Author, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live)
Mom of three
Most women are all too familiar with the invisible workload they tend to carry at home, regardless of whether or not they work outside of the home. This invisible workload leads to an inequitable distribution of responsibility which can impact so many facets of our personal and professional lives. Thankfully we have Eve Rodsky to bring some much needed attention to this invisible workload and offer practical ways to better divide home and family responsibilities with a partner.
In her new book, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live), which is also a featured selection in Reese Witherspoon's book club Hello Sunshine (!!), Eve surveyed more than 500 couples across the US to figure out WHAT the invisible work in a family actually is and HOW to get it done effectively–in a way that makes relationships even stronger. Fair Play identifies the 100 main tasks in any marriage, and then divides those tasks fairly (not necessarily equally!) so that both parties contribute their share. If we don’t learn to rebalance our home life and reclaim our “unicorn time” (aka, our space to develop the skills and passions that keep us vibrant), then we risk losing our right to be interesting, not just to our partner, but to ourselves.
We chatted with Eve to learn more about how her experience being raised by a single mom and working in a high powered career as a mom of three led her to write about this topic desperate to be addressed!
The Returnity Project: Tell us all about your new book Fair Play and the inspiration behind writing it
This was a book I was born to write. I grew up in a single-mom household where early on I helped my mother manage eviction notices and late utility bills. I vowed that when I grew up, I would have an equal partner in life… and I did! I married that partner and we were killing it together in business and life. Cut to two kids later and I find myself sobbing on the side of the road from a text my husband sent me: “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.” As I sat in my car, I thought to myself: I’m so overwhelmed I can’t even manage a grocery list (when I used to manage a team of employees) and more importantly, when did I become the default, or what I call the “she-fault” for every single household and childcare task, including the fulfiller of my husband’s smoothie needs? This is not the career + marriage combo deal I ordered! In that moment, I knew something had to change. And so, I embarked on a quest to find a solution for domestic rebalance not only for my marriage, but for couples also seeking a solution.
TRP: Give us more information about "invisible work"...what is it, and why do women naturally shoulder most of it, even when they carry the same career load as their partner?
When I started my quest for domestic rebalance, I soon became aware that women shoulder about 2/3 of the work required to run a home and raise a family… but I wasn’t sure why. Early on in my research, I came across an article titled Invisible Work written in 1987 by sociologist Arlene Kaplan Daniels. In it she argues that women’s unpaid “invisible” work in the home is often not recognized as “work,” primarily because it is the behind-the-scenes stuff that is not seen and thereby, often unacknowledged and under-valued by our partner/spouses. This idea of the “invisible” had a real impact on me. I thought, what if I could make the invisible, visible? I realized that if I wanted my husband to share more of the for all it takes to make our life happen, I had to stop making sh*t silently and magically happen. I had to make the full breadth of what I did for our family visible. My growing awareness that visibility= value was the catalyst that drove me to create a system that brought the invisible to light.
TRP: The return to work period is time full of transition when the overwhelm of invisible work can peak as we're adjusting to a new way of life. What were your returns to work from maternity leave like, and how did you find the right balance with your husband during those times?
Because my husband and I hadn’t pre-negotiated how to share in the domestic workload before our first son came along, it defaulted to me. He went back to work at the office and I stayed home where my “work” as a new mother quickly overwhelmed me. But when I considered returning from maternity leave, the idea of juggling a challenging office job with the ever-expanding demands of domestic life seemed even more exhausting. I proposed to my employer that I work full-time, but from home one day a week. That was declined. I offered to work a four-day week for less salary. They didn’t go for that either. In the end, I walked away from my full-time corporate job to become an independent (“1099”) consultant. In my case, it was because—however supportive my employer was about holding my position for me during my maternity leave—the company didn’t have family-friendly systems in place to support parents requiring more flexibility in the early child-rearing years that directly follow. I’m not alone and I hope this hard reality for many working mothers will change. In the meantime, we can learn to more rebalance the workload within our homes to off-set all that we do for work outside the home. I really do believe that by affecting change within our home organizations, a corporate and cultural mindset that leans toward more empathy and fairness toward women will follow.
TRP: In all of the research you did for this book, what was the most common barrier you uncovered that prevented couples from achieving equal balance in their home and family lives?
It may sound counter-intuitive, but the biggest obstacle to achieving more balance is by demanding our partners to share equally in our efforts at home. My research proved that 50/50 is the wrong equation because it encourages scorekeeping which easily fuels resentment. What I uncovered after speaking with hundreds of women was that they were more satisfied in their marriages when their spouses did more of less. Meaning, their partners didn’t necessarily have to take on more household or childcare tasks, so long as they fully “owned” the tasks at hand from start to finish. The reason for this points back to all the “invisible work” and “cognitive labor” that women typically shoulder. When women are relieved of the heavy mental load that so many household tasks require by handing over full ownership of a task—I’m talking about the conception, planning and then remembering when, where and how to get the task completed on time (!)—women report a significantly higher sense of fairness in the home. What’s more, the men who report in my interviews feeling the happiest and most confident in their relationships are those who have the full backing and trust of their partners to take an ownership lead.
TRP: For women who feel burdened by the mental load, what's one thing you recommend they do today to start lightening their load?
Don’t expect your partner to start “owning” your lioness’ share of the workload overnight. Start by handing over one household or childcare task, or “card,” as I refer to them within the Fair Play system. Re-assigning ownership of even just one card can totally change the game. As one woman said to me “My husband taking full ownership of the ‘auto’ card was worth ten cards to me because that one task relieved me of so many mental minutes. Not having to plan, remind, or even think at all about DMV registration, renewing insurance, oil changes and washing the car is liberating!” When my own husband took over“extracurricular (sports)” for my two sons, I gained back eight hours a week. Just from re-dealing a single card! One, I might add, that my husband enjoys holding because he loves sports and watching his kids engage on the field. Once my husband understood how ownership invites him to step into a stronger and more fulfilling parenting role, and also puts him in the driver’s seat of aspects of domestic life that he values, he willingly took on more of the domestic labor.
TRP: What do you do regularly to keep checks and balances in place in your home?
It’s all about holding your feedback in the moment (“you forgot to take out the trash—again!”), and saving it for the weekly check-in when you can calmly discuss any and all tasks at hand. My husband and I have a standing check-in call every Friday at 11a.m., right before lunch. And so, we don’t forget or schedule something else during that time, we’ve both set reminders on our phones. We prioritize our check-in like it’s the next episode of The Bachelor and I advise every couple to do similarly. Across the board, couples who make regular time to exchange feedback about the Fair Play system achieve maximum efficiency and happiness. It’s so important to hold your temper, hold your tongue, and wait for it. Regular check-ins will align you and yours in the spirit of collaboration. In fact, it’s the number-one predictor of long-term success.
TRP: What are you most proud of?
I originally set out to write Fair Play as a love letter to women. As it turns out, it’s also a love letter to men, and to my husband specifically. After much trial and error, engaging in regular dialogue and negotiating with intention, my husband and I are playing fair. And by watching us, our kids are learning what it means to have an equitable and collaborative partnership, one where both Mommy’s and Daddy’s individual time is respected and valued and where household work is shared. A triple win!