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.