She’s a Mother of an Engineer!

Women in Engineering Newsletter

Mother’s Day 2006
Sunday 14th May


Domestic Engineering


Valerie Maxville and Helene Fung


Articles like the previous one stating a mother’s worth have a purpose – to spark awareness of and provoke conversation on the value of mothers.  For me the list of occupations was contentious as many of them are specialist areas that require years of education to gain qualifications.  As a computer scientist turned software engineer, working in a School of Information Systems, the lines between these related areas of computing have similar identity issues.  I won’t go into that here, but it is part of the logic that leads me to say that rather than saying mothers are chefs, nurses, dieticians, psychologists, teachers etc. we should consider them domestic engineers.    

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photos by .serena.


Science, Engineering and Parenting


Just as we have the specialist areas of Computing, Chemistry and Electronics, we have Software Engineers, Chemical Engineers and Electronic Engineers.  What is the difference?  The specialists concentrate on a particular area, while the engineers consider the application of those areas to industry and production.  They need the perspective that covers the entire project – risk, scheduling, contingencies, policy and procedures.  They manage contractors and consultants, balancing the various constraints to produce an optimal solution. 


Becoming a parent does not magically endow you with specialist knowledge in child psychology, nutrition or medicine – parents will research each situation as it arises, or is foreseen.  However, an understanding of each of these areas is required, and even if there is outsourcing (child care, babysitting, school, sporting clubs, hospital), the parent has to weigh up the options for the short and long term goals for the “project” (getting through the day, raising a healthy, confident, well-balanced child).  They develop rules and policies to minimise risk and improve productivity within the home, and need to be aware of regulations and quality of service issues.  Anyone who has witnessed a family dealing with challenging medical problems will attest to the contingency planning that is required to survive.  This is engineering – the application of the sciences and management to a production environment.




Engineers are expected to keep a professional journal as a reference for the decisions they make.  Some politicians do similarly then publish them as diaries, others fall into grief when they can’t recall a situation they faced and their response (Carmen Lawrence, AWB scandal).  The engineer keeps the diary because they are accountable for their decisions, perhaps even liable.  This implies that the buck stops with the engineer.  In many ways this accountability is also true for parents.  If all else fails, the final contingency is the parent.  No-one else has that ultimate responsibility.  The tough decisions are made by the parents on the children’s behalf, and they are the record-keepers of the events in the lives of their children.


Domestic Engineering


So, although I don’t deny that the long list of roles is a part of parenting, I don’t agree that parents are specialists in all of them.  A broad range of knowledge is required and acquired from the school of life, then applied to what is the most important and rewarding project you will manage in your life – the domestic engineering of your family.


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