Fair Play & An Interview with Eve Rodsky

I’m here to tell you about a book that changed my life and my marriage. Fair Play isn’t just a book, though, it’s a system of dividing household tasks that not only eliminates arguments about doing dishes and whose turn it is to do the laundry but can completely get rid of the notion of emotional labor in your home.

Eve Rodsky, the author, who is both a mother of 3 and a Harvard-educated lawyer, was on her way home from a business trip when her husband texted her that a drunk man had left a bottle and his jacket in their front lawn. She thought it was amusing but when she got home from her trip that night, the jacket and bottle were still there.

When she walked inside, her husband was watching TV and had spent his evening working out after the kids went to bed. So she went outside and cleaned it up herself, timing how long it took her to do so: 12 minutes.

She had a realization in those 12 minutes.

“The last 12 minutes of my day were in the service of our household, whereas his last four hours were in service of him,” she said. “I came to the conclusion that men, women, and society view men’s time as finite and women’s as infinite.”

This led her to create a new system for couples. She interviewed over 500 men and women, sending around a spreadsheet called the Sh*t I Do List (which, btw, is exactly what I did with Anel last year). She spent years figuring out how to divide the tasks from this spreadsheet between domestic partners and tweaked the system until she came up with Fair Play.

Fair Play is a system meant to help women “doing the invisible work unseen and unrecognized by our partners… despite the fact that it costs us real time and significant mental and physical effort with no sick time or benefits.”

While Eve was working a full-time job, she continued to mastermind her family’s day-to-day life, and her husband “was still not much more than a ‘helper’ rather than a collaborative partner-planner-participant in all that took place for our family.”

From my perspective, there are 3 main components to the system:

1. Establishing all household tasks (cards) that you and your partner currently complete on a regular basis. These tasks include everything from packing lunches for your kids to being in charge of writing thank you notes.

2. Deal those cards out between yourself and your partner. Whoever has a card has to oversee the CPE (conceiving, planning, and execution) of that task. So for example, if your husband has making dinner for the family on Tuesdays and Thursdays as one of his cards, he not only has to cook the actual meal, but has to plan what he’ll make, go to the store to buy ingredients, and execute the meal. It doesn’t matter how many cards you have, the important thing is taking full ownership of the cards in your pile.

3. Checking-in weekly is the last piece of the puzzle. Things change and every week is different. One of you might be traveling for work and the other one might have to take on more work at home.

If this sounds like a system that your partner would never go for, not to worry because in the book she tells you exactly how to get the conversation started and how to keep it going.

Within this system, she has 4 rules:

1. All time is created equal. During her research, Eve found that men, women and society view men’s time as finite like diamonds and women’s time infinite like sand.

2. Reclaim your right to be interesting. Both you and your partner are entitled to time for yourselves and your passions. Eve writes about “unicorn space” where each of you creates time to follow your passions and do the things that make you feel like your most powerful self.

3. Start where you are now. Every couple is different and has a different starting off point for this system. As a couple, you must figure out what that point is and what you want to get out of it in the end.

4. Establish your values and standards. After you and your partner decide which cards or tasks are most important to your family, you need to discuss how the tasks will be handled. The details of CPE need to be reviewed and understood by both partners. The person with the card needs to understand what it means to have full ownership of that card.

The idea of CPE, in my opinion, is the biggest game-changer within this system. The idea that Anel has to own a task without asking me a million questions during the process, and that he understands what goes into really owning each task has changed the way we communicate and appreciate each other.

And the idea of fair but not equal has really changed my thinking on what works for my home. Anel works out of the house and is on his feet with clients all day. I’m home and have a very flexible schedule. So naturally, it makes more sense for me to take on more of our domestic responsibilities. Once I realized that “fair” for my family didn’t mean 50/50, my anger dissipated.

There are a million other things I could talk about from this system, but this post would go on for days!

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Eve Rodsky, the creator of the Fair Play system and author of the book. I got on the phone, intimidated to be speaking of an idol of mine who, only a few days prior, had been on a panel at the Davos World Economic Forum. But as soon as she picked up the phone, I realized that I had nothing to be nervous about.

She was warm, kind, and so grateful for my early support of her work. She named a few friends we had in common and immediately put me at ease. When a woman is as successful as she is but can make the “small fish” feel supported, you know they’re a diamond in the rough.

We had a long and engaging conversation about her work, the system, and how playing the game has changed both of our lives. She was eloquent but relatable, passionate yet calm. I’m inspired by her more than ever!

An interview with Eve Rodsky

The concept of “invisible work” speaks so deeply to me. Before we started Fair Play, I felt as if no one appreciated what I did day-to-day in my home. Now, it’s a different ball game. Do you ever find that the husband feels unappreciated for “invisible work” after implementing FP?

No!  When men do more, they’re recognized for it by society and by their partners in a way that women are not.

Take these examples: people tell a man that he’s an amazing husband when he’s at the grocery store shopping for mac and cheese and milk. On airplanes, if a father is traveling alone with kids, people will stop him to say what a great dad he is. That rarely happens for women doing the same things.

Men aren’t invisible in the invisible work.

I’ve asked men about this and that is the consensus. There is visibility in the invisible work for them. But luckily good begets good, and that thumbs up from society and us as women makes them feel good.

The only time I’ve seen it feel bad is when stay at home dads say that their wife doesn’t believe that care is important. When women don’t believe that time spent with children is as important as work, that becomes a problem.

Interesting… a few days ago, Anel came home from a long day of work and said, I kid you not, “You’re amazing and I appreciate everything you do. You’re a great mom, a great wife, and you keep this house running. We would be nowhere without you.” He appreciates me and what I do for our family a lot more now that we’re playing FP.

That’s amazing! What’s important for your readers to know is that a lot of people wanted me to introduce gratitude into the system. Gratitude never worked, though, when introduced to the system. When I would tell people, in the early days of FP, to sit down and thank each other, women were like f*ck that I’m not thanking him for the same work I’ve been doing for years.

I think of gratitude not as an input into the system but an output of the system. People feel the graciousness to thank their partner after starting and that is beautiful.

What is your dream goal for couples? In 20 years, how do you envision relationships working?

My North Star is the idea that we, as a society, put more value on care. That the agency that men take in their own home becomes part of society in a larger sense. For example, when a male partner goes back to work and he was a woman on his team who wants to work from home on Fridays because she doesn’t have any childcare, he approves it. Because he values his own partner’s time at home, he values her as an employee and also understands her personal needs.

When a father sits with his child and that kid tells him about how life is hard at school and they have a real conversation about what’s going on instead of just the surface stuff, that dad sees the value of being around. The empathy for being able to hold child’s hand in the pediatrician’s office becomes a societal cultural conversation.

My other goal, of course, is that we close the wage gap. That women are paid the same as men because all time is created equal. 

Reader question: Do you have advice on how to motivate your partner to take on more tasks?

I assume this question is from someone who isn’t playing yet. Once you start playing, you get yourself into a system of communication. Even if you’re still holding the majority of the cards, you’re in a system where you’re making decisions together. You’re redefining teamwork.

If you treat it like a list, it will remain a list. If you treat this as a system, it is life-changing.

Reader question: Do you and your husband still participate fully in FP or have you relaxed the rules over time?

I’m not just the Fair Play president, I’m the first member! If you believe you believe and we just believe because it’s transformed our lives. My husband was so transformed by CPE (conceiving, planning, executing), he let me tell our story which didn’t always paint him in the best light.

We prioritize our weekly check-ins like some people prioritize watching The Bachelor. And that’s because we know what happens when we don’t do it.

These check-ins aren’t for giving feedback in the moment. They’re for creating a habit of communicating when emotion is low and cognition is high. That is the building block for a new healthy relationship. That is life-changing

Reader question: What are your tips for convincing your husband that “all time is just as valuable” when he makes 10x the wife’s salary?

This is why you throw out the idea of 50/50 in the home. It’s a terrible trope we’ve had for 100 years.  If you’re working 12 hours/day, of course, the person who isn’t contributing monetarily should take more of the housework. But they can’t take it all.

You need to divide your cards in a way that is fair but not necessarily equal. Your fair won’t look the same as my fair. But even the most insane breadwinners that I work with are Fair Play disciples.

Here’s a good story for you, that’s not in my book, about a man who makes a lot of money, and I mean a lot.  The other day I got a call from a client who is extremely wealthy. He’s the primary breadwinner of his family and his wife doesn’t work. He is a Fair Play disciple and takes on as many cards as he can.

He called me and told me that he was at a funeral for a colleague of his. It was a packed-house funeral. This man was an extremely successful businessman, but the highlight of the service was what each of the daughters said on the podium. The first daughter walks up and starts reciting a sonnet. After a minute, we all realized that it was a poem that her father had written to her as the tooth fairy. It completely silenced the audience. You could hear a pin drop. Each of his 3 daughters read these incredible poems that he wrote as the tooth fairy.

No one wanted at the service wanted to hear about how he grew his business. The children’s tooth fairy poems was what was remembered about him.

If you’ve read Fair Play, how has it helped your relationship? If you haven’t, does this sound like something you would participate in?

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  1. Kristin said:

    Wow just wow. Fair doesn’t mean 50/50 is such a revelation. It should be obvious, but it’s not. Wondering how much detail you get into for the cards, especially for things that don’t occur on a weekly basis (family visits, packing for trips, appointments, etc.).

    This tends to be a bigger source of frustration for me, because I feel like I’m the only one carrying the big picture. Even with things like overall monitoring of our daughter’s health, her eating and development habits, knowing what size she is, etc.

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      That idea alone completely changed my life. I was so angry and resentful of Anel until I realized this. We get into pretty extreme detail for the ones that he takes because I want him to be able to really own them.

      I have the same frustration. As your partner takes on more of the tasks, he will learn these things that go along with them. I’d suggest playing the game for a month or two then go back and look at those things like health and her size and see if there has been a shift.

      1.29.20 · Reply
  2. Thank you so much for sharing this article! I was interested in the book when you first shared, but was a little reluctant to dive in because I do stay home full time while my husband works outside of the home, and it seems unfair for me to complain about an unequal distribution of housework in that context. I should just suck it up and get better at it, you know? Reading the interview helped me realize that this book wasn’t necessarily what I expected, and it sounds like it has value for EVERY type of couple. I just added it to my amazon cart – thanks so much for sharing your interview and continuing to put this in front of us!

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I’m so happy that you’ve had a change of heart! I actually think that this book might be even more helpful for SAHMs because you need a break from the domestic work and childcare more than anyone. Let us know how it goes!

      1.29.20 · Reply
    • Ellie said:

      Chiming in (feel free to ignore me!)…it sounds like the actual chores (dishes, grocery shopping, etc) might not be the pain point, rather it’s the more emotional things like keeping track of family birthdays, knowing you’re out of Advil or toilet paper, knowing the names of the kids at daycare or school and their parents names and their allergies…things like that. To me, the pain point is all that stuff that’s harder to pin down. I always remind my husband that the knowing and the keeping track is work too! You just don’t see it when you come home at night haha.

      1.29.20 · Reply
  3. Sarah said:

    This was great! I love that Tooth Fairy story. I need to pick up this book.

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I thought that story was so powerful. Definitely get it!

      1.29.20 · Reply
  4. Jenn said:

    I’m so interested in this book and Eve’s work! I recently listened to her podcast with Whitney Port. I’m curious how Fair Play works in different seasons of life. I’m home with a 10 week old right now, going back to work full-time in a month or so. We also have a 2.5 year old (so similar to Amalia!). I’m wondering if Eve would recommend taking on the FP system now, even though many of the baby duties (feeding, especially) are falling to me and many of our toddler duties are falling to him. Would it make sense to still put FP into place now, in this very specific season, or to wait until my maternity leave is over?

    Thanks for sharing meaningful content like this! Xo

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I will have to listen to that podcast! I’m almost positive that she would say to start now because you have more time before going back to work to focus on it. You could take more of the cards because 50/50 is never the goal. At least give the book a read and go from there. And congrats on the baby!

      1.29.20 · Reply
  5. Katherine said:

    Is it weird that I’m in my early 20s nowhere close to having a spouse/family but I feel like I need to read this as research/preparation for when I do?? I wonder what the world would be like today if this had been the conversation when I was a little kid?

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I don’t think that’s weird at all. I think it’s brilliant. I wish I had read this before I got married and I wish I had started the system years ago.

      1.29.20 · Reply
  6. KM said:

    This is amazing — and it still begets more questions!

    I’m really intrigued in her response on a man earning more than his wife, and I’m interested in understanding how it might work if both spouses work outside of the home, he happens to make more bc of the type of career he chose, but they are still both extraordinarily busy. This comes up a lot in my house and I’m just wondering how it can still be fair, and *should* it be based around how much the market thinks your time is worth? Obviously I am also someone who is not yet ‘playing’ — I absolutely plan to read the book now — but just wondering how the book talks about this type of household. I fear it just goes back to men thinking their time is more valuable/finite, and when the market kind of supports that, it’s hard to argue it.

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Considering the market thinks women’s time is worth less than men’s time, I wouldn’t go by that! Start playing and you will definitely figure it out. She goes through every scenario including yours! Once you play, you and your husband will see that time spent at home with kids is as valuable as time in the office.

      1.30.20 · Reply
  7. Cathy said:

    The book and the conversation it inspires are both so interesting! I feel that in my marriage the work has generally been quite fairly distributed, however there were definitely times it got out of whack. When our 2nd was born, my husband had a particularly stressful and time consuming job, and I felt that I needed to take on 80% of home stuff to relieve this pressure for him. However, I never took into account that I was a new mom of 2, with a colicky baby who didn’t sleep – EVER, and after about 9 months of carrying the weight I collapsed under it. I was having major panic attacks, and anxiety every day and the sad thing was that it could have been avoided had I asked for a more fair share. Then, I might have been able to enjoy our children more at that stage of life. It’s such an important conversation!

    Recently, again I shouldered more of the emotional work with our school aged son when in appeared that he needed interventions at school, and a neurologist diagnosed him with ADD. After a year of this, I finally told my husband he needed to get involved too- come to meetings, Dr apps etc – and it made ALL the difference. Before he was a participant, he didn’t ‘get’ it at all. I had felt it fell under my realm as SAHM, but it actually needed both of us.

    Great discussions!!

    1.29.20 · Reply
  8. Lisa said:

    I love the spirit of this, but there are some things I deem important that my husband does not. Like remembering and sending birthday gifts/thank you notes, any/all aspects of hosting guests at our weekend cottage, bringing a dish to contribute to a party, decorating our home, etc. I’m not trying to make him out to be a meanie, but if I ever complain about these things taking up my time, his first response is usually, “don’t do it then. it’ll be fine if you don’t do it”. Which I guess is true, but . I think these things are important! Any advice here?

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Brigitta said:

      I’d love advice here too.

      1.29.20 · Reply
    • Allie said:

      Eve actually mentions this in the book, using an example where a husband didn’t feel prioritizing thank you cards on behalf of his kids was important. When she pressed him further, he actually admitted that it was important for the kids to write thank you notes, because it encouraged gratitude and was an important lesson/value/habit for he and his wife to instill in their children. Once he stepped back and assessed the task within the larger context of their family’s shared goals and values, he was able to see it was important. Maybe come at it from that way? Emphasize WHY a specific task is important from a value-based perspective?

      1.30.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I have had that exact same conversation with Anel so I totally get it. Like Allie said, Eve writes about this and helps put it into a different perspective. It will help you reframe the conversation with your husband in a new way. You’ll talk about the why and not just the how. And it will lead to many more similar conversations.

      1.30.20 · Reply
  9. Alex said:

    Great write up! Does the book come with cards or a print out template??

    1.29.20 · Reply
  10. Kelly H said:

    Thank you for this. I have an almost 18 month old and a newborn and I’m the main bread winner for the family (currently on maternity leave) and still do 85% of the household tasks and all of the planning.
    I don’t feel like I have the energy to do this but I know I need to read the book and invest in the philosophy for my sanity and to teach my girls what to look for in a partner. How long did it take you to get started? Is it unrealistic to do this with a newborn?

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I read the book in a week and had the first conversation with Anel a week after that. We started the following week and haven’t looked back. It’s a quick turnaround once you put in the initial work.

      1.30.20 · Reply
  11. Olga said:

    Love this so much! I’m not at a stage in life where this applies to me yet, but I’m glad a system like this exists. So necessary!

    Olga
    http://www.littlethingsolga.com

    1.29.20 · Reply
  12. Erica said:

    I immediately bought Eve’s book after reading your post!

    1.29.20 · Reply
  13. Brooke said:

    I read Eve’s book in December and starting implementing her system. My husband and I both work full-time and have a 18 month old. Although my job is more demanding I was doing more of the housework and the majority of the mental load carrying. My husband has been very enthusiastic about trying to create a fair balance. In the two months we’ve been playing my load has definitely gotten lighter. One specific example: the nightly tidying is now his job and that alone has been so nice to remove from my daily to-do list. We still have some things to work on, but I’m such a fan that I’ve already given Eve’s book to multiple couples!

    1.29.20 · Reply
  14. Brigitta said:

    I’ve been interested in this book for a while now and this post made me order it. I’m a SAHM of one and do probably 90% of everything. It’s the “everything else” that is killing me as I know when I return to work next year there is no way the current scenario will work. I’m already so resentful yet feel guilty complaining. And yes to the owning the entire task. It doesn’t lighten the load when you have to be there answering questions every two seconds, esp. when I know he could figure it out on his own!

    1.29.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Good luck! It sounds like this system will be very helpful for you and your fmaily. The resentment/guilt feeling has to go away! It’s not good for anyone.

      1.30.20 · Reply
  15. Leela said:

    I’m so interested in this and definitely ordering the book. I’m sure Eve may cover this, but my main problem is that I’m a bit of a control freak, especially when it comes to our finances. We are on a self-imposed budget to try and prioritize saving, but each make a comfortable living and don’t have kids now so don’t necessarily have real pressure to stick to it. My husband is definitely more lax when it comes to spending, so I have a hard time relinquishing grocery shopping and similar tasks that involve spending money because he won’t use the same due diligence to make sure we are getting the best bang for our buck. Any advice?

    2.3.20 · Reply
  16. Lauren said:

    Loved this post! Just finished the book over the weekend and have plans to discuss with my husband this weekend to get started. He is quite helpful already, but I think we’ll particularly benefit from the standard of care + his recognition of all of the “invisible work.”

    2.5.20 · Reply
  17. Danielle weisberg said:

    Curious to know if you and Anel are still using this technique? I’d love you to do an update post! Thanks!

    3.11.20 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      We do! I will do an update on Instagram stories. Does that work?

      3.11.20 · Reply