what operations research has taught me about parenthood
Posted by Laura McLay on April 28, 2011
In anticipation of the birth of my third child, I am writing a post about all the ways in which operations research has enriched my views on parenthood and maintain balance.
- Value focused thinking has helped me to focus on raising independent and intelligent daughters, rather than doing things the convenient, short-sighted way. It helps me to pick and choose the good habits I want to establish (like regular bedtimes, regular naps, and good manners), even if they’re inconvenient in the short term.
- I don’t claim to never indulge a little. Of course I do things for convenience! OR has helped me to realize that every day I solve a knapsack problem, where the constraint is time. I have to make only a small subset of my to-do-list a real priority, otherwise my day’s schedule would be over-constrained and infeasible. Early on, I learned that I could not afford to buy into a “parenting philosophy” or my schedule would be over-constrained and I’d go crazy (I’m not saying that it can’t be done, because I’ve seen it happen, but it’s just not for me). Basic knowledge of OR prevented me from beating myself up over this.
- I optimally schedule my children’s vaccinations using discrete optimization methods (a video on this is here, where I have a brief cameo)
- A little bit of knowledge about scheduling and critical paths goes a long way toward creating a more efficient daily schedule, although to be honest, my husband doesn’t appreciate my attempts to optimize his schedule.
- Sadly, there are few algorithms that can be used for raising children. But I still try. The one meta-algorithm I use is a daily schedule (see last bullet). I step through this algorithm daily. However, there are a number of infant sleep algorithms that can be used with good success (although your mileage may vary). I have found potty-training algorithms useless.
- OR has helped me to understand why my daughters will probably not be as tall as I am. It’s simply regression to the mean–I am five inches taller than the average American woman, and odds are, they will be tall but slightly less so than their mother. But you never know why kind of draw they pulled.
- And most importantly, OR has helped me to realize that parenthood is not an optimization problem, its a feasibility problem. There are many ways to be a good parent.
What am I missing?