Fair Play 101

Saturday, May 6, 2023

I really thought I could do it all. I imagined having babies while growing a business. Keeping house while having an active social life. Volunteering and vacationing. I married my best friend and an active adventure partner. Sure, we had some differences when it came to where we kept our dirty clothes (floor v. hamper) and I did all of the cooking because “I liked it” – but overall we were equally eager to jump into domestic life and parenting together.

Little did I know.

Little did I know what it meant to cohabitate with someone for years on end. Little did I know what it meant to try and merge our habits, patterns, and cultural beliefs - especially after we had kids. It dawned on me recently that my husband and I lived together for 13 years and never once had a conversation around how we’d like to operate in a shared space. In our room for example, how often would we make the bed or change the sheets. Do dirty clothes go on the bed, the floor, or in a hamper?

We operated based on assumptions. Though, like most cis-gendered parents in the world, I became the person to take on more. And more. And more. We silently (and then not so silently) began to judge each other. After two kids, a pandemic, a cross country move, and the weight of daily life on our shoulders, my overwhelm reached a tipping point and I was so grateful to find Fair Play.

Fair Play is a book, a card-deck, and system created by Eve Rodsky about how to set some basic guidelines and develop clear expectations for who’s gonna do what (when, how, and why), at home. I felt immediately hopeful that this system could kick my partner into gear, save my brain and my marriage.

You don’t have to be at the edge of your rope to reach toward Fair Play!

In fact - and in full disclosure - my husband and I struggled to implement the system on our own when we got started. In some ways, we were too far gone. So much so that when Eve and the Fair Play team introduced the Fair Play Facilitator Coaching Program I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about how families could incorporate this system into their own lives, so I could help myself – and then others.

I learned the basics, but more than that, I realized that I did not need to follow the Fair Play instruction guide to a T. When approached creatively, Fair Play, as a system, can help anyone cohabitating, whether it’s a married couple with kids, a young couple living together for the first time, or college roommates. It’s probably best used when you’re setting up your home and family life for the first time but can be implemented years later, as long as every party is willing to engage.

What is Fair Play?

Fair Play is a system centered around the idea that we can and should treat our homes like the most important organization we’re a part of. The physical Fair Play deck (which you can print or purchase or interact with metaphorically) comes with 100 cards in 5 categories in 5 suites (Home, Out, Caregiving, Magic, and Wild) and covers the vast majority of tasks that go into running a household, including everything from buying groceries to planning trips and planning doctors appointments. 60 cards are possibly in play for couples (there’s a romance card) and 40 additional cards in play are for those with children at home (who’s in charge of Holiday Magic, for example).

30 of the Fair Play cards are called Daily Grinds. These are cards like dishes, laundry, or the morning routine and cannot be skipped.

The process of “implementing Fair Play” is the process of deciding who should hold, and ultimately be responsible for, each card, what your collective minimum standard of care is, and how you will check in with each other moving forward.

What is The Mental Load?

With Fair Play comes the promise that partners can divide and conquer the work that goes into running a home. And, when I say “work” I mean _the thinking work_ as well as the doing work. The “thinking work” can be called the mental load, invisible load, worry work, cognitive labor, or second shift and addresses the idea that taking that taking the garbage out isn’t just about taking the garbage out. Who’s “taking the garbage out” is about keeping track of what day of the week it is, how holidays effect the garbage schedule, replacing the bag in the can, recognizing when you’re running out of garbage bags, and deciding when to collect garbage from other spots in the house. I’m exhausted just typing it. And, while we live in a generation where so many partnerships start out well-meaning (like mine) it’s often a matter of time before the weight of the cognitive work forces one parent to experience stress, anxiety and burnout.

To address this within Fair Play, we move far beyond something like a chore chart and encouraging partners to develop a genuine ownership mindset over tasks. That means, when someone “holds a card” they hold the mental load or cognitive labor as well as the actual act. In Fair Play language, we’ll call this the CPE.

When one partner takes ownership over a task at home, they own the:

1. Conception

2. Planning and

3. Execution

Conception is all about if, how, and when something needs to be completed. (This requires a lot of forethought!) The planning phase is where you figure out logistics. It’s also where you collaborate with the other folks involved in the tasks. If we’re talking about the school lunch card, for example, and your kid hates PB+J, you wouldn’t just decide to make PB+J because you hold the card. Fair Play is not about going rouge and making decisions on behalf of others – it’s about being a leader in your domain. Once you have a plan that everyone feels good about, you move into the execution phase. I’ll say here too, owning the execution does not mean you have to do it all yourself. Asking for help, delegating tasks, and outsourcing are all valid during execution. Owning the card simply means, it’s your responsibility – and yours alone to make sure it gets done. Or, to pass the card off to someone else if, for some reason, you’re unable to accomplish the task.

What about our standards?

What happens when you and your partner simply have different standards? Like, in considering how to divide up the cards you realize you don’t want your partner to hold the laundry card because… they might never do the laundry.

To address how a task will be completed, Fair Play ask partners to talk through the MSC, or the Minimum Standard of Care. What’s the minimum quality level we except on this task and WHY? This is where you’ll have value-based, empathetic conversations with each other to develop a mutual understanding and, ideally, shared values. Because hopefully you like and respect each other enough to see that even if you have a different personal preference, you’re willing to engage with what will make the household as a whole function more smoothly.

I recently coached a newly postpartum couple working to implement Fair Play. In discussing the MSC around laundry we realized that the mom had very few articles of clothing that fit her body at 8 weeks postpartum in a way that didn’t kick up a lot of negative emotions. If she had an opportunity to get dressed and go for a walk, but those specific pieces of clothing were dirty, she felt the world crumble in front of her because of feelings not at all related to the laundry. On the outside though, she simply looked angry and resentful that her partner didn’t run the wash.

What Fair Play is not.

The thing to appreciate about Fair Play is that it’s not about the chores!

It’s not about keeping score.

It’s not about dividing the tasks 50-50.

Fair Play is also not couples counseling. You and your partner will want to engage with Fair Play when emotions are low and cognition is high.

It’s all about seeing each other’s humanity and co-creating the values and processes for making domestic life more efficient – so you can regain your time, attention, and spark!

How to get started with Fair Play?

If you’re feeling ready to give Fair Play a try:

Start with scheduling your meetings!

While some of you might be ready to jump in, the most important piece of establishing Fair Play is scheduling a regular cadence of meetings. Fair Play Running a household is an ongoing, endless, group project and “family meetings”, “check-ins”, “state of the unions” – whatever you want to call them, is the bedrock of consistency and therefore longterm success. Because here’s the goal.

Once you get started with dividing up tasks, if you have thoughts, feedback, or questions for your partner you’ll want to WAIT FOR THE MEETING! This helps us avoid undermining the process by having conversations that get interrupted or making off-handed comments without thoughtfulness.

When you should meeting depends on your personal context, but I will say Sunday nights are not ideal! It’s often the default time for a “let’s plan the week” conversation, but everyone is tired and wants to enjoy the last vestiges of weekend life. I’d suggest a weekday morning, a lunch time call, or happy hour session. I know it might seem impossible to carve out this time once or twice a week, but I would urge you to try to add it to the calendar, give it a try, and realize what you gain in response.

If you have little kids, meeting time is ideally kid free. If you have older kids, they can (and should?) be a part of meetings once you have your system figured out.

Assess your starting place and goals

Once you’ve decided your relationship would benefit from scheduled some meeting times, you can decide how you’d like to interact with the cards. My suggestion is to do a quick assessment on your starting place.

How are you feeling about the division of labor at home right now?

A) Mostly ok, but there’s always room for improvement

B) Like resentment’s-a-brewing

C) So over it

Based on this, there are three common ways people step into Fair Play.

1. You can jump in, headfirst, deal the whole deck and just try and tackle who’s doing what and why. (While I don’t recommend this method for anyone, it’s only remotely possible if you’re in camp A.)


3. You can start with the Happiness Trio. The Happiness Trio is made up of three cards: Self-Care, Adult Friendships, and Unicorn Space. (Unicorn Space means taking time to pursue the interests or talents that make you you!) This can be a great choice for anyone if you want to practice taking time for yourself to shore up your capacity for your family.


5. You can start with one card and hash out the CPE + MSC for one tasks where there’s room for improvement but you don’t have tons of built up resentment. This can be a great choice for anyone.

Be Creative!

Remember that the goal is to clarify expectations and have both partners develop an ownership mindset over tasks. And there’s so many ways that can look.

I can do dishes on M/W/F and my partner can take T/TH and the weekend. You can decide that whoever is not doing bedtime does the dishes. One person can tackle daytime dishes and the other person does them after dinner. It really doesn’t matter. You can be as creative with your CPE and MSC and your distribution of tasks as you want. It’s just about having clear expectations and having a system for holding yourself and each other accountable.

It’s also, always, worth remembering that it’s not just you! Fair Play demonstrates how private lives are public issues and inequity at home effects families all around the world.

Want more?

The Fair Play documentary is an amazing view into how Eve Rodsky took on changing the unbalanced care dynamic in her home and follows three other families on their journeys. It’s very worth a watch!

Fair Play coaching can help you create a personalized path to success based on your families specific needs! Please reach out if you’d like to discuss working together. Or check the Fair Play website to find a coach in your area.

Find live, virtual & on-demand classes and support groups near you:

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