Motherwell talks to best-selling author Eve Rodsky

picture of Eve Rodsky's Fair Play book and game.

Eve Rodsky’s book Fair Play  presents a hands-on, systematic solution to how to share the division of labor at home. Based on interviews with more than 500 couples, Rodsky, a mother of three, proposes a simple game using task cards to divvy up household responsibilities. As an easy-to-implement solution to domestic re-balance, the game makes addressing a difficult, and potentially entrenched, domestic situation easier and more fun than it could be. The four key rules to play are: all time is created equal, reclaim your right to be interesting, start where you are now, and establish your values and standards.

We had the opportunity to talk to Eve, about how to successfully manage the division of labor in the house, and about how gender roles affect this endeavor.

Randi Olin: What are some tips to make invisible domestic tasks more visible to your partner? How long realistically should you expect this to take?   

Eve Rodsky: My first tip is not to throw a list at your partner. That’s what I did initially, and it backfired. My husband wanted nothing to do with my list of “100 items of invisible work.” I learned that lists don’t work but systems do. Fair Play invites you and your partner to sit down in the spirit of collaboration and transparency to discuss all that it takes to run a home. Together, decide what tasks and traditions are valuable and relevant to your family (some won’t be and can be thrown out!) and then, align your expectations and define clear roles. In other words: who does what, how and when?

System implementation takes some time, so don’t expect your partner to start owning your share of the workload overnight. Start by renegotiating one household or childcare task. Just one can totally change the game. When my husband took ownership of “extracurricular (sports)” for my two sons, I gained back eight hours a week. Start with one task and build from there.

RO: There is a perception that men’s time is finite yet a woman’s time is infinite. How do we, at this stage of the game, dispel such a myth/re-write the narrative?   

ER: We need a cultural shift in recognition that all time is created equal. My hope is that society recognizes that an hour at the pediatrician’s office holding a child’s hand is just as valuable as an hour in the boardroom. Time as counted in valuable fleeting minutes, connection, legacy, not dollars. And every domestic task, both visible and invisible, physical and mental, has a quantifiable time component. Most women can attest and have personally experienced, the minutes quickly add up…so the question is: how can women reclaim their time? It is only when both partners believe they should each have choice over how they use their time (and there is no default for any domestic task)—that’s when the division of labor will shift toward parity in your relationship.

RO: What do you consider the most fair approach for two parents to divide up domestic and child care chores; how do you factor in circumstances that might change the division, for example if one is a stay-at-home parent? 

ER: What is fair is not always equal and what is equal is not always fair. One of my chief findings while doing research for Fair Play was that women with children feel overwhelmed, but the solution isn’t necessarily for their partners to share equally in their efforts at home. When I asked stay-at-home parents specifically what makes the biggest difference in their marital satisfaction, they said that it depends far less on whether tasks are split 50/50 down the middle and far more on whether their partners fully “own” the task(s) they agree to take on.

Owning includes not just doing, but also the cognitive and emotional labor that each task requires—the forethought, the planning, the remembering when, where and how to get the job done—and without excessive oversight or input from the other partner. It may seem like a counter-intuitive approach to ask our partners to do more of less, but replacing competitive scorekeeping with collaborative dialogue that emphasizes ownership creates more efficiency, less resentment and more fairness in the home whatever the dynamic.

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