Self-care and second shift burden in the context of socially-constructed mothering

Date of Completion

January 2010


Health Sciences, Occupational Health and Safety|Women's Studies|Psychology, Industrial




The stress of feeling rushed and busy are facts of life as evidenced by research on time pressure and overload (Jacobs & Gerson, 2001; Perlow, 1999). This is explained by Conservation of Resources Theory which posits that when life demands (i.e., paid work, home/family work) excessively drain people's time and energy resources, distress can result (Hobfoll, 1989). Working mothers are at particular risk for such adverse effects, because in addition to a paid work role, they face a heavy second shift (i.e., home/family workload; Hochschild, 1989). They are also less likely to have opportunities for self-care to recover their resources and enhance their well-being. This study utilizes Social Construction Theory to examine the gender-related antecedents of working mothers' dual workload, including their adherence to the dominant mothering ideology and their perceptions of spouses' orientation to home/family work. ^ In Study One, a qualitative study of dual-earner couples was content-analyzed (Deutsch, 1999) to create 25 scales to measure mother- and father-related antecedents of the second shift, utilizing Hinkin's (1998) guidelines for scale development. Dominance analyses (Azen & Budescu, 2003) were then conducted to identify the dominant predictors of the second shift. In Study Two, the new measures were used to test the study's hypotheses with structural equation modeling. ^ Findings indicated that mothers' desire for primacy in the home, feelings of guilt, and perceptions of spouses' resistance to home/family work were positively associated with the second shift workload, while their perceptions of spouses as fair was negatively associated. Also, self-care behaviors were associated with well-being and work-related outcomes, and experienced stress partially mediated some relationships between self-care and outcomes. ^ The results of this study suggest that to alleviate working mothers' second shift, couples should break away from "separate spheres" practices (i.e., mothers being over-involved and fathers being under-involved in the home/family sphere) and adopt new parenting ethics (i.e., for mothers an ethic of care and self-care; for fathers an ethic of fairness based on care and responsibility for home/family). Furthermore, future research should undertake an in-depth investigation into the beneficial nature of self-care, including a focus on social and emotional forms of self-care. ^