Fair Play

This was SUCH an interesting book! I borrowed it from the library after someone mentioned it on Twitter -- it's about the division of domestic labour, essentially, and a technique for splitting it with your partner that will (hopefully) lead to efficiency, more time, less resentment and shared responsibility for the physical and mental load of running a household.

Eve Rodsky sets up Fair Play as a game. She divides household and family work into 100 tasks in four suits: Home (meals, laundry, cleaning etc), Out (school liaison, cars, bills, travel etc), Caregiving (pets, bedtime routine, homework, medical appointments etc) and Magic (gestures of love, fun, holidays, magical beings). Some of these tasks are further designated as Daily Grind, things that have to be done, usually at a certain time, or the place falls apart (like meals, laundry, transport, grocery shopping).

The holder of any particular card, say Laundry, takes full responsibility for Conception, Planning and Execution of that card -- so not just, can you put a load of washing on, love? But noticing that the basket is full, sorting the wash, loading the machine, hanging it out, bringing it in, sorting and folding and putting away, noticing that we're almost out of detergent and adding it to the shopping list, making sure that X's school shirt gets washed by Monday and Y's socks get soaked before soccer day.

Of course the first thing I did was sit down and work out who holds which cards in our house. We only play 60 cards out of Rodsky's hundred, and I added in an extra one (transport of my parents). Eleven of those are shared (a big no-no in Rodsky's system), I hold 29 and M holds 21. Apparently, lucky me, couples report feeling equity when the husband holds... wait for it... 21 cards!! And I do feel that our split is fairly equitable.

But one thing that did leap out at me is that I hold the vast majority of Daily Grinds. So, the not negotiable, non-deferrable, daily tedium like cooking and washing and getting kids off to school falls largely to me. On the other hand, M has more control over when he chooses to play his cards, like Lawn & Plants, Home Maintenance, Cash & Bills. This helped me to clarify why I still sometimes feel hard-done-by even when we've both spent a weekend working hard -- I have less choice and control about what I do and when. People gotta get fed...

Anyway, there's a lot more to it and I doubt that I'll actually change up anything much, but it was certainly food for thought and conversation. Well worth reading.


  1. This does sound interesting. I rather like Caitlin Moran's analogy - imagine everything a family has to do is piled onto a sledge and the couple have to pull it. If one partner does less than 50% it's the equivalent of them having a rest on the sledge while the other partner pulls it all by themselves.
    Does Rodsky suggest what to do about it if the cards aren't and won't be shared equally?

  2. The first point is that Rodsky says we should aim for fairness, rather than strict equality (and something less that full equality would certainly satisfy me!)
    A fair chunk of the book is devoted to the process of getting one's partner on board -- she has lots of strategies and tactics for that, but it boils down to frank discussion, full commitment from both parties, and an agreed and explicit minimum standard of execution! I guess if your partner won't play, there's not a lot you can do about it, but if they do, everybody benefits.

  3. Yes, it comes down to both partners being willing - and if both partners are willing they probably don't need a book to tell them what to do in the first place!
    I remember my mum noticing me reading a Men are from Mars type book when I was in the very early stages of living with someone; she sniffed dismissively and said that they'd had those sorts of books when she was young too ... Two decades later I realise why she was cynical - all the books in the world don't help if the other half won't even read it!

  4. Yes, it does assume good will on both sides. I think this plan could help in a situation where someone (let's face it, Mum) has become the default for everything and the other partner might be willing to 'help' but doesn't really carry the mental responsibility.
    I was actually wondering about adapting the card system for the whole family and doling out specific tasks for older kids and teens who may not be pulling their weight :)