In the July issue of Parents Magazine, in “The New American Dad,” Paul Scott addresses the mounting stress faced by today’s dads who he calls “‘the new neither’: neither stay-at-home dads nor primary breadwinners, but guys who work a little and parent a little and likely spend a fair amount of time worrying about not doing so hot at either.” This multi-tasking father feels increasingly conflicted as expectations for his participation and presence at home increase — without accommodation from the societal expectation of men as dedicated worker bees and providers.
I found Scott’s insights refreshingly relevant; I’ve been watching this very dynamic play out at home as I my partner juggles graduate school, a full-time job, and parenting. He experiences stress because he feels he’s not home enough or helping me enough with the baby, but also because his school work and the demands of home keep him from working enough to be the sole provider. It’s a tough spot.
I struggle with the same feelings, as I’m also a “neither”: neither a full-time, stay-at-home mom nor a full-time working mom. I work part-time from home, and part-time out of the home, and am otherwise with Coraline. When I’m busy, I experience the same conflict and stress that Scott describes — being not fully present at home, or in my work, I feel like I’m failing at both. And it’s difficult to tell whether that sense of failure stems from my own values and priorities or a bad case of The Shoulds. Just like the New American Dad is subject to passé gender roles, so is the New American Mom. Just because I’m supposed to be able to do it all doesn’t mean I can, or that I even want to.
The Second Shift, by Arlie Russell Hochschild — a book I read in a Sociology class 12 years ago — offered an interesting dissection of the plight of the American working mother at the end of the 20th century: Successful women who worked a regular 9-to-5, then came home to all the housekeeping, cooking, and parenting still designated as her sole responsibility by virtue of her sex — and the reality that a man’s role at home and in the workplace had not evolved with a woman’s, leaving her with double the responsibilities.
Today, many of my mother-friends would argue the same dynamic is in place, and to some extent I agree. But I think the whole issue has been further complicated by the fact that, while returning to work was once a statement of right and privilege for women, it’s now often a nonnegotiable necessity. In a time where “every little bit counts” is the mantra for so many families, and single-earner families become less common, most couples resort to tag-team parenting as they juggle multiple part-time jobs and childcare, leaving both mom and dad feeling like they have one foot on the dock and one in the boat.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this, readers. How do you and your partner handle “the second shift?”