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Why All Moms Are Engineers (Yes, You Too)

All mothers are innovators. It’s part of the job description. The trick is learning to see ourselves that way. My personal “a-ha” came when I realized that, despite my lack of an engineering degree, I’m definitely an engineer.

I was crippled by insecurity when I came on-board at GoldieBlox. Amazing, talented, brilliant people from all over the world were reaching out to support us on our journey to inspire girls to embrace their true potential. I was surrounded by greatness, and I found myself stifling my voice. See, I didn’t graduate from Stanford or Harvard. I’ve never written a best-selling book. My code-writing days ended after I dabbled in BASIC in 3rd grade. I felt like an imposter in this world.

It took me almost a year to recognize that my natural inclination toward invention gave me all the street cred I need, and that my practical experience as a mother made me even more powerful. Granted, rigging my blow-dryer up above the diaper changing table isn’t quite the same as a tour of duty at the D School, but the white noise and warm air sure kept my newborn from screaming. Talk about user-centric design! I realized that these “mom-hacks” are life’s original engineering courses, no diploma offered or required.

Civil Engineering? I build a mean pillow fort. Mechanical Engineering? You should see the makeshift kid barrier I construct in the hallway on Christmas Eve. I installed a toilet by myself when I was 39 weeks pregnant. I had to; I broke the old one the day before when I was putting in new floor tiles.

So many women, moms in particular, don’t give ourselves due credit. We downplay our efforts, chalking them up to necessity; another day in the life of a mother, just doing what needs to be done. I think this undermines the real ingenuity and innovation that comes with being a parent. And I’d like for us to change the way we talk about it. Let’s encourage each other to recognize that we are so much more than the title we have at work, more than our appointed positions at the PTA. We are more than just another cog in the well oiled family machine that, quite often, we build ourselves.

I’ve learned not to limit myself by the confines of my professional experience. I’ve broadened my scope to include all of my strengths, the things that enrich the lives of the people I love, add color to my days, and magic to my work.

Ask me what I do for a living, and I’ll tell you about my awesome gig at GoldieBlox. Ask me simply what I do, and I’m likely to tell you I’m a writer, though I’ve never been published. I’m a photographer, though I’ve never been featured in a gallery. I’m a teacher, a psychologist, and a plumber. I’m a mother, and I’m an innovator.

I am all of these things, and I know I’m not alone.

  1. Wonderful post. In the world we live in where STEM jobs are on decline, we as mothers have the most effective tools to teacher our daughters that they can fill those roles. We can use our every day experiences to show our daughters that being a “nerd” is cool.

  2. I Love being a Granny Engineer … (75) and love Glodie Blox and found you “at the beginning” and pre-purchased
    your first product and haven’t stopped.
    I have started an inventor’s club for kids and look forward to growing as I watch your company grow as well.
    Happy Wednesday on the way to Friday

  3. I Love being a Granny Engineer (at age 75) and love Glodie Blox and found you “at the beginning” and pre-purchased your first product and haven’t stopped.
    I have started an inventor’s club for kids and look forward to growing “us”… as I watch your company grow as well.
    Happy Wednesday on the way to Friday.

  4. A few years after kid 1 was born, I twisted the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” To be, “Motherhood necessitates invention.”

  5. I have never been a mom, but I AM the proud grandfather of three beautiful granddaughters (1, 8 and 10). I recently heard about Goldie Blox and have decided to become Head Cheerleader for all those incredible moms out there. Moms truly are our best teachers.

  6. My mom taught me to use up and make do and the make do part was always ingenious. So at 70 I can only say “You are right on!” Destination Imagination is so tuned into alternate ideas for routine items. Goldie Blox can take a page from their book too. It was so ego boosting when the egg packaging how factory across my street needed a part that I knew to make it from a piece of felt I had at home and kept them going over an important weekend til they could contact the repair folk..

  7. I definitely agree that all moms are innovators. However one would not use the word “attorney” as part of our job description because we arbitrate agreements over who gets what toy, or a “doctor” because we are very good at first aid.

    Along those same lines, I don’t agree with the use of engineer because we come up with new ways to be at ballet and soccer practice at the same time, or we can simultaneously fit in a car: the props for the school play, the kids with backpacks and lunchboxes, and groceries for dinner. Those are truly exercises in innovation. But they are not exercises in engineering.

    I am an engineer and a mom. Those examples I just gave were actual recent snippets of my life, so I get the innovator description.

    But please appreciate that engineering is a profession that uses hard core science to create things people can use. We do things such as harness the power of a river to create electricity to power cities. We manipulate the strength of plastics to enable a smartphone to survive a drop onto concrete. We optimize the growth of microorganisms in room-size tanks to create pharmaceuticals. Yes engineering is innovation, but it’s also a very demanding profession. Please reserve the engineering job description for those who have earned the credentials.

  8. I wouldn’t say “all” – some people, men and women, including some professional engineers I’ve known, don’t have an innovative bone in their bodies. But indeed, many more than get credit for it. Parenting does really create a world of necessities that will bring out the inventor in anyone who has it! You might consider running a feature on real-world parent hacks 🙂

  9. I noticed a PTA mention. As a former PTA president I can say the full-time unpaid position taught me more than any of my “career” positions. And I think motherhood should be a well respected “job” experience on a résumé. There is no other 24/7 unpaid position that teaches so much and build engineering skills. It is my dream to work at Goldieblox! The world has needed this company and now it’s here!

  10. Lindsey, I couldn’t agree more. Moms are designing and manufacturing Halloween costumes, crafting meals to satisfy the palates of toddlers, and rigging up creative carrying systems using jogging strollers and carabiners. That plus engineering cultural shift! (Hello, trying to get kids to be more active, inspire their creativity and build their independence!) We *are* all actually engineers. I love that you are giving a shout out to the everyday tasks that we might not always realize involve design and ingenuity. You may not be named Tom or David Kelley, but your point of view is a great bolstering of an often overlooked group’s Creative Confidence. Thanks!

  11. You include great examples that should make Moms everywhere be proud of themselves. I think the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” should really read “Mothers are the inventors of what often become necessities” because the solutions can be just so “why didn’t I think of that” useful. And children (especially girls!) can learn from Moms as they build the pillow fort, when you say, “You’re building something just like engineers do!”

  12. I love the sentiment of this post and the encouragement you give to women and girls to recognize their strengths and abilities. However, we need to be clear: all engineers are innovators, but not all innovators are engineers.

    Moms are definitely innovative (I include myself in that, and I am also a Professional Engineer) but, alas, moms should not claim the title of “Engineer” in the same way that moms cannot claim the title of “Biologist” although they may (unofficially) graft plants in their backyards or (inadvertently?) grow cultures in their kitchen sinks. 🙂

    “Engineer” is a term restricted for use by
    the self-regulating profession of engineering.
    Thank you, Math Mom, for saying it first!

  13. You are all of those things and more Lindsey. You are also an inspiration. Thanks for the nice read.

  14. Thank you, Math Mom… I could not have said this better myself. While I have the ultimate respect for moms, as an engineer by profession I know how hard people study and work to earn the title of Engineer.

    I have been an avid supporter and informal promoter of GoldieBlox since learning of their mission last year. However, I must say how disappointed I am in this message. It seems to have missed the mark in what I thought was the foundation of GoldieBlox: to provide ways for girls (and boys) to explore engineering concepts while playing, in hopes that they find interest in STEM fields as they grow and continue to learn. I hope my understanding of this is still accurate, as I think it serves an important purpose in our world today.

  15. Stumbled across this site while at my marketing job. I wish I had been encouraged to build or create outside of ballet class growing up in the 70s and 80s. I think my life would be different now. I think I would’ve pursued different avenues with confidence. Today, as a single mom of BOYS, I haven’t been in the pink aisle for years and I really miss playing Barbies. However, I can build a wall, fix a leak, caulk everything, and taught my youngest how to swing a hammer to repair our fence at age 9. I’ve even been called “MacGyver” by grown men. In most ways, I feel more accomplished at the things I’ve had to do in my feats of necessary “engineering” than anything outside of it. I encourage you and your company in giving girls all of the options out there and inspiring them to create in all the ways possible; not just those in English composition class.

  16. You obviously have no idea what an engineer does. It is completely disrespectful that you consider yourself an engineer when you even admitted you do not have an engineering degree and have never worked as an engineer. The fact that you consider pillow forts and toilet installations as engineering shows your ignorance of what an engineer does. Did you draw a free-body diagram of the pillow fort? Did you calculate the forces, stresses, and strains of its components and determine a factor of safety to determine how much external load it could have? YOU have not put in the hard work to be considered an engineer. I have spent years studying mathematics, physics, and engineering. I have put in the work that I needed to be successful. Please do not insult my fellow engineers and I by giving yourself a title that you have not earned.

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