A Conversation with Eve Rodsky, Author of Fair Play

Selected as a Hello Sunshine x Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, Eve Rodsky’s bestselling book Fair Play is a revolutionary, real-world solution to the problem of unpaid, invisible work that women have shouldered for too long. The editors at Putnam spoke to the author about her inspiration for the book, developing the principles in Fair Play, and why men should get on board.

Selected as a Hello Sunshine x Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, Eve Rodsky’s bestselling book Fair Play is a revolutionary, real-world solution to the problem of unpaid, invisible work that women have shouldered for too long. The editors at Putnam spoke to the author about her inspiration for the book, developing the principles in Fair Play, and why men should get on board.

You run your own business, parent your three young children with your husband, and, in Fair Play, talk frankly about feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work you needed to do on a daily basis. Why did you want to add “writing a book” to your to-do list?

photo credit: Photo ©Avia Rosen

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. I marked up his operating agreements as he grew a new business and he helped me secure my dream job in philanthropy. Cut to two kids later and I found myself sobbing on the side of the road because of 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 for every single household and childcare task...including apparently being the fulfiller of my husband’s smoothie needs? This was not how I envisioned my life. I knew something had to change. So I embarked on a quest to find a solution for domestic rebalance not only for my marriage but for couples everywhere.

How did this project go from being something personal to you to something much, much larger?

I started my journey into the “gendered division of labor” (and other related phrases like “emotional labor” and the “second shift”) by reading every book and article I could get my hands on. I was aware that women shoulder about two-thirds 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 seen as “work” at all and is significantly devalued. The article had a real impact on me and informed my initial quest—which was to make the invisible domestic tasks I did visible to my husband. My thinking was that it is impossible to value what’s invisible and I believed visibility would equal value. So I created a “Sh*t I Do” spreadsheet. With the help of women across the country, I catalogued every single action I took in service of my family that had a quantifiable time component. But here’s the thing—while the “Shit I Do” list illuminated how much invisible work women were doing for their families, the list also seemed to provoke more rage (and scorekeeping!) than change. I soon realized that my expertise in family mediation, law, and organizational management could be applied to this problem—to create a system to promote sustainable change and get past the resentment and rage. Fair Play is a system tested by couples from all walks of life. At its core is a card game—where couples each hold domestic task cards representing all that it takes to run a home and raise a family.

In the book, you take us with you on the journey to develop the ideas and methods of Fair Play—through the research, the bruising failures, and the successes. Tell us more about how your expertise informed this book and about your research.

I advise highly complex family organizations. For more than a decade I have worked to bring solutions for family harmony and efficiency to high-net-worth family foundations by setting up systems customized for each family (sort of like the show Succession). My lightbulb moment was that the same systems I create for these highly complex organizations could also work for any home.

In terms of my research, I wanted to make sure I was well versed in the subject area. I started by reading hundreds of articles, studies, and books. I did not want to rely on third-party sources like newspaper articles, so I worked with a research assistant to comb through actual studies and original research. Where possible, I interviewed experts firsthand in psychology, sociology, social work, neuroscience, clergy, behavioral economics, and law. I took a deeper dive with two experts in particular—Professor Darby Saxbe, a clinical psychology professor who is an expert in the gendered division of labor and read the manuscript through that lens, and Professor Alexis Jemal, a social work professor who is an expert in critical consciousness theory and who read the manuscript through that lens. Second, as the author of this book representing majority social identities, I wanted to ensure that I had a representative sample of the U.S. population to interview in order to make sure my findings were applicable to a wide range of couples with other social identities. I ended up interviewing more than five hundred men and women for this book. The sample was diverse in age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, marital status, educational attainment, employment status, geographical location, and dyadic gender composition. While the majority of couples were heterosexual, same-sex couples were also included in my research. The research was done in a three-stage process. The first stage was the creation of the “Sh*t I Do” list, where domestic tasks were sourced from family, friends, colleagues, and strangers and subsequently organized into “suits.” The second stage involved more in-depth conversations and interviews using open-ended questions. Data and insights from each interview were used (a) to adjust questions for successive interviews, (b) to explore the causes and consequences of inequitable division of domestic labor, and (c) to inform the development of the Fair Play System. Finally, after the Fair Play System was created, couples were chosen for beta testing Fair Play concepts. I conducted follow-up interviews to troubleshoot, assess, and modify the Fair Play System accordingly. All this work culminates in my favorite chapter—“The Top 13 Mistakes Couples Make—and the Fair Play Fix.”

How long did it take for you start to finish to create this book?

I received the blueberry text seven years ago, after my son Ben was born. That’s when I started my quest thinking and reading about the gendered division of labor and sourcing the “Sh*t I Do” list. My author journey started in earnest three years ago, when my third child, Anna, was born. I was inspired to begin writing by holding my baby daughter.

Today most people in the United States believe in the concept of “equality” between genders. Why do you think women are still shouldering the brunt of child-rearing and household work in America and what are the costs to them for doing so?

There are deeply rooted social, cultural, and political reasons for why women shoulder this burden, and in Fair Play’s bibliography you will see many of the intelligent women and men who have been writing about these reasons for more than a hundred years. In terms of individual costs to a woman when she shoulders this burden, I break them down into four categories: (1) career; (2) wellness; (3) identity; and (4) marriage. This is not to mention the societal costs of being robbed of valuable productivity and female leadership and talent. In Fair Play, I argue that it’s time we shift the conversation to a twenty-first century solution that can be implemented household by household by inviting men to the table.

What is “invisible work,” and why is it important to understand when thinking about balancing the work of family life?

“Invisible work” has evolved to mean the behind-the-scenes stuff that keeps a home and family running smoothly, although it’s hardly noticed and is rarely valued. Another term often used to describe this work is “emotional labor.” This term has evolved from its original meaning to encompass the “maintaining relationships” and “managing emotions” domestic work like calling in-laws, sending thank-you notes, buying teachers’ gifts and soothing a child’s meltdown in Target. The problem is that, while important and often meaningful, these acts take significant amounts of time, and women are doing most of them. And on top of the hours and hours of invisible work, many of the women I interviewed for this book reported feeling very resentful for the mommy articles suggesting they make time for a run, dinner with a friend, vacation, etc. One of them posted this to Instagram: Thanks for the reminder to schedule some self-care. I’ll be sure to add that to the long list of other sh*t I don’t have time to get done . The fact is that friendships, self-care, and other “back to me” time are truly important BUT without the context of domestic rebalance and efficiency, it sadly does just become sh*t I don’t have time to get done.

How does Fair Play change the conversation about invisible work?

It changes the conversation by starting the conversation. It makes the invisible visible and then gives you a system to change the game. When you are married or in a partnership, no one person should be expected to “hold all the cards,” or even come close, regardless of whether both people work outside the home. Holding all the cards required to run a household equates to more than a full-time job. Fair Play changes the conversation to values, standards, and ownership. Let’s take the example of extracurricular sports. Before Fair Play, my husband would tell people he was “in charge of” extracurricular sports for our two sons, Zach and Ben. What that meant to him was that he would take them to their little league games on Sundays. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I was running around handling dozens of invisible tasks like filling out the little league registration forms; arranging carpool for after-school practice; picking up the kids’ uniforms from the team office at an assigned time; printing out, signing and making copies of release forms; buying cleats; returning cleats when they were the wrong size; and on and on. Now when my husband says he is charge, he truly is in charge. Fair Play is based on full ownership of the cards in your hand—from Conception to Planning and Execution (CPE), where everything required to handle the full card is discussed beforehand (I give you all the tools do this), including our minimum standard of care which is sunscreen and a helmet. I still get to show up to cheer on my sons, but I am free of hours and hours of work—and that’s just one card!


Fair Play promotes the idea of equity and fairness in domestic responsibilities, not equality. What does this concept mean?

The ultimate Fair Play goal is two happy, fulfilled people who serve as healthy role models for their children. It starts with fairness not necessarily equality. I like to say what is fair is not necessarily equal and what is equal is not necessarily fair. I think the emphasis on “50/50” has held women back. There is so much resentment and disappointment when things are not “equal.” Fair Play is focused on fairness—not tit-for-tat scorekeeping. And the truth is, when I asked women what makes the biggest difference in their marital satisfaction, they said that it depends far less on whether tasks are split 50/50 in the household and far more on whether her partner performs full Conception, Planning, and Execution of those cards in his hand with competence and care. The deepest resentment lives in the “C” and “P,” because therein lies the bulk of the mental and emotional weight. So when our partners completely take Conception (the behind-the-scenes mental load where you assess your family’s overall needs and conceive of and define the task that will meet those needs) and Planning (where you do your homework and create a detailed action plan that outlines what is required to get the task done completely) off our minds, suddenly the heaviest aspects of the domestic workload are lifted. What’s more, the men who report feeling the most confident, invested, and happiest in their relationships are those who have the full backing and trust of their partners to take a full CPE lead! Once my husband understood how CPE 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 built his hand. Seth jokes I should make a T-shirt that says: “Your CPE means so much to me.”

You were raised by a single mom; what did she think of the research?

The first thing she said to me when she finished reading the book was “now you understand how hard it was for me to hold all of the cards.” She felt validated and said that she hopes that introducing the Fair Play themes to a wider audience will shine a light on all single moms are required to do with little social supports. She also is a professor of social work with a specialty in community organizing—a discipline that works to alleviate societal ills based on injustice, inequality, or inequity—and so she and her colleagues were able to give me important feedback on the manuscript along the way.

In the book you share personal stories of trigger moments in your marriage. How does your husband feel about the sometimes unflattering ways in which those moments portray him in the beginning chapters?

He will never leave a drunk guy’s jacket on our lawn ever again 😊. But seriously, my husband has been the biggest champion of the book’s messages because our marriage is stronger than ever and he feels empowered to be a true partner in the home.

You interviewed and have beta testers from more than five hundred men and women, and this helped you develop the principles in Fair Play. Was there one story or couple that still sticks with you?

What sticks with me is that the biggest problems couples reported in their marriage were ironically the smallest details—the small details are driving huge wedges in our relationships. I had a CEO calling me crying because her husband forgot to take out the kitty litter. A man reported to me that he was locked out of his house when he forgot to bring home a glue stick. I was sobbing on the side of the road over off-season blueberries. If you take the bird’s-eye view, you see these examples are all the result of resentment—perceived unfairness in the home which lead to resentment. Enter Fair Play and that all changes.

The book is written primarily from a wives-to-husbands point of view (although you interviewed same sex couples and stay-at-home dads); does this apply to them?

In my own testing I found that Fair Play works for all different types of couples, regardless of gender composition. And what I found throughout my own conversations and interviews is also consistent with the scientific literature on this topic. The bottom line is this: Almost all couples struggle with and can benefit from an equitable division of domestic labor.

Why should men want to get on board with Fair Play?

The current system isn’t working for men and I know this because I interviewed many, many men from all walks of life who are in committed relationships. The most common thing I heard from them was: “I can’t get anything right. And therefore, I am nagged to death.” Who wants to live like this? Who wants to be locked out of their home because of a glue stick? The reason we are living like this is that the home is the last frontier where chaotic disorder is accepted and there are no clearly defined expectations. Imagine walking into your boss’s office to ask: Hey, what should I be doing today? I will just wait here until you tell me what to do. It wouldn’t work in the office and it shouldn’t work in the home. In the twenty-first century workplace, “context not control” is the gold standard where employees are encouraged to step up to the plate and pick up trash from the floor. Whereas the home is just the opposite—it is all control and no context. Before Fair Play I would text Seth: "Put Zach’s folder in the backpack. Pick up dinner." And he would be thinking: What folder? Dinner from where? It’s time to invite men to the table in a collaborative way into a system with context and clearly defined expectations. One man reported Fair Play as “the ultimate lifehack for the home.”

In the game of Fair Play, each partner must each take a Unicorn Space card. What is this card, and how does one play it?

It is important to imagine the endgame. Why are we rebalancing? What is the life we both want to live? I define Unicorn Space as creative, magical space necessary to develop and pursue your passions, but like the mythical equine it doesn’t f*cking exist—until you discover or reclaim it. And at its core, it’s about the magic and joy of being you and sharing it with the world. Being a mother or father is extremely meaningful, and yet there can be more. It may seem like a fairy tale to carve out time to get back to playing piano again or research the business idea that you’ve back-burnered since becoming a parent, but everyone has permission to be interesting and interested—to be more than a role of parent, spouse, and worker. Many women said to me things like “I don’t have time to go to the dentist and yet you want me to find time to nurture what makes me come alive?” Yes, I do—but only in the context of the entire Fair Play game. I found over and over again women and men were reporting true joy when they were claiming their Unicorn Space without guilt and shame. And as I emphasize in the book, Unicorn Space is not reserved for the rich.

What would you say to a woman who feels like it’s just hopeless or that there’s no way her partner will participate?

I like to quote Nora Ephron: “Be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.” You can be a game changer in your marriage and your life. I interviewed a woman who said to me that she was afraid to initiate a conversation with her husband about how they do things at home, and yet that same woman also said to me earlier in our interview that she had recently dumped wet clothes on her husband’s pillow when he forgot to take them out of the dryer. I want to be very clear here . You. are. already. communicating. Whether it is passive-aggressive jabs or eye-rolling or seething in silence, these are all forms of communication. Why not try trading your old habits for engaging in Fair Play? It is a simple game with easy-to-follow rules that foster collaborative communication. It also gives you time back that you desperately deserve. We only have one life. No one wants to spend it fighting over wet clothes!

This journey started for you because you felt your workload in the home was unfair. How long did it take before you started to see progress in your own relationship?

Seth and I were the ground zero for beta testers. As you see in the book, I went through a journey where I realized lists alone don’t work but systems do—to establish explicitly defined expectations, fairness, transparency, consistency, and efficiency. I have been developing systems for super-complex family organizations for a decade. Once I brought those learnings to Fair Play, my husband and I saw results right away, and it just got better month after month. And because we continue to follow the game rules and check in every week, it has been the ultimate game changer for us as a couple.

For the book, you spoke with experts across many fields—from psychologists to clergy to behavioral economists. What is one thing you were most fascinated to learn? Was there anything that shocked you?

In my interviews, when I asked women why they shoulder more of the domestic work than their partners, a very common answer I received was: Women are better multitaskers or Women have better executive brain function than men. It was a privilege to have access to one of the top experts on brain science in the world to help me unpack this answer—especially since the mainstream media hasn’t covered this topic very accurately. I was fascinated to learn that there are no studies supporting the notion that women are inherently better multitaskers or have better executive brain function, and yet this message was pervasive among the women I interviewed. In Fair Play, I devote an entire chapter to unpacking what I call “toxic time messages” (of which this is one) and giving suggestions for reframing these messages.

The book focuses on the workload shared between partners. Is there a way for children to participate in the Fair Play game, too?

Fair Play is designed to help couples role model healthy behavior for their children. That said, one survey found a woman is more likely to ask her children to do chores than her husband. Kids can absolutely help, and Fair Play beta-testers often report including their children in the execution of the Fair Play cards. But consider who is left holding the bag if the task doesn’t get done? The parents. Ownership begins and ends with the adults in the house. Patterns begin early and Fair Play will hopefully become second nature as children grow into adults and have their own families.

At home, what is the one task card you hate to take on the most?

There are thirty of them and in Fair Play they are called the Daily Grinds (DGs). These Fair Play cards are marked by a coffee cup (since coffee often accompanies us as we do these grinds!). Early on in my research, I sat down with USC professor of psychology Darby Saxbe and she conveyed to me that research shows men often take the domestic tasks they can do on their own time, whereas women take the ones that are chronic, highly repetitive, and often cannot be done on a timetable they choose—school lunches, for example, have to be made before children go to school or they won’t have anything to eat once they get there. She also conveyed that “as a result, women often may feel more like prisoners of their household routine.” To address Professor Saxbe’s insights, the Fair Play game rules explicitly call out the DGs and require each partner to be responsible for some of them.

What do you say to those who say systems aren’t fun?

I say systems allow for much more time for fun and an even happier, more fulfilled life. (P.S. Effective systems are way more fun and less expensive than divorce.)

If you could snap your fingers and change one cultural norm or expectation around this topic, what would it be?

On my computer I have an aspirational goal for Fair Play written on a post it: Redefine time. What do I mean by that? What I found so pervasive all over my interviews was the view that men’s time is finite and a women’s time is infinite. Fair Play Rule #1 is All Time Is Created Equal. This is the core operating principle that drives the entire system. So if I could snap my fingers, men and women’s time would be viewed as equally important.

Also, if I could snap my fingers, I would make Fair Play a three-player game with the state as a third player to support the American parent with policies such as universal preschool, paid parental leave, and free health coverage for all children and their primary caregivers. But here’s the good news: You don’t have to wait for change. It’s not an either-or—you can both address policy while also taking agency in your own life.

What’s next for you?

I am in the process of writing the sequel to Fair Play, inspired by the many stories of men and women who are living their Unicorn Space. I just saw a commercial of two ex-NFL players who have opened up a cupcake bakery and I was on the computer this morning tracking them down for an interview.



“A hands-on, real talk guide for navigating the hot-button issues that so many families struggle with.” —Reese Witherspoon

“A must read for every busy woman out there.”—PopSugar's Best Books of Fall


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