The line between work and home has blurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than ever, many working parents are struggling to balance all of the responsibilities that come with having a career and managing a household. We recently sat down virtually with Eve Rodsky, best-selling author of “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” and Brigid Schulte, best-selling author, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and director of the Better Life Lab at New America, to discuss how to live and work together with less tension, fairer division of labor and more leisure time.
Eve, what is “fair play,” and how did you come up with this concept?
Eve Rodsky: I came up with the concept of “fair play” eight years ago during a time when the space-time continuum felt like it was collapsing on me – something many are feeling today. It started with a text from my husband saying, “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.” I pulled over and started sobbing. I had just left my job to start my own business and was struggling to manage my two children and everything in my home life. I was thinking, “I used to be able to manage employee teams, and now I am at a place where I am so overwhelmed that I can’t even manage a grocery list.” More importantly, this was not the career-marriage combo I thought I was going to have. I had vowed from an early age that I would have an equal partner in life. How did I end up being the default – or the “she-fault” – for every household responsibility?
As it turns out, what was happening to me was happening to other women as well. In heterosexual couples, two-thirds or more of what it takes to run a household or family falls on women. This work is often called emotional labor, the mental load or invisible work. It comes down to how we as a society view women’s time. We value and guard men’s time yet view women’s time as if it is infinite, like sand. There’s a different expectation of how women are supposed to use their time.
The value of time – what time people have and how they use it – is important. Brigid, tell us about the data you’ve found in your work linked to this.
Brigid Schulte: We do tend to think of men’s time as precious and finite and women’s time as infinite. I spent a lot of time looking at time use research, and a lot of this comes down to perception.
First of all, women have always worked. For much of human history, the population lived in an agricultural community – all of these women were working mothers! The notion that a woman should work inside the home happened during the Industrial Revolution, when work moved outside of the home, and men took that over. Then, the women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s opened up opportunities. However, you also have to look at economic trends – wages started stagnating, so families needed that second worker.
Women’s lives changed. What did not change were workplaces, public policies and men’s behavior and use of time. If you look at time diary data today, even though a majority of women work and the majority of children are being raised in families where all available parents are working, the societal structures haven’t changed to accommodate this. Women are spending twice as much time doing housework and childcare, and once you get into higher-income categories, working mothers are spending more time with their children than stay-at-home moms did in the 1960s. To continue to prioritize children and families, women have given up their leisure time, including time for sleep, personal care and adult relationships.
We have structural issues that we need to solve, but one thing we can do to help in the meantime is to shift that mental mindset. Women have been conditioned to think they need to earn leisure time or time to themselves, and the only way to earn it is to get to the end of a long to-do list. A little pocket of time opens up, and we instantly jump to the next item on our list. This creates a vicious cycle and leads to burnout at work and home. Give yourself permission to recognize that you don’t need to earn time off or leisure.
Eve, you talk about we can establish fairness in our home by setting up certain structures. Tell us how we can do this.
ER: A lot of it comes with granting ourselves permission. I remember being at a breast cancer march with a group of friends, and for three hours one morning, we gave ourselves permission to be present for that cause. All of a sudden, questions started pouring in from our husbands – in total, there were 30 calls and 46 texts for 10 women in 30 minutes. They were asking us everything from, “When are you coming home?” to “Where is the soccer bag?” to “Do the kids need to eat?” Originally, we planned to go to lunch that day, but instead, we looked at each other, said maybe we left our partners too much to do and went home to do our tasks.
We are all overwhelmed with decision fatigue in the home. We don’t treat our home as our most important organization. We’re deciding who is setting the table when it’s late and we’re already hangry. We would never walk into our boss’s office and say, “Hey, what should I be doing today? I will wait here until you tell me what to do.” But this is often the dynamic in our homes, and that needs to change. Men have just as much cognitive function as we do, but we don’t value the labor at home.
It’s not about a 50-50 split – it’s about ownership. I call it the life-changing magic of mustard. Someone has to know your son likes yellow mustard – this is the conception step. Then, someone has to monitor that mustard when it is running low and put it on the grocery list – this is the planning phase. Then, someone has to go to the store to purchase mustard – this is the execution. In heterosexual relationships, men are stepping in at execution. The concept around fair play is that whoever is pushing the grocery cart is owning the entire process.