Ask three different people for parenting advice and you’ll most likely get three completely different answers. One of the biggest challenges of parenting is the uncertainty that comes with each new decision. There’s not a lot of targeted research to guide your choices — until now. Brown University Professor and Economist, Emily Oster decided to tackle the tough parenting questions by gathering all of the data she could. The result is her book, Cribsheet, where she tackles everything from breastfeeding to potty-training.
How did Oster know which questions were the most pressing for parents? She tells Parentology she used a scientific mix of market research (read: Twitter polls) and her own experiences as the mother of two children. Oster wanted to hit the highlights, but not bombard parents with too much information, “In the end, I tried to be comprehensive, but not overwhelming.”
While she conducted some research on her own, Oster’s goal was to consolidate reliable and useful data from existing sources so parents would feel more empowered when making decisions. “I think the most important steps are, first, trying to isolate the most informative studies from what is sometimes a vast sea of uninformative ones and, second, figuring out how to communicate the nuance of this varying quality,” she tells Parentology.
Oster’s work was not without frustration. As she began looking for answers she confirmed the challenge all parents face — lack of information, “One surprising and, as someone who loves data, somewhat disappointing thing was there are many places where we simply do not have the data we would like.” So, if you’ve ever felt like you were flying blind as a parent, Oster confirms — you’re right!
The good news is Oster found, on most of the big issues, no matter what decision you make, you’re doing it right. In other words, the data supports there are very few black and white issues when it comes to parenting choices. There are positives and negatives that pertain to each parenting milestone that can only be qualified by the parents themselves. Ultimately, the choice you and your family are most comfortable with is the correct one.
Oster’s goal for Cribsheet is that it not serve as an answer book, but rather act as a reference to help parents inform or confirm their choices, “My hope is the book will give people the resources to look at the data, think about how to structure their decision, and then make the decision that works for them. Once they’ve done that, they will hopefully have more confidence it’s the right choices, and ultimately have less anxiety.”
Emily Oster, Brown University professor and economist; author of Cribsheet