Entropy and Family Life

Yesterday was a tough day. Previous commitments (inter alia volunteering in #2’s class) had already truncated my workday when the Mother dragooned me into running an errand for her in the morning, which errand pruned yet another hour out of my day. The Mother thought she was being helpful. In principle, she reasoned, making me run this errand would allow her to work from home, which was the Mother’s primary goal yesterday. She could, therefore, retrieve #1 and #2 from school, which in turn would allow me to work longer. In point of fact, however, making me run this errand cost me time and put me in a sour mood.[1] A series of unfortunate events (which had nothing to do with Lemony Snicket) conspired against me. By dinner time I was irretrievably pissed off because my day had gone from tidily ordered to a disordered mess.

I think there’s a lesson here.

Just for giggles, let’s think about an analogy between thermodynamics and families. If we think of a family as an entropic system, we need to put energy into it if we want to decrease the disorder in the system. In other words, we need to work to make sure family life remains ordered and arranged. Work to ensure that our plans don’t upend somebody else’s and cause them more work. Work to postpone or forego our own goals for somebody else’s. Work to realize that reducing one person’s labor will increase another person’s, or the overall chaos in the family. Work to accept with equanimity when our best laid plans go awry, as they often do.[2]

  1. Let’s not dwell on the many ways this plan was destined to fail, not the least of which was the complete lack of anything resembling consultation before it was unilaterally hatched. Let’s also not conclude that the Mother is somehow uniquely guilty of such autocratic decision making. I am sure many of my plans have seemed like win-win situations to me but win-lose scenarios for her.  ↩

  2. If I were a real nerd, I would work up some equation that related familial entropy to work and the number of family members. Something like: ∆Sf ∝ dW/#f where Sf is the familial entropy, dW is the incremental work put into the system, and #f is the number of family members. But I’m not sufficiently nerdy to work out the details.  ↩