The idea of “maternal instinct” can really throw us off when we become moms. Quite honestly, we all faced a huge learning curve when we took our baby home from the hospital and asked ourselves, “Now what??”
The answer can come from a lot of places, not the least of which are the romanticized versions of motherhood we see around us, old wives tales, and outdated advice from our mothers, mothers-in-law, and strangers alike.
So imagine the radical idea of basing parenting decisions on good, solid facts.
That’s exactly where Emily Oster comes in.
Emily Oster is a world-renowned economist and parenting expert whose books include Expecting Better, Cribsheet, and The Family Firm. Her mission is to make sense of the latest data about pregnancy and parenting, so you can feel more empowered to make your own choices. She embodies the notion that knowledge is power… and we love the dose of humor and candor with which she shares her message, whether in her newsletter or on Instagram. Below, read our Meet a Mom interview with Emily.
Please give us some background on your family. How many kids do you have and what are their ages?
I’ve got a husband and two amazing kids.. My daughter is 11 and my son is 7.
You call yourself a “vagina economist.” What does that mean?
When most people hear that I am an “economist” they think of “interest rates” and “inflation.” I’m an economist, first and foremost. But I’ve put those economics tools to non-traditional topics. I’ve focused my academic research on topics around health including everything from the relationship of menstrual cups and school attendance to diabetes and consumer purchasing behavior to the reasons behind higher infant mortality rates in the US. And today, I primarily use these tools to tackle pregnancy & parenting.
Moms have a variety of input on how to mother: societal norms, experience from our own family growing up, and ideas we cultivate ourselves. Simply put, is data better? How can data help us feel secure in our decisions?
For me, the most important thing is confidence. Part of what is hard about parenting is there is a lot of noise — a lot of different suggestions from different people. My argument is that data and structured decisions can help some of us feel like we’ve made our decisions well, and that can give us confidence in them.
What has been the biggest shift you have experienced in your home thanks to data? Please share a favorite change or hack or two.
I want to caveat this answer by saying that I’m married to another economist. As a result, we’ve pretty much taken a data-oriented approach from Day 1 — even before kids, but especially after. In the Family Firm, I talk a lot about this and how we use a business school-type model to help us more efficiently manage all the logistics that come with being a parent.
For us, one of the biggest priorities in our house is sleep. Simply put: the data shows that sleep is good for us. We’ve basically oriented our lives around the idea of getting our kids enough sleep, to the point where they actually obsessively regulate whether they are sleeping enough.
You have a fantastic take on mom guilt and why you don’t experience it often. Please share your philosophy.
Personally, I do not struggle a lot with mom guilt. This is not to say that I don’t love my kids or that I do not miss them when I’m away, because I do, very much. To mitigate mom guilt, I am incredibly intentional when making plans to spend time away from my kids and often ask myself questions like “Is this trip truly worth it?” or “Will this activity with my friends truly serve me, my mental health, and the mental health of my family?”. If the answer is yes, then I can feel confident in my decision to spend that time away from my kids. In turn, if mom guilt ever creeps in when I’m away from them, I can remind myself how intentional I was when making these plans.
This intentionality and reminder is also useful when my children are, themselves, trying to guilt me. I am not very guiltable, which works for me (and drives them crazy!)
Aside from the world of data, what’s your favorite piece of parenting wisdom? Share a mom mantra or advice that you often rely upon.
“Try not to think about it.” This is something our pediatrician said to me when my daughter was small, after a ten minute diatribe about a fairly esoteric (and unfounded) fear. It wasn’t dismissive. More so, it was an acknowledgement that we, as parents, cannot control everything and that sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our families is to not give our fears too much mental space.
To learn more about Emily, visit her website emilyoster.net.
You can sign up for her popular newsletter — for free! — at parentdata.org. You can also ask her questions every Wednesday on her Instagram at @profemilyoster.