I remember being fascinated by “A Room of One’s Own” when I read it in a university class. In this address, Virginia Woolf argued that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
I dreamed of being a writer at the time, and I wondered what her words might mean for me. Would I need to find a separate room in my future home to do my work?
Now here I am, a decade later, a professional writer for the past several years. I don’t write fiction, and it would be silly to compare my two-bit operation to the stature and talent of Virginia Woolf, but somehow, against all odds, I do creative work day in and day out while staying home with four little children.
In these years of raising kids while working as a writer, and even having two of my babies while doing this work, I have become convinced that what women creatives need is not a literal room but fair play in the home. Let me explain.
I always kind of knew my husband was more helpful around the house than a lot of guys we know, especially in little things, like how he does all the grocery trips, kids’ clothes shopping, party planning, and nightly kitchen clean-up with nary a word of input from me.
But I didn’t really register how big a difference this made for my work until I read a truly fascinating book, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live) by Eve Rodsky.
I am so impressed with what Rodsky has done in Fair Play. The book is all about how men and women can learn to balance the mental load better in marriage, especially as parents.
So many commentators decry how unbalanced the mental load is, how women do all kinds of “invisible labor” that is vital yet somehow unseen. But Rodsky named, listed, and measured each tiny piece of the mental load, and she’s figured out a way to make it not only visible but also to show how valuable it really is.
The Fair Play approach
It’s honestly brilliant, and a game changer for many relationships. One friend tells me she gives out Fair Play (the book and corresponding card game) as a gift at baby showers.
So in the Fair Play system, each “invisible” task is represented by a card. There are about 100 cards to be divided by couples however works best for them. Couples can play a “game” to figure out the best distribution of cards for their relationship. It’s put together very thoughtfully and sensibly, and absolutely worth a read for just about any couple.
I’ve heard some criticisms that Fair Play puts too much emphasis on an equal “tit for tat” attitude in a marriage, which isn’t healthy, but I wonder if those critics read the book. The Fair Play concept is important, even when one parent works full time while the other stays home full time, because it makes visible the mental load moms carry and shows how necessary it really is. It can be a wonderful way to explain and acknowledge the valuable work that stay-at-home moms do.
Of course, I was curious to apply the Fair Play concept to my own life. My husband and I were delighted to realize we already held the cards pretty evenly, even before playing the game.
It was at that moment that I fully realized why I’m able to engage in fulfilling, creative work every day while having babies and homeschooling little kids. By taking on the mental load unreservedly, my husband carves out the time and space I need to be a writer.
The key to creative room
Husbands are so often missing from the discussion around whether a mother will work outside the home or pursue creative passions. With respect to Virginia Woolf, a private room and plenty of money aren’t the key to a creative career with young children (although I’m sure I would take them if someone offered them to me!).
For me, it seems the key is a husband who holds his wife’s dreams and ambitions equally in importance to his own, whose all-in commitment gives the freedom to have a mental “room of one’s own” in the midst of bustling family life.
What about your home?
You might be reading this and thinking “It would be easier to get a room of my own than expect that from my husband.” That’s a totally understandable response; the mental load doesn’t come naturally to a lot of men.
But that dilemma is exactly where Fair Play comes in. Working on it together with your spouse, reading the book and playing the game, is a brilliantly designed way to create the space and time you crave to do your own creative work.
Whether that room of our own is literal or mental, we need time and space to cultivate our passions—what Rodsky calls our “unicorn space” or what Pieper calls “the leisure that is the basis of culture.”
Fair Play is a wonderful tool in a couple’s arsenal to ensure both spouses can pursue their creative passions. I can only imagine Virginia Woolf would applaud it, too!