Emily Oster

16 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

High-Achieving Kids

The Culture of Never Enough

Emily Oster

16 min Read

Last month, Jennifer Wallace published Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic. It immediately hit the New York Times bestseller list, and I wasn’t even a bit surprised. This is a book, as I say in the interview, that I think everyone with a child should read. It lays bare the issues around a culture that focuses so strongly on achievement, and how that focus can contribute to youth mental health struggles and to weaker relationships with our children. The book puts forward a meaningful alternative, explaining how we can show our kids they matter to us, no matter what.

I learned a lot, and I think you all will too. Please enjoy!


Full transcript

This transcript was automatically generated and may contain small errors.

I’m a professor of economics at Brown University. I’m the author of Expecting Better and several other books about data-driven parenting. I write the newsletter ParentData, and this is ParentData, the podcast. If you’ve listened on this feed before, you’ve been listening to what I would call ParentData 1.0. Mostly this was me reading my newsletter out loud, and we also included some interviews with experts on a variety of parenting topics. It was fun, but it was also on our back burner. But over time I’ve realized that audio is an incredible opportunity to have deeper conversations with other experts, with people who, like me, love data, but are coming at it from a little bit of a different angle. And so this is ParentData 2.0.

We’re going to publish it more regularly. It’ll be in your feed every two weeks, and I’m going to focus more on these interviews with an even wider range of experts who, like me, love data, and like you, love to understand what data means for you and for your kids. But in many cases, these experts are going to bring their own perspective. They’re scientists. They’re counselors. They’re experts in self-care. And we’ll talk together about how we combine data with these other parts of our life to make the best decisions for our family. I’m also hoping in this podcast to hear more from you. We’ll hear from you through your stories, through your questions, and we’ll try to bring it together to get into the really hard and complicated parts of parenting.

The questions that we have as parents are endless, and my goal, the goal in this podcast is not to answer those questions — the reality is most of them are totally unanswerable — but to help you navigate through them to find answers that work best for you and your family. I’m glad you’re here listening. I have a lot of stories to share. My guests have a lot of stories to share. I hope that you’ll be willing to share your stories too. So without further ado, here is our first episode.

[Violin music]

Emily Oster:

When I was in high school, everyone told me that junior spring was the most important spring to do everything right to get into college. At the time, I was running on the track team and I developed these really terrible shin splints, but I didn’t want to take a break because junior spring is the most important spring. So instead, I took six Advil before every meet so I could get through it. I stayed up all night pretty frequently. I would often make a pot of coffee at 10:00 PM and then drink the whole thing before the morning.

When I look back on this as an adult, I find it kind of horrifying. I don’t blame my parents, not even for a second. This was a hundred percent self-driven. But at the same time, it isn’t the experience that I want for my own kids. But when I look around, the pressures that drive this kind of behavior seem almost infinitely worse now than they did 26 years ago when I was behaving like this. And yet there is this enormous challenge thinking about pulling out of this, especially in particular circles. It almost feels like there can be no other way to raise a child to be a high schooler other than to lean in in these ways that really can seem very unhealthy. And so while I am simultaneously thinking “I don’t want this for my child,” I am also thinking, “Well, how could I possibly avoid it?”

Thinking through all of this is part of why I was incredibly happy to encounter this book, Never Enough. And more or less, as soon as I read it, I knew that Jennifer Wallace is somebody that I had to talk to. And I’m going to talk to her today about this never enough culture which grapples with these questions of how we arrived at where we are, about how we can support our kids, about what are some of the dangers, and how we can think about pushing back or helping our kids to push back.

One note before we get started. I anticipate some reaction here around whether it’s really appropriate to focus on what is, in the end, a fairly privileged set of problems when there are kids and parents who struggle so much with so many bigger, larger issues. I’m going to ask Jennifer about this during our interview, and I’m going to leave it to her to answer because I thought what she said was thoughtful and instructive. After the break, Jennifer Wallace.

So I’m thrilled to welcome Jenny Wallace to talk about Never Enough. Jenny, thank you for joining me.

Jennifer Wallace:

Oh, thanks so much for having me.

Emily Oster:

So when your publisher sent me this book, I wrote back to them, I looked up the quote, “This book is really freaking me out, but it’s so good.” They didn’t accept that as a blurb, but that’s really how I feel, which is this book is incredibly important, but also it’s going to terrify a lot of parents. And so when we talk today, I want to dig into that. I want to talk about the problems and I also want to talk about solutions. But to set the stage, I actually want to read the first paragraph of the book.

“In one of my early interviews for this book, I met Molly, a high school junior living in Washington state. She began by telling me that many of her classmates on the advanced placement track either went to bed or woke up at 3:00 AM to cram in all their studying. Molly confessed sheepishly that she wasn’t a night person and told me she went to bed around midnight most nights and sometimes woke up early around 5:00 to study before tests or to put the finishing touches on a paper. When I asked her how as a varsity athlete she maintained her stamina on only five hours of sleep, Molly tightened her high ponytail and answered me without any irony. ‘Those days, I run the laps in practice with my eyes closed.'”

You say that this stuck with you. I can see why, and you started the book with it. Why are you starting here? What is it that makes this the right entry into the problems you’re talking about?

Jennifer Wallace:

Yeah, Molly is somebody that I luckily got to interview over the course of a few years, and she thought of herself as sort of an average high achiever. But I think you could see in the way that I wrote that paragraph that she had no idea the stress because the pond she was swimming in was so hyper-competitive, and kids were sort of having this stress Olympics who could clock in the least amount of stress, that she didn’t even understand the pond that she was swimming in and what she was doing to her body and what was being asked of her. She just thought this was what childhood was.

Emily Oster:

This is a very broad question, but why do you think that is? I mean, what is it that is going on for Molly, for kids in this space that is driving this?

Jennifer Wallace:

Yes, so I wanted to know that too. I have three teenagers and I wanted to understand why my kids’ childhood was so different from my own. And there are several factors, but the one that really resonated most with me, and as an economist, I think you might have more to add to this, but it is the macroeconomic forces that modern parents today find ourselves in and that we’re not even aware of these forces that are in our environment that we are absorbing. And when I thought about my own childhood in the 1970s, life was generally more affordable. You could buy a home. Healthcare was more affordable, higher education was more affordable, food was more affordable. Parents could be a little bit more relaxed and less intense because they believed, as in generations past, that their children would probably be able to replicate their childhoods, if not do even better. And so there was slack in the system.

But over the last several years we have ushered in extreme inequality, the crush of the middle class, globalization. It produced this hyper-competitive environment that parents don’t necessarily even understand that they are absorbing these stressors, and they are becoming, in the words of researcher Tom Curran, social conduits, passing this fearful environment onto our kids in the way that we parent. And this is not to blame parents because I am right there with you in the trenches. These are pressures and forces that are bigger than any one family in any one school, in any one community. And I think we need to talk about them. We need to stop personalizing our parenting and start putting it into a larger context.

Emily Oster:

So it’s interesting that you talk about the economy there because I think David Leonhardt has a new book coming out in the fall in which one of the things he talks about is the idea that it used to be that most people did better than their parents or that having your kids do better than you in an income, that was the goal and that that was an achievable goal, and that that had become less true over time. And the expectation that that will continue to be true is perhaps part of this.

I mean, there’s another thing going on, I’m curious what you think about this, which is that as inequality has grown, particularly in the spaces that you’re talking about, and I want to come back to why we are talking about these spaces, but particularly in the upper income spaces, the inequality between very, very high income and really also very high but not quite as high income has grown and seems very big. And I think part of this feels like, in order to have my kid achieve, they actually need to… The rewards to being Jeff Bezos are so large that I should be able to do whatever to get my kid to be Jeff Bezos because I also need them to go to the moon in a rocket or whatever is the pinnacle of achievement. So I wonder how much of that is going on.

Jennifer Wallace:

I think that is definitely going on. But I think something that is even more pervasive and I found it in my own home, is something I call the encore effect, which is wanting to at least replicate your childhood. As you said, that was the assumption. The American dream was doing better than your parents, and now That’s no longer a sure thing. And kids are feeling this pressure. I mean, I’ll tell you in my own home last summer my daughter was working at a frozen yogurt shop and working a lot of hours and saving a lot of money. And I said, “What are you saving for?” And she said, “For food when I’m in my twenties.” And I was like, what do you mean saving for food? And she said, “I’ve been reading about inflation, and I know that milk is really expensive and eggs are really expensive, and with climate change it can only get worse. So I need to save for food.”

So we’re not even talking about the pressure on our kids to be the next Jeff Bezos, which is surely a goal for many kids in this high-achieving income bracket. But our kids are also getting the messages that the future is really unknown, and you better start saving your ice cream shop money now. I mean, that was such a shocking conversation I had.

Emily Oster:

That is a shocking conversation. I’m lucky my kid is only eight and he still thinks a thousand dollars, buy a house. So I’m working on keeping that going. But actually this is a good place to bring up what I think is for some people going to be kind of the elephant in the room in the reaction to the book, which is that a lot of what you are talking about really is kind of first world problems, and it is probably the case that your kids and that kids in your social set are not going to have to worry about having enough money for food. It’s just the reality of where we are. And of course, most of the subjects in your book are fairly well off. And there are a lot of kids who have a lot of problems that go far beyond this that I think we would say in some aggregate sense maybe are worse off. Maybe you wouldn’t say that, but I think some people would say are worse off. What do you say there? Why is this a group we should be thinking about?

Jennifer Wallace:

Yes. I actually asked that exact question with Suniya Luthar, one of the leading researchers on resilience. She has recently passed away. But I said to her, kind of in a whisper, “Why should we care about these kids? Their parents can afford therapy. They have every opportunity. Why should I be giving ink and time to these kids?” And she snapped at me and she said, “A child in pain is a child in pain, and neither one chooses their circumstances.” So she said, “We are not putting pain on a scale here. It’s not a zero-sum game.” And I’ll tell you, we’ll get into this I’m sure more in our conversation, but I saw real pain in my travels around the country talking with families who had lost loved ones to suicide, children who were hospitalized under this excessive pressure to achieve. The pain was real.

And yes, these parents, many of them can afford to treat their children. But we need to talk about this. We need to raise an awareness that this is a real thing. And no one is asking to take resources away from children who are living in poverty or with incarcerated parents or whatever the other set of at-risk group of children are. No one is asking to take any resources or empathy away from them. It’s just sort of broadening the lens and showing that the impact of socioeconomic status is at both ends of the economic spectrum, I guess is what I’m trying to say.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. No, that makes sense. If you had to put blame at the feet of a part of society, and we sort of talked about the macroeconomy, let’s not put blame at the foot of the macroeconomy now. If you had to say parents, schools, extracurriculars, who are we putting?

Jennifer Wallace:

Oh, there’s enough blame to go around. The adults in our children’s lives are also under an excessive pressure to achieve. So we are in a time when, for example, superintendents of public schools in states realize that with their standardized test scores of their school, the taxes and the real estate values go up and down depending on where they rank in their state school. If you’re the head of a school of an independent school, you have to answer to your alumni. I have one quote from a head of school who said, “We know what causes mental health struggles, but if we were to take all of the rigor out of our curriculum and maybe make something a little bit more attainable for our students, we’d become a vanilla school, and who wants to send their kids to a vanilla school?”

So the adults are strangely, perversely, incentivized to keep this achievement culture going. Coaches, for example, they need a 12-month a year salary. This is different from when I was growing up when we would have the rec team, and the town was the one running it and it was seasonal and it was fine. Now these coaches need a year-long salary. But the real blame, if I could say-

Emily Oster:

The real blame.

Jennifer Wallace:

The real blame, okay. The real blame, according to a lot of the researchers and psychologists I spoke to, goes things like the U.S. News & World Report. So one-

Emily Oster:

That’s a good one.

Jennifer Wallace:

Right? So one of the researchers who I’ll have rename nameless said to me, “If there’s one culprit, it’s that D-A-M-N U.S. News & World Report, where it is…” And I have a whole sort of section in the book on the crazy system they use to rank schools and how they manipulate their formulas every year. And critics say it’s because you can’t have the same top schools or nobody will buy the magazine. So there’s not one factor to blame. I mean, universities… I was speaking with somebody about this the other day. Universities with these huge swollen endowments, why aren’t they expanding their class? Why are we not adding more people? Daniel Markovits, who’s a Yale Law School professor really holds higher ed to task, and he says we should be taking away their charitable status, their nonprofit status if they are not actually functioning like nonprofits, if they are not actually taking a third of the students from the bottom socioeconomic groups and bringing them up, if they are not expanding. They have these $50 billion endowments, how are they not expanding their class? So anyway, there’s a lot of blame to go around.

Emily Oster:

This is where I got to in the book and wrote the first part of my imaginary blurb, which is “This book is really freaking me out.” But actually, there’s a second section of the book, which is about what is the way we can be with our kids? And you talked about culprits, but at the end of the day, as parents, what we want to know is what can I do? I can’t control U.S. News Report. I can’t control what my university does. I can’t control what my kid’s school does to most extent, but I can control what happens in my house and how I show up for my kids. And you talk a lot about this idea of mattering. And I’d just love to hear you talk about what that is and some sense of how you’re implementing it.

Jennifer Wallace:

Yes. So in the book I went in search of who were the kids who were doing well despite the pressures in their environment. What did their parents focus on at home? What was home life like for them? What was school like? What were their relationships like with their peers? And I came across about 15 common threads that these healthy achievers had in common.

And as I was looking for a framework to present my findings to parents, I came across mattering. Mattering was first conceptualized in the 1980s by Morris Rosenberg, who also conceptualized self-esteem. And what he found in the ’80s was that kids who enjoyed a healthy level of self-esteem felt like they mattered to their parents, that they were important and significant. And the research on mattering has picked up particularly in the last half dozen years. And the researchers who study it, the definition that resonated most with me and what I saw in the healthy achievers that I met, was that they had this high level of mattering, meaning that they felt valued by their families, by their friends, by their communities for who they were at their core. And importantly, they were depended on to add meaningful value back to their families, to their schools, to their communities.

So the kids who were doing the worst seemed to feel like their mattering was contingent on their performance. Or the other group that seemed to also be struggling were kids who felt like they were valued but were so self-focused on their own resumes that they were never asked to give back in any meaningful way to anyone other than themselves. And what that did was for them it lacked social proof that they mattered. So they might’ve gotten the words of mattering, but they didn’t see their impact. And so for people to really enjoy this high level of mattering, they need to both feel valued and be adding value. And that acts as like a protective shield. It doesn’t mean that the healthy achievers weren’t stressed sometimes and anxious and didn’t have failures, but they had almost like a buoy that raised them up so that they could bounce back faster because their failures were not an indictment of who they were.

Emily Oster:

It’s so interesting. I want to talk more about some of the specifics, but the literature that I connected this with is literature on bullying. So when you look at bullying, some of the most interesting research on that is about resiliency and about taking… studies where they take a bunch of kids who are all being bullied, and they ask “Who does okay?” Rather than, “How can we prevent bullying?” they just say, “All these kids are getting bullied. What is it that makes you not suffer from that, that makes you not wilt under that or have other follow-on problems?” Nobody likes to be bullied. But the thing that they find is it is the centrality of the home environment and having the feeling of having a sibling or even one close friend, somebody who is kind of centering you there where you feel like this is where I fit, this is where I belong.

And I think mattering would be an interesting word there. This is a person to whom I matter, and that’s what I hang onto. That’s the buoy when people are yelling at me, or in this case that’s, the kind of buoy when I feel like this test isn’t going well or I’m not achieving to the level when something goes wrong.

Jennifer Wallace:

I want to talk about the bullies because what I have found fascinating in the people that I’ve spoken to who have been studying mattering is that they argue that after food and shelter, it is the need to matter that drives much of human behavior for better and for worse. So when you feel like you matter, you show up in the world in positive ways. You achieve. You’re kind. You’re a good citizen. You’re giving back. You’re generous. When you don’t feel like you matter… Bullying is an example. You don’t think I matter? I’ll show you I matter. School shooters. You don’t think I matter? I’ll show you I matter. So it’s both a protective factor, but it’s also a risk factor. If people don’t feel like they matter… domestic terrorism. You can tie back a lot… You could fall inward, anxious, depressed. I mean there’s a reason that the National Suicide Hotline uses the hashtag YouMatter in their preventive work. So I really see mattering as both prevention but also potentially intervention. And there are states and communities that are using it that way.

Emily Oster:

And so as a parent, what does this mean? I mean, does it just waking my kid up in the morning and saying, “You matter to me?” Presumably that’s not sufficient. So what does this actually mean in practice?

Jennifer Wallace:

Well, so how I’ve adopted it in my own home over the four years of researching this is that I now problem-solve using mattering. I now sort of lead my parenting in mattering. If I know that that’s how my child is going to be the most resilient and the most likely to have this sort of positive fuel to thrive to add back to the world to achieve… So I no longer solve for my kids’ happiness. That’s not even on my top five priorities for my kids anymore. Their priority is to matter, and here’s how I do it. Mattering occurs in life’s small moments. It is greeting them when they walk in the door. One psychologist described it the way a family puppy would, just like unabashed joy, loving that kid for who they are. It is getting a PhD in them and seeing their strengths and pointing it out to them, really having them feel seen and heard and understood for who they are at their core.Author Comment

But then it’s also depending on them to add value back to the family. And I don’t even use the word chores anymore because I have tried. I have three teenagers now, and oh my gosh, I’ve written about chores and the importance of chores. And we’ve tried to do it in our house. But I’ve reframed it now where we don’t even bring up the word chore. We talk about, “Here are the family matters. Here’s what we need this week in our family. I need somebody. I have a deadline. I need somebody to help me grocery shop. I need somebody to help me with my tech. My internet’s not been working.” So talking about the needs of the family and helping kids feel like they can problem-solve with us. So we actually do these.

And young families can do this too. I wish I had started this earlier, but we do… It’s a bad name but we call it family meetings. And it’s actually an Alfred Adler idea. He was a contemporary of Freud’s. And what the family meeting does it’s just 10 minutes a week, literally 10 minutes, where you sit as a family. Each person runs the meeting. One other person sort of keeps an eye on the clock. And you talk about maybe one thing you sort of value or love about the person. We go around the table, and we start it with a positive thing, something we were grateful for this week that somebody did for us. And then we talk about family matters. And we have sort of this list that I keep of things like the shoes when I walk into my house. Even though our closet is six steps away, nobody uses the closet. And so we had this gigantic pile. And they all have two or three shoes, so we have like nine pairs of shoes hanging out.

And so that was a family matter. So how can we problem solve that as a family? And actually one of my kids said, “On Amazon, there is a shoe rack, and the reason I don’t put my shoes in is because then I can never find them when I’m running out the door. If we invested in a $19 shoe rack, we would put our shoes away.” And guess what? Mostly they do. Mostly they do. I mean, this is not a perfect system. So what those family meetings do is they bolster mattering by saying, “You have a voice. You are significant. You are an important part of this family, and also, you have a responsibility to help us function better, to help alleviate the stress in our environment. And what can you do?” I mean, I have so many more ideas in the book.

Emily Oster:

No, I love it. I love it. I mean I think it gets, even with little kids, to the idea of giving your kids responsibility and letting them be… yeah, be a part of your family functioning, particularly for families where… Every family, everybody’s busy, but you’ve got two working parents, you’ve got three kids, everybody needs to contribute. And I think our instinct is often to scaffold so much with our kids, make their lives simple. And even especially as people get to older kids, just sort of make sure… This is the idea of snowplow parenting, like make sure everything is out of your kids’ way so they can focus on this one thing, which is achieving in school and running fast or doing whatever is their extracurricular, and stepping back and saying, “Actually the stuff that’s in the way, they need to help you get that out of the way.” And that’s actually also an investment in being a person.

Jennifer Wallace:

When I was first doing this research, I was having these… Suniya Luther again, who’s one of the leading researchers on resilience, she and I were having this conversation, and I said, “Okay, what can I do tonight? If I’m doing this wrong, what can I do tonight?” And she said two phrases that I now have in my head, and it’s part of my parenting philosophy, which is minimize criticism, prioritize affection. She talked about this negativity bias on how negative things stick with us multiple times. It takes, some research has found, three to one, three positive interactions to overcome the one negative. And so for parents, one thing to really think about is what can you do to minimize the criticism? It doesn’t mean not holding your kids accountable. It doesn’t mean not pointing out when they make mistakes, but what minimizing criticism means is separating the deed from the doer.

And so if a child, I don’t know, does really poorly on the math test, let’s say, instead of saying to your child, “Oh man, what did you do wrong? This is because you’re watching TV, which is really talking about who they are as a person,” instead it could be, “What are your working skills? Let’s figure out…” Because all kids want to do well. So we have to just make that assumption, all kids want to do well. So as a parent, it is how we react in those moments that I think define our relationship with our kids.

Emily Oster:

Yeah, I was going to say, I think having that in your mind in a consistent manner is also very important. We know that when your kid says, “I got a 27 on the math test,” your first instinct is I’m going to react in a way that is not like that. And so the practice of not having that initial reaction is part of this. Okay, in our last few minutes I want to play lightning round. Look, I’d be happy to move to an alfalfa farm and have my kid play in the dirt all the time. But that is not this social environment. Do I want to be the one parent whose kid is the weirdo, whose family is the weirdo family, who’s not playing competitive sports? I don’t want to be that. What do I do?

Jennifer Wallace:

Well, I would tell you that I am a very ambitious person, and my husband is very ambitious and I want to raise hardworking, ambitious kids. But what I have come to learn in the four years of researching this book is that I want to be ambitious for more. So when I look at my own life and my own values and what I want for my kids is I want them to be ambitious for their work, but I also want them to be ambitious as a friend, as a partner in my own wellbeing and mental health.

So what I’m saying to parents is it’s not that we want to not have our kids achieve. We don’t want to have no standards that makes them feel like they don’t matter. What we want to do is to be really careful about the messages we are sending, where that bar is that we put up for our kids, and to make sure it’s adjustable, and that it’s relevant to each child, and so not to be pushing them to excellence, but instead helping to instill this healthy drive that will actually keep them motivated and succeeding in the long run.

Emily Oster:

Second question, my kid is driving this. Parents who say, “I desperately want my kid off this train. I am totally bought in on this, but all my kid wants to do is add AP classes or be on seven different soccer teams, and if I suggest dropping anything, he freaks out.”

Jennifer Wallace:

So what I have heard from the parents of the healthy achievers is that, as one mother put it, it is our job as parents to take the kettle off the heat, that we are our kids’ prefrontal cortex. When kids are in this hyper-competitive environment… There’s this social contagion to do more, be more, get to the next goal. Sometimes parents have to use their wisdom and pull their kids back in order to prevent burnout, and even worse, prevent the mental health struggles and the substance abuse disorder.

I’ll just leave you with this. Parents know you don’t let your kid drink or use drugs. We should not be encouraging that. Great. What parents really need to be doing is helping their kids develop the kind of life that they don’t have to escape from with drugs and alcohol. And I saw so much of it in my travels that the kids whose parents didn’t put up parameters, who didn’t sort of put the brakes on when their kids were taking on too much, those were the kids that were reaching for the bottle and the drugs on the weekend to black out. So if we want to avoid that in our kids, we need to help them build a life that they don’t have to escape from.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. Sleep. So in reading this book, in many of the examples, it struck me that a lot of what is going on is kids are sacrificing sleep for activities. And we know that sleep is super important for mental health. In some ways, how much of this is just sleep? Or put differently, if you just said, “You must guarantee that your child can be in their bed for a sleeping time for 10 hours every night, and you must build your life around that,” how much of this is linked up there?

Jennifer Wallace:

I think it’s hard to say. I don’t think it’s just about sleep. I think that’s a major factor. I think it’s a major factor. But what I think is a deeper factor is this unmet need to matter, and it’s linked to rest, right? If we say to our kids, “Sacrifice yourself at the altar of achievement,” we are telling them, “You do not matter.” But when we say to our kids, “You need eight to 10 hours of sleep, and I’m going to enforce that,” that signal you are sending your kids is that you matter most. You matter more than your achievements. So yes, I think sleep is a factor, but I think the deep factor, the roots of this issue, whether we’re talking about sleep or social media or achievement pressure, it is when this universal need to matter goes unmet that is a predictor of psychological distress.

Emily Oster:

Okay, so Jenny, what is your number one biggest takeaway from the book?

Jennifer Wallace:

The biggest surprise to me was that the number one intervention for any child in distress, and this is according to decades worth of resilience research, for any child in distress, is to make sure the primary caregiver, most often the mother or the father, that their wellbeing, their social support system is intact. Because as researcher Suniya Luther says, a child’s resilience rests fundamentally on their primary caregiver’s resilience. And a primary caregiver’s resilience rests fundamentally on the depth and support of their relationships.

And what I have found in traveling to these competitive communities, it’s not that these parents didn’t have friends, it’s that they didn’t have time in their schedule to develop their friends to be the source of support that they need when they are going through something so that they can be strong when their children are under distress, so that they could show up to be the first responders to their kids’ pain that we want to be.

Emily Oster:

Jenny, thank you so much. This was fantastic.

Jennifer Wallace:

Thanks so much.

Emily Oster:

Really appreciate it and I’m thrilled for everyone to be able to get the book. The book is called Never Enough, and it is out now.

Jennifer Wallace:

Thank you.

Emily Oster:

More ParentData, after the break.

Voicemails:

Hi Emily, this is Jessica calling from Columbus, Ohio. My husband and I are about to start trying to have kids, and I just wanted to know, what are the best ways to prepare your body? How do you prepare your body for pregnancy? Thanks.

Emily Oster:

So our question of the day is how to prepare your body for pregnancy. The good news is that your body has pretty much been preparing itself for pregnancy since you were 12, and really, since birth. But it’s really ramped up at 12. So in fact there isn’t very much that you really need to do to prepare your body for pregnancy. You are designed for pregnancy.

You will sometimes hear people say, “This is a great opportunity to lose weight and get into your best fit shape before pregnancy,” but you don’t need to do that to have a healthy pregnancy. Fundamentally, rather than focusing on preparing your body, I would think about preparing your life and making sure that you are emotionally ready, that you and your partner are ready for a lot of the changes that come, that you have a plan for how your family growth is going to go, and for how you’re going to be as happy as possible as parents. That is where I would put your attention rather than trying to get your body ready because it’s ready.

There are a few things that I would consider doing before you start trying for pregnancy. One is to start taking prenatal vitamins. That’s going to prepare your body with a good dose of folic acid, which is important for preventing birth defects. I would also, if you can, have a preconception appointment with your doctor. That’s not exactly about preparing your body, but it’s an opportunity to talk about if you are taking prescription medications, how to manage that leading into a pregnancy, and really to answer any other questions that you have as you think to embark on this. As a final note, even if you prepare, prepare your life, prepare your body, it is still possible you’ll struggle to get pregnant. Infertility affects a large number of women. If that happens, there is help in a variety of ways, and it’s important not to blame yourself for that experience.

Thank you for listening. ParentData is produced by Tamar Avishai with support from the ParentData team and PRX. Also, special thanks to our house violinist, my daughter, Penelope.

Penelope:

No problem, Mom.

Emily Oster:

If you have thoughts on this episode, please join the conversation on my Instagram @ProfEmilyOster. And if you want to support the show, become a subscriber to the ParentData newsletter at parentdata.org, where I write weekly posts on everything to do with parents and data to help you make better, more informed parenting decisions. You can subscribe for free or sign up for a paid subscription, which comes with great benefits, including an ad-free version of this podcast and full access to literally hundreds of my posts ataparentdata.org. If you like what you hear, please leave the show A positive review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps people find out about us. Right, Penelope?

Penelope:

Right, Mom.

Emily Oster:

We’ll see you next time.

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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

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
...

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

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
...

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

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
...

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
...

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. 💙
...

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster
...