It’s a stressful time to be a parent. It seems that everyone has a very strong opinion about every possible parenting choice, which can put a lot of pressure on parents. We love our children and want the best for them, and we already put plenty of pressure on ourselves to make the right parenting choices, so this doesn’t help.
In fact, it breeds a lot of anxiety, putting parents in a less thoughtful state and raising the odds of their making decisions that are based more on their anxieties than the needs of their children. That said, parents can focus instead on the facts, which can help them make decisions calmly and thoughtfully.
A great resource that covers many facts related to parenting choices is Emily Oster’s Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool. This book aims to help parents relax when it comes to parenting decisions by providing them with a rich and comprehensive pool of data.
The author makes it clear that her goal is not to tell parents what decisions to make. As an economics professor, it is her life’s work to collect and analyze data, and she shares some of these skills with parents while guiding them along the decision-making process. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of combining the data (impartial) with one’s own preferences (very partial) to arrive at an informed decision that fits you and your family. Here’s an overview of some of the main takeaways from the book.
The very beginning
The first section covers data related to the very beginning of parenthood, the first days and weeks after a child’s birth. This is a very exciting time, but it can also be overwhelming. On top of the physical strain of giving birth and recovering, you have a great deal of important decisions to make.
Do you circumcise? Do you swaddle? When can you exercise again? Oster addresses these and many other questions related to this period.
One of the things I found most helpful is Oster’s explanation that infants are expected to lose some weight after they are born. Knowing this can calm a parent who notices their baby losing some weight in the days after birth.
She also explains there’s no evidence supporting the idea that having your newborn sleep in the nursery (rather than in your hospital room with you) will disrupt the breastfeeding relationship. It could even allow new parents to get some rest while they have this option available.
Lastly, to parents with colicky babies, she offers the consoling thought that it doesn’t last forever; it will start to go away in 3 months.
Baby’s 1st year
The second section of the book covers the 1st year of the baby’s life. There are so many questions new parents will have about this period. Should you breastfeed? How do you breastfeed? Should you vaccinate? What about sleep?
Again, Oster offers a comprehensive collection of data that can help parents make informed decisions about these tricky choices. Along the way, she reminds the reader to consider their personal preferences as well when making the decision. Here are some pieces of data that I found to be particularly calming and informative.
Oster explains there actually isn’t as much data showing the benefits of breastfeeding as some say. While there is some data on the short-term health effects of breastfeeding, there isn’t strong evidence to support the argument about the long-term effects of breastfeeding on health and cognitive development. She does say, however, that there are likely benefits for the mom in relation to breast cancer.
For your baby’s sleep safety, she explains that having them sleep on their back reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and that sleeping on a sofa with an infant is extremely dangerous.
As far as vaccinations go, Oster says that the data show them to be safe and prevent kids from getting sick.
In terms of daycare, the quality of the daycare center matters, as does parenting quality, according to the author. She also says that longer stints in daycare are associated with a slightly better cognitive ability and slightly worse behavior.
Additionally, Oster explains that the cry-it-out method doesn’t harm babies and has positive effects on parents’ mental health.
From baby to toddler
The third section goes over the common questions parents have when their baby transitions to a toddler. Some of the topics Oster covers are gross and fine motor development, screen time, language development, potty training, spanking, and reading to your infant.
One thing I found to be particularly helpful is that there’s truly a wide range of what is considered normal for motor development. This is something parents often worry about, but they probably don’t need to. Another thing parents stress over is their little ones getting sick frequently, but as Oster explains, it’s typical for kids to get colds once a month in the winter.
Screen time is another big topic causing parents anxiety, so knowing the facts is definitely important. The data suggest that 0-2-year-olds really don’t learn from TV, but that 3-5-year-olds can. The takeaway from this is to pay attention to what your child watches if they are aged between 3 and 5.
Oster also explains that girls tend to develop language skills faster, that potty training usually takes longer with younger children, that spanking tends to make behavior worse instead of improving it, and that reading to your infant is good.
The home front
The last section is devoted to the parents and their relationship after kids. Some of the topics Oster covers are marital satisfaction after kids, unequal division of labor, marital counseling, and child spacing.
These are important topics because the data do suggest that marital satisfaction decreases after children come into the picture. By way of explanation, the author says this probably has something to do with the extra time and energy children require, which shifts the focus and changes the relationship the partners had before becoming parents. I think she’s probably right.
Some helpful data Oster includes relates to the role that unequal division of labor and lack of sex play, but she says she can’t determine what the link is. She adds that marriage counseling has been shown to improve happiness, so this might be the way to go.
Why you should buy this book
Overall, I thought Cribsheet was a great and unique parenting book. I love that it is very factual and focuses on helping parents relax. It’s a breath of fresh air in our often overly anxious, child-focused culture in which parents seem to be pressured from every direction about every parenting decision.
So, I would encourage parents to do what this book suggests—try to tune out the pressure, consider the factual data, and really think for yourself. This will help you adopt a calm and thoughtful approach based on reality rather than an anxious one detached from reality.
How has being more factual about your parenting choices helped you? Share with us in the comments below.
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool
- Parenting decisions affect both the child and the parent.
- There's often more than one right answer to parenting questions.
- Use data where practical to make the right decisions for your family.
You need this if...
- You're a new parent looking for the practicalities of newborn-to-toddler life.
- You're struggling to make the best decisions in your early parenting years.
- You find comfort in statistics that may inform your parenting decisions.