The Math of Parenting

Today’s article is from Laura Laing, author of the book Math For Grownups and publisher of the website of the same name.

So you think you don’t use math on a daily basis? Think again.

You may not be solving for x, and the distance formula may not roll off the tip of your frontal lobe—mainly because you haven’t used it in years and years. But if you can put “parent” among your titles, you do math. I promise.

Just look at a typical day:

6:35 a.m.

Your darling daughter went to bed late last night. Seems that she couldn’t pull herself away from the most recent novel she’s devouring, and she had to finish, “just one chapter.” Problem is, she’s a bear to wake up when sleep deprived, and she’s got an 8:00 checkup at the pediatrician. She can usually get ready in about 45 minutes, and it takes 15 minutes to get to the doc’s office. How much longer can you let her sleep in?

9:03 a.m.

Three Credit Cards by Petr KratochvilCheck-up is done, and you’re waiting to pay the bill. You’ve got $33.65 in your wallet and a $25 co-pay. But after a morning of running errands, you’ve promised dear daughter lunch at the local fast food place. Should you use your cash for the co-pay or pay with plastic?

11:21 a.m.

At the grocery store, you’re deciding between three brands of ketchup. One is on sale for $2.27. For another, you have a 50¢ off coupon. And the third is a smaller container for only $1.49. Which one should you buy?

12:08 p.m.

At Burgers ‘R’ Us, your daughter has requested the chicken nuggets and a drink – no fries! You’d like to eat the fries that come with her kids’ meal, but you’re not sure you can afford the calories. Luckily, the restaurant has a handy sign displaying the caloric values for each menu item. What can you order to go with her fries that won’t force you to eat only carrot sticks for dinner?

1:31 p.m.

You need to fill up, and you have your choice of gas stations. One offers regular unleaded for $3.27 per gallon, plus a free car wash (a $10 value). Another offers $3.15 per gallon—no car wash. Which station offers the best deal?

2:47 p.m.’s time for your daughter to practice piano—a task that she hates. You thought the practicing contest that her teacher started would give her the motivation to practice every day. Nope. So today, she’s going to try to catch up on the days that she slacked off. She’s expected to practice a total of 15 minutes a day, but she’s only practiced a total of 25 minutes for the week. Her lesson is tomorrow. How many more minutes does she need to practice to please her teacher?

5:32 p.m.

Time for dinner, and you’re exhausted. Instead of making a meal from scratch, you decide to order from the local pizza joint. Your daughter wants plain cheese, your husband wants pepperoni and sausage and you want a veggie pizza. What’s the most cost-effective way to order dinner?

8:35 p.m.

Thankfully, your daughter has crashed early, meaning she can catch up on the sleep she lost last night. If you wake her up at 7:00 a.m., how much sleep will she have gotten?

Typical day? Perhaps. Typical math? Definitely.

So the next time you think, “I can’t do math,” keep in mind the number-based tasks that come across your path on a normal day. You might be surprised at what you accomplish without even thinking about it.

Where is the math in your day? Tell us in the comments!

Laura Laing is the author of Math for Grownups, a funny and accessible look at how the over-18 set uses math in everyday situations. While this post is not based exactly on a day out of her life, it could be. She is a freelance writer and the parent of a pre-teen in Baltimore. She publishes the website

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