Emily Oster

7 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

A Remembrance of My Mother

Emily Oster

7 min Read

My mom, Sharon Oster, died in June. When it happened, I desperately wanted to write something to honor her and my memories, but it was impossible. I was grateful and relieved that there was an obituary produced by someone else. That obituary honored her for her accomplishments as an economist, a teacher, and the dean of the Yale School of Management. It wasn’t personal, though.

My wonderful friend Esme told me at the time, “You’ll want to write something too. But only when you’re ready.”

I’m feeling ready now.

Here is what I want to say, very simply: My mother was the most formative person in my life.

This is, in part, true because I loved her, and she raised me, and I looked to her for advice in my own parenting.

But it is also true because she was the most important person in shaping my professional life. It is only because of the lessons I learned from her — either directly or through some kind of osmosis — that I have gotten to where I am. I have known this, to some extent, for many years. It’s been so much more vivid in the past months. I look at what I’m doing, or trying to do, and about 80% of the time I’m trying to emulate her.

What I want to write, then, is about just three of these lessons.

Clear is kind

Not too long ago, I was talking with a very wise friend about the difference between being “nice” and being “kind.” In particular, we discussed the times when one needs to be honest and clear with people; this clarity can be kind, even when it is not nice.

My mother had a gift for these hard conversations, to be clear and honest while not being unkind. There are a million examples for me of this, when I think of it. Once, when a close friend’s boyfriend broke up with her the year we graduated from college, my mom said to her, “I know this seems like a big deal now, but I’m telling you: it’s not.” My friend remembers that interaction not as harsh but as kind, honest. Of course, it was also true.

The one example I always come back to, though, is the time that my mother brought one of her favorite MBA students into her office and told her she needed to upgrade her wardrobe before starting her job in investment banking. Mom even found a fellow MBA student, a friend, to take her shopping. (I think we might all have wished this conversation wasn’t necessary, but my mother was practical, and she was deeply worried that this fixable, external issue would get in the way of the student’s success.) This cannot have been an easy thing to say, or to hear. But it was kind, if not especially nice.

She was so good at these hard conversations that even when she had retired, she’d occasionally be asked to come back to have one of them, when no one else could do it. Her magic wasn’t just the willingness to have the conversation but the ability to make clear that it wasn’t with malice, it wasn’t to be mean.

I think about this all the time. Mentoring students, in particular, requires these conversations frequently. Be clear, I channel. Be kind.

Be generous (but also like to win) 

Mom was a legendary teacher. It was in large part because of her clarity and understanding and in moderate part her delivery. She was extremely charismatic and extremely cool. One of the more awkward (and awesome) moments of my professional life was dinner with an economist who’d had mom as a professor when he was an undergrad. He was clearly smitten then, and perhaps still.

She was justifiably proud of being a good teacher and she cared about being the best. It was a key part of her identity. For some people, I think this desire to be the best might have gotten in the way of helping others. But for her, it didn’t. Mom was endlessly generous with teaching help, notes, advice. She would co-teach with new colleagues until they got the hang of it, would design courses and pass them on to others.

She didn’t cling to her success. She shared it. And while none of us on the receiving end would quite live up to her abilities, we were all better for it.

However: I did, just once, see the competitive streak break through the generosity. When I started teaching at Chicago Booth, I was teaching a class that mom had taught for many years. She sent me all of her notes, and I more or less just transcribed them from her transparencies into PowerPoint. It was, unsurprisingly, a very successful class.

When my colleague Matt joined Booth, planning to teach the same class, I shared the notes with him. He used a version of them and also taught very successfully.

A year or two later, I was explaining to Mom that Matt and I had a friendly competition over who had the better teaching ratings and, that year, he had beaten me. She paused for a moment, thought about it, and then said, a bit sharply, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have shared the notes.”

Emily Oster in costume as a child.

Get to the point

My mother was efficient. Not rushed; efficient. She had an uncanny ability to boil down meetings or decisions to their essence. After she died, many people reached out to tell me about just one or two interactions with her that changed their life. She could spend 20 minutes with someone, suss out the key underlying issue, think about how to fix it, and then move on.

As an adult, I can see how this must have been incredibly useful at work. In my best moments, I try to channel this into shorter meetings, more efficient decision-making. But as a child, where this came up the most was in the plays.

The block on which I grew up had a lot of kids right around my age, and we hung out together all the time. My mother, most summers, took it upon herself to organize the neighborhood children to put on a play. She would write adapted scripts, work with us to memorize lines (sort of), get people to do costumes, and so on. We’d perform for the neighborhood, with a sheet hung over a clothesline in the backyard as a curtain.

The plays started with relatively simple fare — Charlotte’s Web was an early production. But mom was ambitious. One season, she decided to do Macbeth.

The thing is, it’s very hard to put on a production of Macbeth with a cast whose oldest member is 12 and which includes some children under 6. Add in the challenges of keeping the play under 30 minutes and also using Shakespeare’s actual language. Mom didn’t want to summarize. She just wanted to cut it to the bone.

Mom’s version of Macbeth is a work of art. It is the theatrical version of a really effective meeting. My father saved a copy of the script. It is nine double-spaced pages, easily under the 30-minute limit. It jumps from major speech to major speech, yet keeps the plot (for the most part). She managed to completely write out Banquo; I guess we didn’t have enough kids for that character.

I remember everything about this play. I remember I wore a purple dress, and my hair was in a bun on top of my head. I remember the witches were my brother John and our neighbors Meghan and Becca. I remember the “Out, out damn spot” speech and can still recite it. And I remember how seriously Mom took this, how hard she worked at it, and how much fun we had.

Speaking of this lesson, this is too long already. Mom would tell me to get to the point. Which is … that I miss her, that I’m grateful for the time we had, that I wish there had been more of it. Also, Shakespeare might have done better to edit himself down a bit. Really, no one needs all those scenes with Duncan chitchatting with his military underlings.

I love you, Mom

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The list of what not to do while pregnant feels longer than a CVS receipt. At ParentData, we want to empower you to make the right decisions for you. 

What an amazing group of women, and an honor to speak at the #MomsFirstSummit debunking parenting myths. 

What are some pregnancy rules you chose to bend after being empowered by data?

#emilyoster #parentdata #pregnancyproblems #pregnancymyths

The list of what not to do while pregnant feels longer than a CVS receipt. At ParentData, we want to empower you to make the right decisions for you.

What an amazing group of women, and an honor to speak at the #MomsFirstSummit debunking parenting myths.

What are some pregnancy rules you chose to bend after being empowered by data?

#emilyoster #parentdata #pregnancyproblems #pregnancymyths
...

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👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected. 

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips

Looking for Memorial Day Weekend plans? Might be the perfect time to give potty training a shot. Potty training is notoriously difficult, and we unfortunately don’t have a lot of evidence-based guidance on what works best. So I asked the ParentData community to fill out a survey and share their knowledge — about 6,000 people responded.

👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected.

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips
...

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻 ...

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings
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Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone.

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle
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☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster
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I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory
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OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76. 

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76.

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife
...

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster
...

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy. 

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy.

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙
...