Eve Rodsky, FAIR PLAY

Eve Rodsky, FAIR PLAY

Zibby Owens: I’m so excited to be here today with Eve Rodsky who’s the author of Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live). Eve received her BA in economics and anthropology from the University of Michigan and her JD from Harvard Law School. A former JP Morgan philanthropy expert, she went on to found the Philanthropy Advisory Group which advises high-net worth families and foundations on best practices and more. Eve was raised by a single mom in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Also, in her work with hundreds of families over a decade, she realized that her expertise in family mediation, strategy, and organizational management could be applied to a problem closer to home. A system for couples seeking balance, efficiency, and peace in their home, this book has already completely changed my life. Welcome, Eve. Thank you for coming.

Eve Rodsky: It’s so great to be here with you. I said that before. I’m getting emotional already.

Zibby: Eve and I were chatting before I turned this on and already crying.

Eve: It’s a good place to start, from authentic feelings.

Zibby: I was telling Eve that I’ve read a lot of books, there’s been a lot of press and books and literature and everything on this whole very of-the-moment concept of invisible labor and mental load and all these things that women basically shoulder. Eve’s book, for me, woke me up in a whole different way. I don’t know if it was the combination of your academic type research, your interviews with hundreds and hundreds of people, your personal stories, and then your solution at the end of it, not just venting about it. This book, I have not stopped thinking about it, honestly. Let’s talk about it. Fair Play, tell everybody what it’s about. What inspired you to write this book?

Eve: Thank you for having me. I like to say that this is a book my whole life in the making. I grew up in a single-mom household where I got the first-row seat of what it looked like for one person to have to do it all. That meant I helped my mom manage utility bills, eviction notices. From that first eviction notice when I was eight years old, I remember thinking, this is not going to be me. I’m going to have a true partner in life. I vowed to do that, and I did. I married that true partner. We were killing it in business and in life. He helped me secure my dream job in philanthropy. I helped him mark up his operating agreements as he grew a new business. We took turns doing the laundry, making each other dinner. It felt fair.

Cut to two kids later. I find myself sobbing on the side of the road over a text my husband sent me. That text said, “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.” As I received that text, I pulled over to the side of the road. What I was really thinking was, if my marriage is going to end, it should be over something way more dramatic, like my affair with an NFL player. I used to be able to manage employee teams, and I can’t even manage a grocery list because I’m so overwhelmed. On top of it, when did I become the default for literally every single household and childcare task for my family including, apparently, being the fulfiller of my husband’s smoothie needs? That’s when I knew that this was not how I envisioned my life. Something had to change.

I embarked on a quest. When I talk about quest, I mean a quest like you said before, through 508 interviews of men and women, through 10 disciplines of experts, a quest to find a solution for domestic rebalance that I knew so many of us needed. I’ll just tell you one finding on my quest because we’ll talk more about it. The most interesting thing I found was that the biggest problems in marriage and in partnerships were the smallest details. I had a COO of a publicly traded company, a woman, telling me that her greatest challenge was getting her husband to take out the kitty litter, not running her publicly traded company. I had a man in Upstate New York telling me that he was locked out from his house driving around aimlessly because he forgot to bring home a glue stick for his child’s art project. I’m sobbing over off-season blueberries.

Enter Fair Play. Fair Play is a life management system. At its core, at its crux is a card game you play with your spouse. It’s easier to play than Monopoly. You divide up domestic tasks based on things that you value, having conversations that actually matter to you. Ultimately the goal is for fairness, but also for women to be able to get some time back to pursue what makes them uniquely them.

Zibby: Wow. Amazing. By the way, you know how they have those signs like rest stops on the sides of the highway? “This spot is sponsored by Zarin Fabrics,” or something. I feel like they should have mom crying stops. The amount of times I have had to pull over for one reason or another, side streets and whatever. What is wrong with me? Or driving through and barely seeing.

Eve: Yes. Right, ugly crying through tears. I think that happens to a lot of women because we have our realizations at certain moments of the day when it just feels like too much to bear.

Zibby: Sometimes driving is the only time you’re alone for a minute. You just dropped somebody off. Suddenly, there’s quiet. You’re left with yourself. You’re like, ah!

Eve: When you stop running, you try to start thinking. Is this how I envisioned my life? The beauty of the book is the stories are all authentic. Every story in the book is true. Some of them are concealed for privacy reasons. The most important thing for me was to honor the stories.

Zibby: You started with this whole Shit I Do list. Sorry for cursing. My daughter’s probably listening. Sorry, Phoebe! You started this whole list. Actually, I started a spreadsheet similar to yours when my kids were two. I was like, how am I supposed to manage it? Look at all this stuff I do. How did this add up like this? Everyone’s always, “Find somebody. Maybe somebody can help you do this or that.” No, I do this. You have to do everything. What you said in the book too, outsourcing a task can be more work than doing the task itself. “You need more help at home? Find another –” No, it is so hard to do anything, all of it, not to complain. It’s a privilege to have kids and all of it. It’s a joy.

Eve: One hundred percent.

Zibby: But there’s so much that comes with it. Tell me about how you started this.

Eve: That’s correct. Women say to me, “It’s a privilege to raise my kids.” I say, “Great because that’s why I’m inviting men to share that privilege with you.”

Zibby: Exactly. You crowdsourced the list?

Eve: What happened was because I’m a lawyer and an organizational management specialist and a product of an academic — my mother’s a professor of social work and community organizing — I wanted to make sure I knew my subject really well before I dove in. I read every single book and article that’s ever been written on the subject of invisible work, emotional labor, second shift. That started with 1880s, Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own all the way to up the more recent books that say make a list. I thought, let me do this. Let me try to make a list. I started a spreadsheet called The Shit I Do.

The beauty of the spreadsheet was that it was viral amongst groups of women across the country. I had people helping me fill out every single tab. If I forgot something, someone would call me out and say, “I don’t see applying sunscreen on here.” I’d say, “No, you just didn’t look under medical and healthy living. It’s under the medical and the healthy living tab. Someone would say, “You forgot allowance.” I said, “No, allowance is in there. It’s under family values and traditions.” Otherwise, why are you giving allowance if it’s not to set some sort of system for your children about their values around money? It was that granular, sourced by dozens and dozens of women across the country. I was so proud of it. I was proud of the Shit I Do spreadsheet. It ended up with ninety-eight tabs and about fifteen subtabs. Over a thousand items of invisible work were on this beautiful spreadsheet.

Zibby: Not so invisible anymore.

Eve: Not so invisible. I kept saying if you make the invisible visible, that has to be the first step. It was the first step to me and my friends. It was beautiful because it was all there. The way that I looked at it and the question I asked was, give me every single thing that takes quantifiable time. Obviously, you can’t put love on the spreadsheet, “I love my children.” You can put that you went to purchase flowers for their recital because that took time. That became a tab called gestures of love. Anything that took time got on the spreadsheet. This is what happens, though. I’m so proud of it. All the women in my life have helped me source it. It was this wonderful exercise. I send it off to Seth one day that says, “Can’t wait to discuss.”

Zibby: Seth is your husband?

Eve: Seth is my husband, still my husband, an amazing man now.

Zibby: Thanks, Seth.

Eve: Thanks, Seth. Post Fair Play, we’re at a great place. I sent it off to him saying, “Can’t wait to discuss.” I didn’t even get the courtesy of a three-money trio. I literally just got one monkey, that one monkey that has the eyes covered.

Zibby: The monkey emoji?

Eve: The monkey emoji with the eyes covered. That is what he sent back to me. What I realized is he didn’t want to see, hear, or speak of these issues because it felt too overwhelming. In that moment, I realized lists alone don’t work, but systems do. I do know that because I’ve been working for over a decade to create systems for family harmony for my clients around their family foundations and family businesses. From there, I took that beautiful Shit I Do spreadsheet and I started to turn it into a system.

Zibby: That’s how you ended up with Fair Play?

Eve: That’s how I ended up with Fair Play, which is a very easy — the core and crux is a card game based on a hundred task cards that were derived from the Shit I Do spreadsheet. The beauty of that is that it comes with a set of rules now, not just a list. Those rules are really important because they’ve been beta tested with over a hundred different couples at this point. I know what works and what doesn’t work.

Zibby: It’s so great in the book because you’re like, don’t show your husband this part now. Stop here. Now wait a week and then come back. Do not try to push this through.

Eve: That’s correct. There’s a lot of do-no-harms in the book. After such a huge data set of interviews and this beautiful subset of couples who were willing to play with me — I got really good sociological data from them — I was able to troubleshoot. That’s why my favorite chapter of the book, it’s one of the last chapters called “The Top Thirteen Mistakes Couples Make and The Fair Play Fix.” I got to work with each of these couples to help them course correct.

Zibby: That was super helpful, by the way. Let’s go back for a second. You have all these cards, which are really tasks which are all the things that have to get done. You have people decide collectively, which are the ones important to your family to keep? Then you divide them up between men and women. It doesn’t have to be fifty/fifty. You said the magic number is twenty-one or something.

Eve: The beauty of the game is that you are imagining a life together about what you value. Some women will say to me, what if my spouse doesn’t want to play?

Zibby: I was going to ask.

Eve: I’ve never seen someone not want to play if it’s communicated in the correct way. This is what I’ve learned in my family foundation practice from working with over hundreds of families at this point in my career. Everything comes down to communication. A lot of women will say to me that they’re afraid to have these types of conversations.

Zibby: There’s this whole, “Well, women do all this better. This is what they’re supposed to do.” We must be better. In your book, you’re like, no. Nobody’s good at multitasking.

Eve: No. Let’s go down to the core, crux root of the most important finding of the entire book. The most important finding of the entire book was that men, women, and society view men’s time as finite and women’s as infinite. What I mean by that is men’s time is guarded as a finite resource like a diamond. Our time is looked at as sand, infinite. Without an understanding, a cultural recognition that all time is created equal, nothing is going to change. I’ll say that again. If all time is not created equal, nothing will change. Here’s what I mean.

My favorite interviews were men and women with the same job. Two pediatricians would be talking to me. All the data shows that women shoulder two thirds or more of what it takes to run a home and family regardless of whether they work outside the home. As you’d expect in these interviews, most of the time, the woman pediatrician would tell me, as she looked at my cards that she was holding, two thirds of more of the household task cards. Her husband wasn’t. When I would ask her spouse why he wasn’t holding as many task cards as his wife, the number one answer for men was, “Because I don’t have time.” Why this doesn’t work is because his wife is in the exact same job. How does she have any more time than he does?

Zibby: Busted!

Eve: That’s why those are my favorite interviews. It proves that it has nothing to do with actual time. All the women in my interview set like that told me that they found time. What I like to say, unless you’re Albert Einstein and you can figure out the relativity of time like I tried to do with my son last year when he was Einstein for his biography, time doesn’t expand and contract. We all have twenty-four hours in a day. When you start looking at time like that and not as time as money or “It’s on me to do all these tasks,” then culture starts to shift. Individuals start to shift. Relationships start to shift. Men ultimately don’t want unfairness. When you start saying them, “Your wife is using her time in service of the household while you get to use your time for leisure –”

Zibby: For napping?

Eve: All the science shows, including one of my favorite consultants, Professor Darby Saxbe, she shows that men take leisure time in much more abundance than women do because, my thesis, men view their time as finite and women’s is infinite. Again, when all time is created equal, we realize that it’s not on us. We’re not better multitaskers. There is no science to support that. I will say that a hundred times. There is no science supporting that women are better multitaskers. I went to the top neuroscientists in the world to ask those questions. It is culturally what it expected of us. Once we can push back and say, “My time is as valuable as your time regardless of whether you make more money than me,” or all these other messages, then things start to change.

Zibby: It’s so funny. This whole podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” I’ve spent so much time thinking about time, and how to manage my own time, and how to help people who don’t have time. Until I finished your book, I was like, I’m going to help people with limited time. What if they could have more time? What if there’s a way? What if your systems works?

Eve: That’s the thing. It does.

Zibby: If it works, if it scales, if everyone starts to do this, if things get rebalanced in the whole country, think of the contributions. Anybody who takes on something massive like managing their entire family, you’re going to have less time for your unicorn space or your work or whatever because time is finite for everybody. If you rebalance a little, think of the contributions people can add to society.

Eve: Absolutely. That is why I do this. I wake up every day thinking about what would happen if there was societal change. I see it happening for my beta testers where women do have time. They’re starting to talk about what they want to do with their time. It’s really beautiful. There are severe costs for women doing it all. There are severe costs for women holding all the invisible work at home. I talk about them in my book. They break down into costs on your identity. Who are you? Do you see who you were before children in your life right now? There’s costs on your career. The motherhood penalty is the largest penalty and the biggest discrimination on record in terms of wage discrimination, mothers and non-mothers. Mothers are discriminated against more than any other population. Your identity, your career, your marriage, and what it does to your communication and your resentment, and also as you said, society as a whole, and finally, wellness.

The women who try to do it all are coming back. The sad thing is almost everyone who was in a full-time job, almost every woman in my data set who was in a full-time job and was holding over sixty cards of the hundred in the Fair Play deck were reporting two things: either that they were ready to opt out of the workface, they were teetering on the brink; or two, they had some sort of ailment, number one being insomnia, number two an autoimmune disease, which was really horrible to hear. Those were the things that kept coming up over and over in my data set. That’s the sad part. There are costs to doing it all, to shouldering the burden at home.

The beauty though, as you were saying Zibby, is when we can gain time back and when we can do things differently, not only does it make things more efficient which gets time back for men and women to pursue their, what I call unicorn space, the time to be who you want to be, the time to be uniquely you, to pursue your passions and your purpose — you can’t do that, and why I’ve always hated passion and pursue books, is that nobody has time. No woman has time for passion and pursue without a rebalance. Unicorn space only works when you have a context of being able to have someone else take some of the mental relief off you.

Zibby: I feel like I couldn’t even do what I’m doing had I not gotten divorced. There’s no way. I couldn’t even work out. People say, “You have four kids .” I have this major cheat sheet in that I have every other weekend to myself. Not only the time to get things done, but the recharging, I don’t know how you get that if you don’t actually have that time, which if you’re not divorced — not that I’m telling everybody to go get divorced. It’s like I’m a different person.

Eve: That is right. This is a pro-marriage book. What I’m trying to get people to is a system that looks like divorce. What I mean by that is one word that divorced women tell me that has changed their life. That word is ownership. This is what I mean, ownership changes the game. When you’re still married — Fair Play is a pro-marriage book — and you want to get to where you got with more time, in a marriage you have to move to an ownership system. What I mean by that is before Fair Play, my husband would say things to me like, “I got extracurricular sports. That’s my thing.” Great. What that meant for him was showing up on the field on Sunday mornings for Little League, showing up with my two sons for their games. Whereas I’m still behind the scenes like a crazy person figuring out who they’re going to play with, finding out what leagues they should be part of, registering them for the leagues, getting the schedule, putting the practice schedule on my calendar, arranging carpool for practices, purchasing their equipment, finding their birth certificate, returning stuff on Amazon when the equipment is wrong and I’ve got a left-hand glove for a right-hand kid or whatever it was, hours and hours and hours of my time behind the scenes just to allow my husband to claim that he was doing extracurricular sports.

Zibby: The game is the easy part. Showing up is just being there.

Eve: That’s the thing. That is correct. The game is the fun part. The execution is the fun part. What happens after Fair Play is that when you are playing, when you are holding a card like the extracurricular sports card, you’re not only responsible for the game, the fun part of showing up to watch your kid play, you’re responsible for the conception, understanding what you want your children to play, to the planning, every single thing I just listed, the behind-the-scenes tasks, to the execution. I call that CPE.

Zibby: I loved that. That was a life-changing concept.

Eve: It is a life-changing concept. The cool thing about it is that we know it works because it works in business. It’s been working in my practice for a decade. It’s been working for over fifty years for businesses. Every single company is moving towards a directly responsible individual model. It’s called DRI model. You don’t walk into your boss’s office and sit down and say, “Hey, what should I be doing today? I’ll just wait here and have you tell me what to do.” If you did that, you’d be fired on the spot. We should fire people in our home who do that too. When you can move to ownership — now post-Fair Play, my husband has given me eight hours a week of my time back just from that one card. I literally don’t think about extracurricular sports. I show up sometimes if I want to. That’s a different card. That’s called the showing up and participating card, which is a really fun one because it doesn’t come with the mental load of all the conception and planning.

Sometimes I show up if I feel like it. Other times, I use that time for myself and know that there’s other times for me to see my kids in wonderful, different types of activities. That alone, one card transformed my relationship. Because my husband loved it so much and he felt good at it, he started to understand the conception, planning, and execution model. Then he understood it for more and more cards, and more and more cards, and more and more cards. Today, we’re in a system that feels very fair. I have gained so much of my time back. I’m no longer that woman who’s sitting on the side of the road sobbing over blueberries.

Zibby: No rest stops after all?

Eve: No rest stops. I’ve traded rest stops for what I call check-ins. We prioritize our check-in like an episode of The Bachelor. It’s our weekly staff meeting, but they’re really fun. They’re short. They allow us to communicate in a non-emotional way. It helps us re-deal cards for the week. That’s how my beta testers do things. My most successful beta testers prioritize their check-in like an episode of The Bachelor. They never miss it.

Zibby: Will you sell an actual game to accompany the book? Are you going to pull the cards out of the book?

Eve: It’s a good question. I wanted to make sure this was accessible to as many people as possible. I didn’t want it to be a price point above a normal book. We are offering the cards as a free download on my website, everodsky.com and also fairplaylife.com, to accompany the book. There is a big, as you said, disclaimer, a big “Do no harm” on the cards. Just like any card game, if you brought a card game home but you didn’t have the rules to your card game, you didn’t know if you were playing War or Poker or Rummy, you don’t want to play without really understanding the rules of the game. It’ll backfire.

Zibby: The only thing I worry about with this is my own ability to let go of some of the cards, especially the C and the P, that I’m so used to doing.

Eve: There’s a whole chapter in the book about that. The biggest hesitation women have is “My husband is not going to remember. My husband is going to do it wrong. My husband has never been able to do anything right, so how is he going to do this right?” I promise you, when you move to a CPE model, that all changes. The reason why is because of context, not control. Again, this is a business concept. When you give someone context to do their job, they are very, very competent in it. If you control them, they’re terrible at it. That is what the organizational management research shows. A CPE model, when you’re holding ownership of the conception and planning to the execution, you care.

The opposite, I’ll explain, is what I call the rat fuck. The rat fuck is what’s happening in people’s houses all over America. It’s the number-one thing I saw. By rat fuck I mean the random assignment of a task. The way men are involved in daily life right now, they are responsible for pieces of execution. Back to the man with the glue stick, what was happening in his household? What was happening in his household, I found out, was that his wife had been working on some major project, a secret buddy project for her child, for weeks, cutting out pictures. It required popsicle sticks, all these very intricate things to help her child do this one project. The night before it was due, they realized they had to glue the pictures onto the poster board. She did not have a glue stick that wasn’t dried out. She texted her husband on the way home from work or the middle of his day, “Please bring home a glue stick.”

He walks into the door. She says, “I need the glue stick.” He says, “I don’t have it.” She says, “Get the hell out of my house. I’m done with you.” Why that’s happening for her, I get. She did everything. She held the conception. She knew about the homework assignment. She planned the entire assignment. What she did was she gave him a rat, a random assignment of a task. She asked him for a glue stick. He reports to me he has no idea why he’s bringing this glue stick home. He doesn’t know about this project, and so he forgets. In her mind, it looks like he’s terrible. “He can’t even remember a glue stick. How am I going to put him in charge of our living will?” What I will tell you is that a rat infestation of your home, they ruin a marriage. They don’t work for women. They don’t work for men. They also make you think that your spouse is terrible at anything in the home. When you move to a CPE model, an ownership model where your spouse is responsible, your partner is responsible for the conception, planning, and execution of the entire task, then all of a sudden, standards change.

Zibby: It really makes me see all the things I’ve been doing wrong, seriously, even in the way I ask for help. I’m not even doing it in a good way. I think people get upset about the glue stick type situations because you’re already doing so much. It’s just this one last, little, tiny thing. Then when you can’t do that one thing, it’s over. You have so much you’re bottling up and taking on. Then that’s the final straw. They don’t even know they’re at the final straw because they’re just like, whatever.

Eve: Actually, we’re doing a fun little video skit called The Final Straw.

Zibby: There you go.

Eve: I believe that. I think that the final straw is happening to women all over. It’s really interesting to see how the little things are what the final straw is, but it means so much more. The resentment that builds up over time that ends up being about glue sticks or blueberries is these patterns of inefficiency and lack of communication and not being aligned on expectations that don’t work for any organization. They don’t work for any organization. Why would they work in the home? They just don’t. It’s time to reimagine how we do things in the home the same way that organizations do it all over the world. Like I keep saying, it works. I see it. I see it in my data. I see it in my beta testers. It works.

Zibby: They should do, when they’re teaching organizational behavior, organizational home management as a class.

Eve: Yes. I want to teach it at Harvard, at Yale, at community colleges, not home ec the way it used to be where you’re just learning how to make bread.

Zibby: No, not home ec, management.

Eve: Real home management. It changes everything. It sets women up to succeed. My most successful beta testers —

Zibby: — And men. Men don’t like feeling like failures either. They don’t like getting yelled at. This benefits everybody.

Eve: Thank you for saying men. I don’t ever want to exclude them. I will say the most important thing in this entire project was a Post-it that I kept on my computer. I have a lot of Post-its on my computer. One of them said, “Invite men to the table.” It was so important to me to change the narrative about how we’re speaking to men and about men. What’s been happening, I think, in this new cultural conversation is we’re starting to see interesting articles. A recent article, for example, said — it was a long-form piece of about 1,200 words. At the end, the solution was walk out of your home in strike, so straight to conflict without trying collaboration. Another article, a legit article in The New York Times that always makes me laugh was an article about a woman who suggests that you move to a foreign country where your husband knows the language and you don’t so that he can fill out school forms and you won’t have to. I wish I could be living on the beaches of Ibiza because Seth’s a Spanish speaker, but that’s not very —

Zibby: — Ee-bee-tha.

Eve: Ee-bee-tha, yes. — not practical for most families, I would say. Isn’t it time that we have a solution that works for everybody? By everybody I mean that I mirrored the US census in my interviews and my beta testers. I know that this works for working-class families, middle-income families, all the way up to some of my former clients who classify themselves as billionaires.

Zibby: Amazing. Quickly, Hello Sunshine has picked this as a — what is this relationship about?

Eve: What Hello Sunshine has done for me is — I call myself the Rachel Ray where I’m an unknown personality, but I do have science and expertise behind my name. That’s what Hello Sunshine looks for. They look for new ways to tell age-old problems for women, new ways to tell stories for women. What happened was, Reese Witherspoon is an old friend of mine. She was actually one of the Shit I Do sourcers. She may have been the one who reminded me that sunscreen wasn’t there or that it was under the medical and healthy living tab. She, early on, was really supportive of the journey of what I was trying to do in terms of making the invisible visible for women. From there, I got to meet her CEO Sarah Harden. We really fell in love with each other. She is the living embodiment of this with three children, including a special needs child. She was one of my first and early beta testers with her husband Dave. From there, she really wanted to champion this as a company effort. They’re helping me amplify these messages, which is really exciting.

Zibby: That’s fantastic. Do you have any parting advice for aspiring authors? We didn’t really have time to talk that much about your writing process and everything, which I wanted to hear. Quickly, how long did it take for you write the book?

Eve: Seven years. I decided that I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a me-problem or a me-and-friends problem. Back to what it takes to mirror the US census in terms of ethnicity and class, it takes time to find interviews, to talk to people. That took a long time. It was worth it for me because I’m so confident in the system and the data. What I’d say to aspiring authors is I’m forty-two. This is my first book. It’s never too late. It is never too late to take an idea that you have that came out of your life that you want to share with the world. That’s the ultimate goal of Fair Play, is for all of you women out there, and men too, to have the time to remember who you are outside of being a worker and a parent and a partner. You are somebody. You have important things to share with the world. That’s what I was emotional about before, Zibby, about watching you live your unicorn space and how by having you out there championing so many authors, you’re helping so many ideas get out into the world. I thank you for that.

Zibby: Aw. Thank you. I bet you there are some people crying now after our conversation because I feel like I’m about to cry again. Anyway, thank you. Thank you for all your work for so many families and relationships and people and the country. Honestly, I am so energized by what you’re doing and so grateful.

Eve: Thank you. It’s great being here.

Zibby: Thank you.

Eve Rodsky, FAIR PLAY