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# The Mathematics of Parenting

Posted: 07/12/2012 11:32 am

As a father of two young boys, I find it difficult to balance my children's physical safety requirements with my own desire to occasionally remain motionless. Yesterday, as I was lying in the hammock, my 5-year-old climbed the ladder of our decaying play set and began scooting across the top of the monkey bars on his butt. I've witnessed him have success with this, so even though it looked harrowing, I was 95% sure he would be fine. That 5% chance of disaster nagged at me enough that I yelled, "Careful up there!" which, of course, served no other purpose but to relieve me of some stress, and possibly distract him just enough to cause a slip-up. Had I noticed him having any real difficulty, I would have focused in and prepared to launch myself should he need me. There's an equation I believe all parents use (albeit subconsciously) to determine whether they're needed in situations like this. Think of it as a Pythagorean Theorem for caregivers.

(LI x SI)/CSC = KC

LI stands for "Likelihood of Injury" Scale - 1 to 100

SI is "Severity of Injury" Scale - 1 to 20

CSC is the parent's "Current State of Comfort" Scale - 1 to 100

KC stands for "Kinetic Concern" which is a variable I've created to measure the degree to which a parent is willing to expend energy in order to help his or her children. Anything above 1.0 should cause the caregiver to go into motion.

Let's use yesterday's monkey bar scooting situation as an example. There was a very low likelihood of injury (LI), combined with an elevated severity of injury (SI) and current state of comfort (CSC). It looked like this.

(5 x 14)/95 = 0.74

With a kinetic concern (KC) score of less than 1.0, it was perfectly reasonable for me to remain sedentary. But what if the monkey bars had been higher off the ground, and I was sitting on a chair instead of lying in a hammock? The likelihood of injury (LI) would remain the same, but with an increased severity of injury (SI) coupled with a decreased current state of comfort (CSC), the kinetic concern (KC) value would be much higher.

(5 x 17)/55 = 1.55

This is a clear call to action, and everyone knows it.

There is one frightening and common situation in which this equation fails us: when our children are out of our sight and very quiet. I'm not good at algebra, but here's what that equation might look like.

If LI and SI are both unknown, and only CSC is observable, can we still solve for KC? Let's try.

(LI x SI)/75 = SYNTAX ERROR - VC Required!

Don't panic. According to Dr. Spock, VC is an acronym for "Verbal Confirmation." In this case, the course of action is still relatively simple: Yell, "It's awfully quiet down there. Is everything OK?" If you don't receive a VC after three attempts, assume LI is over 80 and SI is at least 18. This means that even with a CSC of 100, the KC will be over 1, so you should leap off the toilet and make sure the kids aren't in the gross part of the basement playing with a bow and arrow.

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10:38 AM on 07/17/2012
This is perfect. My left and right brain can both totally relate. LOVE IT! :)
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08:39 AM on 07/16/2012
"Careful up there!" Absolves you from any consequence, the same with "Don't get hurt." Kids need to learn to listen and pain is a great teacher and instills fear, which is a great motivator, to not do dangerous things, then you can just yell out "Remember that time you broke your arm?" and they'll think twice and back off.
Win-win-
If they don't get hurt they've acquired some skill, if they do they get a good learning experience (although it interupts the chillin out time but helps out later).
So, let the kids go wild, scars are stories to tell later on.
jf12
04:06 PM on 07/13/2012
Yeah, but, the kid gets extra points for degree of difficulty, which partially offset the severity index.
03:14 AM on 07/13/2012
It's surprising how fast the SI and LI go up when there's a pool involved. However, the warm sun, a chaise lounge and a cold drink will add to the CSC and balance out the KC. What you need to do is use this same formula as your denominator and apply the CSC of your parenting mate. If the answer is less than 1, your mate gets to jump in and save your drowning child.
08:07 PM on 07/12/2012
Love this! I especially love how it proves that laziness has its benefits! Hard as it is for us to allow our children to endure risk, the fact of the matter is we can't bubble proof our kids and they are better off if they learn to handle risk and adversity now than if they grow into adults and are unable to do so.
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Allena Tapia
Will write for food
02:12 PM on 07/12/2012
Completely true. I would also throw in another factor: the degree to which I'm trying to be a hands off/non-helicopter parent. This factor is higher after I read research about how coddled American children are, and lowers as I forget and unconsciously revert back to my broken arm=momma's fault=bad parenting mode.
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AAHewetson
Intelligence is just fine with me
01:15 PM on 07/12/2012
Though written as comedy, parents seem to perform some fairly awesome mathematical tasks subconsciously.

I think my mother used to do the same sort of calculation with snakes I wanted to keep in the basement terrarium. Some of the variables were probably T=Toxicity, L=Length, G=Girth (a U-shaped scale of risk ranging from very thin and therefore more likely to escape to just too thick to slip out of the cage but too thin to push the lid off to thick enough to just plain push the lid off), P=Likelihood that my father (deathly afraid of snakes) would be using the basement before I got tired of keeping that particular snake.

I have no idea what the formula looked like but all long and slender snakes were out, baby rattlesnakes were out, very large rattlesnakes were out ... and I was never allowed to keep any snake that was longer than I was tall. All mid-sized snakes, including rattlers, were fine ... unless dad was building something in the basement at which point almost all snakes, except smallish garter snakes, were banished.

By the snake-keeping standard set by my mom, it sounds like you are doing a great job.
01:07 PM on 07/12/2012
This is Fantastic! I love how you quantified this! Your posts never fail to get me laughing, thanks so much for lightening my parenthood experience!
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12:34 PM on 07/12/2012
hehehe! Funny post.