.’

Tired And Wired

woman hoovering while man watches tv. She is on the second shift while he relaxes
There’s a male ‘blindness’ when it comes to chores and women doing the second shift especially when they’re plugged into the television

Apart from eating our time, managing everything within a family takes its toll on our mental and physical wellbeing, as Jasmine points out: ‘Constantly juggling responsibilities can lead to tiredness, stress and an overwhelming feeling of being put upon. It can result in burnout, anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. 

‘Physically, the stress of trying to do everything may manifest in sleep problems, headaches and compromised immune function, and could lead to long-term health issues.’

Furthermore, Bev points out that women who are constantly on duty may end up living on their nerves, and being tired and wired, in a state of hypervigilance.

‘It also leads to resentment and frustration because your partner can’t see the effect all this responsibility is having on you,’ adds Bev. ‘There seems to be a male blindness and deafness about household chores, especially when they’re plugged into the television.

‘But women continue to simmer and seethe, clattering around in the kitchen, and one small thing like the dishwasher not getting loaded will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’

So how can we steer our domestic ship out of these stormy waters and stop working the second shift? Bev and Jasmine offer their expert tips.

Pick Your Time 

Bev Cripps expert on relationships
Pick your time says Bev Cripps

If you’re going to start a discussion about divvying up the chores, do it when things are good between you, advises Bev. ‘Don’t do it when you’re about to explode or when he’s just got home after work.’ 

Ask For Help

Be sure to express your needs and limits to those around you, says Jasmine. If you’d like your partner to empty the dishwasher or put some laundry on, cook or look after the children, ask.

‘Setting boundaries is crucial to prevent burnout and ensure a fair share of responsibilities,’ she says.

Become A Negotiator

Be clear what you want to achieve in any discussions, says Bev. ‘Before you start talking, have an idea what the best outcome would be, and also what a reasonable outcome might look like,’ she suggests.

Use Time Well

Jasmine Navarro
Balance your time to reduce feeling overwhelmed, says Jasmine Navarro

Prioritise tasks and focus on what truly matters, advises Jasmine. ‘If you can manage your time effectively, you’ll have a far more balanced approach to daily activities, and this will reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.’

Recognise Progress

If your partner organises a window cleaner or gardener or puts the bins out, acknowledge their efforts even if they don’t acknowledge yours, recommends Bev.

‘Don’t follow them round or point out what they did wrong,’ she says. ‘Instead, focus on getting things done, albeit not perfectly.’

Share It Out

Sit down and talk to your partner about dividing up chores and childcare, says Jasmine. ‘If you can agree to share the load, you would prevent so much resentment and it would lead to a happier relationship,’ she says. 

Schedule Self-Care

Plan in some time for yourself to stop you from feeling frazzled, insists Bev. ‘Remember you can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure you have some me time,’ she says. ‘Whatever you plan for yourself, whether it’s a yoga class or a coffee with a friend, treat it like a top priority.’

Start The Day Well

Try and wake up at least five minutes before the rest of the household to get your self-care routine underway, says Bev.

‘Start by having a glass of water before you get out of bed,’ she advises. ‘In the bathroom, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Then go outside and get some sunlight. Do this before you go on your iPhone and check your messages or social media, which just puts you into a state of brain fog.’

Keep It Smooth

Make your transition between work and home as smooth as possible, advises Bev. ‘In your car, try and have five minutes of really deep breathing to decompress. This could be your reset before you start your second shift,’ she says.

Be Grateful

Make the moments before you snooze matter, says Bev. ‘Use your final minutes of being awake to acknowledge your gratitude for everything you do and have. Write down three great things that happened to you that day.

‘It could be anything from hearing your child singing to someone smiling at you in the coffee queue. This calms your subconscious, and you will sleep better.’

Newsletter signup