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Negotiating an Interactive Web of Activities: A Critical Look at Working Parents’ Multitasking

Jeffrey Good

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 48


For working parents, when the professional work day ends, the “second shift” at home begins (Hochschild, 1989; 1997). After work, parents have to pick up kids, take them to practices and play dates, bring them home, help them with homework, get dinner prepared, clean the house, check the mail, as well as a long list of other activities.

As is seen in data excerpts provided in this paper, at times parents become human pin balls, bouncing around from activity to activity and multi-tasking to accomplish them all. Watching the kids and soothing a crying baby while cooking and talking on the phone, helping kids with homework while checking email and keeping an eye on the barbeque, these are all part of the ‘second shift’ at home after work.. This paper analyzes video-recordings of naturally-occurring interactions with a focus on parents’ weekday activities and particularly, parents’ multi-tasking. Questions are raised about the way activities have been studied and categorized, as well as questions about the ‘gender gap’ in household work and child care. It is suggested that the gender gap may have more to do with who has first contact with children on weekday afternoons than what the gender of the parent is. Critical questions are also raised about how to analyze and classify parents’ activities and the amount of time they spend doing them.

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