Working parents always juggle a lot. But the coronavirus pandemic just made everything even more complicated. Now, we’re working from home, caring for the kids, and managing the household – all at once, all under one roof. But is all the work (and stress) falling on one parent more than the other? Eve Rodsky has created a way for couples to divide and conquer domestic duties fairly, equally, and without arguments or resentment. She’s the author of the New York Times Bestseller, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live). Eve explains her gamified task system, which she designed before the pandemic. And, she shares new research conducted during this crisis that underscores how organizational systems -- not mile-long to-do lists -- are the most effective way to tackle tasks and stay sane at home right now.
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Staying in sync with your partner during COVID-19 quarantines
Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast brought to you by Care@Work.
Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, and right now it's probably never been harder or more uncertain, especially when it comes to managing a household that's been suddenly and completely upended. Our guest today is Eve Rodsky. She's here with much-needed guidance to help us all get through these challenging times. She's the author of The New York Times bestseller, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live). She's designed a system to help couples fairly divvy up domestic responsibilities. With so many households feeling the strain right now, Eve has some practical advice to help us manage it all fairly and without everything falling on one parent. Have a listen.
Eve, I'm so grateful to have you here joining us today for our first ever remote interview based on this new reality that we're living in.
Eve Rodsky: Yes. Thank you, Emily, for having me.
Emily: These are certainly uncertain times for all of us, and now probably more than ever, we need to make sure that we're dividing our household responsibilities equally as we're all trying to balance working from home, trying to homeschool our children, trying to keep the house in order so that we all don't go insane. How do we have these discussions with our partners so that we're both on the same page and setting the right expectations for who's responsible for what?
Eve: That's a great question. Especially now it's incredibly important. If you don't have home systems in place now, there is actually no way to have any productivity on the work side of your life and you have to work from home. Lists alone don't work. If you think you're going to make some master list that you hand off to your partner, if this has not been your habit before and you've been doing the two-thirds or more of what it takes to run your home, that is not going to work.
Lists alone don't work but systems do. I think we're used to having systems that work but we're not used to having systems at home. What I want to say to your listeners is that the most important takeaway here is especially now that you need every second of your day, we need to treat our time very viably. You want to treat your home as your most important organization, with some respect and rigor. Set up those systems so that you're not figuring everything out on the fly every single day and trying to decide who's handling the technology and the homeschool. Who's making breakfast and who's setting the table? Who's taking out the garbage today and the sponge in the sink, and racing around if you need to run out to the store.
If you want to live in chaos, then don't adopt systems, but if you want to have some relative normalcy in your day, we have to as women stop checking Facebook and all the other women that are trying to help us and engage our partners if we have the privilege of having them. It's the only way.
Emily: Let's talk a little bit about that system that you designed in Fair Play for finding domestic rebalance because it can probably be particularly helpful right now as we're dealing with the pandemic.
Eve: Absolutely. Well, the first thing I'd like to say is everything you need to know about Fair Play you just have to picture how you got your mustard in your refrigerator. Somebody had to know that your second son Johnny likes French's yellow mustard on his protein otherwise he chokes, he won't eat it. That's in organizational management business, the business world project management, what we call conception. Then somebody has to know and monitor that mustard when it's running low and put it on a grocery list of everything else you need for the week. That in organizational management language is what we call planning. Then someone has to get their butt to the store to purchase the French's yellow mustard. That in organizational management is what we call execution.
In my 500 interviews with men and women, including opposite and same-sex couples that merit the US census, that's where men were stepping in, in the execution. That's a huge problem, Emily, because men bring home spicy Dijon every time and I ask for French's yellow. Men all over this country were saying things to me like, "I can't do more in the home because every time I try to do something I do it wrong, and my opinion is not valued." Then women all over this country were saying, "If you want me to trust him with your estate planning card--" We'll talk about why I call them cards, tasks. "The estate planning card, I'm not trusting on my living will. The dude can't even bring home the right type of mustard." We end up in this situation as mediators. We say the presenting problem is not the real problem. This is manifesting as the smallest details are creating the hugest problems, and 30% of Americans divorce over these small details, this unfairness in domestic life.
Emily: Because they build up, right?
Eve: Yes, they build up. Is it really about French's yellow mustard versus spicy Dijon? No, but resentment builds up. What happens is it becomes about trust, the break in trust that happens when we don't communicate, and when we don't set up, like I said, a way to communicate in a way that makes us both feel heard, and where things can get done in our home reliably and well. Because the most streaming things that I hear about women and men are men have low standards, women have high standards. That's just not true. It's just that the same is in the workplace. If you give somebody zero context and all control, like, "Go to the store for mustard," then you don't have to have any of the mental load of that. No cognitive labor, no thinking. "Okay, I'll just follow your instructions. What do you need me to do? Just as long as you remind me, I'll put the dollar under the pillow for the tooth fairy."
That doesn't relieve women of the number one thing they said they hated about home life in my interviews, and that was that they couldn't shut their mind off. That they were thinking about 10,000 things at a time. What men said they hated about home life, the number one thing they said they hated about home life, was nagging. The only way to solve this problem, and what Fair Play is all about, is owning the full mustard situation. It alleviates nagging, it allows women to get mental relief. When men take full ownership in opposite-sex relationship of tasks, of home cards, fair play is an analogy, it's a gamification of this. 100 domestic home cards, tasks to run your home and family and you divide them up with full ownership, with somebody owning the full mustard situation.
Emily: How do you suggest that couples start to broach this conversation and talk about how to divvy up these various cards, if you will?
Eve: That's the most important thing. We have to communicate, communicate, communicate. Unfortunately, from my findings, women and men, they say they are not used to communicating about domestic life. That they do not want to communicate about domestic life. I had a woman say that to me. She said, "I can't bring up these issues with my husband because it's too triggering." She says this to me, and then I find out 20 minutes later in our conversation that the last time her husband forgot to put the laundry in the dryer, she dumped the wet clothes on his pillow.
I had another woman say she doesn't communicate about domestic life because it would be too hard. Then I find out she has an Instagram account called The shit my husband doesn't pick up, where she takes some pictures of everything that's been left on the floor and she publicly shames him on Instagram. This is so popular that there's a Japanese woman who did that and according to BuzzFeed, she got 500,000 followers in the first week.
Emily: [laughs] That's amazing.
Eve: What I want to tell your listeners is that you are already communicating about domestic life. Oh my God, if I could go onto your zoom camera or your Nest camera, which some couples have allowed me to do this week, post shut-down pandemic, I could see how you're communicating about domestic life, even with the sound off.
Emily: Can you tell me a little bit more about that? You've mentioned that this week you've done some additional research in the middle of this crisis. What have couples told you? What have you heard?
Eve: What I will say is when I'm able to see those couples, especially the ones they're on the zoom cam, and say to them, "Since you're already communicating about domestic life I'm not asking you for a communication start, I'm asking you for a communication shift," couples were more willing to come to the table to understand that, yes, things have to change, things have to get more efficient. A lot of the Fair Play cards, these 100 cards have been taken out of our deck already. They've already been taken out of our deck. Gifts for birthday parties, planning kids’ birthday parties, social plans, hosting. What I'm seeing is that the couples that I've been talking to this week are having real troubles over just 11 cards. That's it, 11 or 12 cards are causing most of the consternation in the homes I'm speaking with, and those homes vary in socioeconomic status and ethnicity.
Emily: Which cards are those?
Eve: Laundry, garbage, groceries, meals, home supplies like sanitizers or wipes and keeping them in stock, emergency planning, tidying up and organizing, cleaning, dishes, homework and homeschool if you have children, social interactions and managing friendships and social media for your kids, watching kids, aging parents, and mental health and special needs. Those are the cards people have pulled out.
Emily: Are you sure you haven't had a camera on my house over the past week?
Eve: It is so important that we do not as women feel like it's on us. I think it's really important that the mindset has to change first for women. This is what I mean. When in my main findings for Fair Play, which matters now exponentially, was this core idea that men, women and society, we view men's time as finite and we guard it like diamonds, and we view women's time as infinite and we treat it like sand. The way that comes up is how women are expected to use their time. I'm here to tell you, in a pandemic when things just got way grindier, and dishes just are piling up, laundry looks different, and homework is now homeschool, that we can not find the time.
The number one premise you have to buy into is that all time is created equal, that men and women's time is both diamonds regardless of money, and that we have to guard our time the same as men do. What I mean by that is we cannot be the ones just working at 6:00 AM in the morning and logging on after the kids' work school day. It's time to invite men into their power to help with those 12 cards, those 12 tasks I was just talking about, that are extremely stressful right now.
Emily: This is a good excuse to start having some of those conversations now.
Eve: The most important thing you can do is now focus on your why. Look at your essentials and say, "These are the cards that are going to be in play for our family." The number one thing I can say about communication is that in my research I found women reported to me that they love to give feedback at the moment. What I'm here to say is that does not work. What does work is saying, "Hey, we're in a new world, we're in a new situation right now. Things are feeling really stressful for us. I think it'll be great for us to grab a glass of wine and from 9:00 to 9:30 every single night we just face each other, we sit in front of each other, we hold each other's hands with gloves on. We don't share a pint of Ben & Jerry's, we each have our own pints, but we look at each other face to face and we start with, 'How are you doing today?'" The most beautiful thing and the most common thing that the data I'm getting is that couples who are reporting fairness in their home right now are ones who've instituted a nightly check-in.
Emily: You've given some great insights and I really love that nightly check-in because, in addition to all of the tangible things that have to get done, this is overwhelming for all of us. We're all feeling a whole host of emotions and everyone deals with that differently. I do think that those nightly check-ins are just as important for mental health check-ins as they are for these more task-oriented things that are also so important to make everyone feel like the work is being divided evenly. Is there one last message that you'd want to leave people with who are struggling with being confined to their home right now?
Eve: You have to do for your family what's right for your family. As long as that means that you don't think it's all on you, that, "I'm okay with whatever you do," my main message today is to say it's not all on you. This is not a private life problem. My favorite sociologist said, "Private lives, public issues." This is a public issue, we're all going through it. There's a lot of beauty in ordinary moments. When we're younger we focus on extraordinary moments. As we're older, especially when we're very old, we start focusing on ordinary moments. On the beauty of what a lemon looks like. On the bee that sits out on a flower. The more that we can all remember that ordinary moments can make us just as happy as extraordinary moments and start looking for some of those ordinary moments in your every day, I think that's really good for all of our mental health.
Emily: I love that. Thank you so much, Eve.
Eve: Have a great day.
Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.
Emily: Wait. Before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.