‘Fair Play’ is helping modern couples rebalance roles in a way moms desperately need
Eve Rodsky’s book has spawned a documentary and entire philosophy at a time when mothers need these solutions the most.
Have you thought about why you’re mentally wiped out all the time? The book “Fair Play” by Eve Rodsky showed me it isn’t all the doing as a mom—it is the conception and planning of endless tasks that are the culprits.
As a young woman in my early 20s, I wanted to be a great mom, have a rewarding career and be in a loving respectful relationship. Back then, I likely thought the title of supermom was something to strive for, not one that promotes an unhealthy and impossible standard. As moms, we’ve learned the super mom standard makes us feel that we should always be doing more, and we feel guilty when we spending time on interests that lie outside the family. What’s super about that?
Research shows that once kids enter the mix, the division of household labor falls disproportionately to the mom, and the amount of invisible work, or unpaid work involved in managing a household or family, is often crippling. Many moms are unprepared to shoulder the demands of their home life. With so much to tend to in addition to the home: a career, friendships, non-nuclear family, self-care, community service and outside interests, moms become mentally overwhelmed. “Mom brain” is one term used to describe brain fog and the feeling of being anxious, distracted and forgetful. It’s no wonder we can’t remember where our glasses are, whether we signed up for the school bake sale or when our next hair appointment is. But “mom brain” is part of the natural evolution of becoming a mom, right?
Rodsky, the author of “Fair Play,” says it should not and does not have to be this way for women. In writing “Fair Play,” Rodsky makes the invisible visible. Literally. Her lightbulb moment occurred when she realized that visibility equals value. Simply put, if our partners and families cannot see and quantify the work women are doing, it won’t be valued. So she created a “Sh*t I do” list that included everything she did in a day with the amount of time it took to complete. She sought feedback from friends and the list suddenly took on a life of its own.
Rodsky shines a light on a national conversation that has been building for quite some time, but she goes one step further by providing a framework and solution for moms and their partners or spouses to rebalance household tasks. (She’s even developed the Fair Play Deck, cards that can be used to initiate and drive conversations between couples about what’s most important to them; cards include tasks such as laundry, garbage, electronics and IT, parents and in-laws.)
The documentary, also titled “Fair Play”, which is now streaming on Hulu, follows three couples, all dual-income families, as they navigate the delicate rebalancing of household tasks. I saw myself in and identified with these women, particularly their ambition and approach to motherhood and family as a top priority. The women are also the default parent—or as Rodsky creatively calls it, the “she-fault parent” for the majority of family-related and household tasks. Right away, you see the impact on the women: fatigue, frustration, resentment and loneliness, resulting in discord and disconnection with their spouses.
Rodsky guides and works with each couple through their specific challenges and needs. You see the benefit of having a neutral third-party present, and I made the connection that the Fair Play Deck may also serve as a surrogate neutral third-party for those that don’t elect, or can’t afford, to have a therapist or guide.
Related: Best-selling author Eve Rodsky wants mothers to be interested in their own lives
The documentary also features Rodsky and her spouse as they navigate and discuss who will be responsible for various tasks in their household. In an effort to understand why a certain task needs to be prioritized, I appreciated Rodsky’s explanation on the importance of sharing the why with your partner for increased understanding and context. For Rodsky, taking out the trash every night is important. She explains as a child growing up in a single parent household in an apartment in NYC, if the trash wasn’t taken out, bugs would appear. The story is impactful and Rodsky’s husband takes the trash out daily.
My aha moment came to me upon understanding Rodsky’s concept of CPE, which is discussed in detail in the book and touched upon in the documentary. CPE stands for “Conceive, Plan and Execute”—and with every card you and your partner agree to play, you must collectively agree on what it means to Conceive, Plan and Execute each card or task. Rodsky further explains that the real mental load, or cognitive effort on one’s part, comes from Conceiving and Planning of a task, not necessarily the Execution. For example, say you’ve noticed your child is struggling with expressive language. The “C” includes assessing your child’s performance at school, at home and in the community. The “P” involves identifying appropriate speech therapists, meeting them to ensure the best fit for your child, checking references, determining affordability and scheduling sessions. The “E” is taking your child to speech therapy at the agreed-upon times. So, if your spouse or partner is taking your child to speech therapy, they are only partially responsible for the task, which happens to be the least mentally taxing part.
Armed with this newfound understanding, I texted three of my close girlfriends and asked if their spouses CPE-ed any given task. As my son often says before he expectantly delivers a punchline, “Drumroll, please!” Their responses were:
Friend #1: I really need to think about that. I’ll get back to you.
Friend #2: Nothing comes to mind.
Friend #3: (Name of husband) is more of a bystander, not a participant.
Whoa. I wasn’t expecting all three to reply essentially the same thing in different ways, as they represent both Gen Xers and Millennials.
The explanation of CPE for various tasks allowed me to validate my own feelings from my past, and it was unexpectedly emotional. When I learned my son was neurodiverse several years ago, there were so many tasks that needed to be done (i.e., doctor appointments, therapy sessions, carrying out therapist recommendations, fighting insurance claims, etc.) to ensure he had the best start at an early age. I was overwhelmed and anxious, and had a hard time focusing on the other aspects of my life. I remember periodically crying at the end of many of those days, guilty because I had so little energy to do the “fun stuff”—things other moms did like making cookies, playing hide and seek or stopping for ice cream. (Super mom strikes again.) However, the concept of CPE released some of my past demons because I realized just how much I was shouldering. As a result, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself.
Similarly, the women in the documentary ultimately receive what so many of us moms need: an awareness, appreciation and desire to initiate positive changes from our partners when it comes to rebalancing family and household responsibilities.
A recognition and understanding of what’s at stake, doesn’t hurt either.
Related: When women do more unpaid labor, their mental health suffers. The same isn’t true for men, study suggests
“What we learned from the documentary is that regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status all women will at some point be defined by their roles,” Rodsky tells Motherly. “We can no longer live in a world where women and their unpaid labor are the assumption. Visibility equals value and I truly believe the Fair Play movement is unleashing a new conversation around what we value as a society, how we measure it and ultimately who does it.”
My partner and I watched the documentary together earlier this month. We’ve had some interesting and productive conversations and have made a couple of impactful changes. One change is that he’s started proactively identifying the days he’ll be cooking dinner during the weekday. On those days, he’ll plan the meal, ensure we have the necessary ingredients and cook the meal. We haven’t yet set a date to dive deeper into discussion and distribute our selected cards. I’m OK with that for now. Sometimes just knowing there’s a solution out there makes everything more manageable.