Parenting Through Divorce

Emily Oster and Miranda Featherstone

18 min Read Emily Oster and Miranda Featherstone

Emily Oster

Miranda Featherstone

Parenting Through Divorce

The Ultimate "No Option C"

Miranda Featherstone

18 min Read

I get a lot of hard questions with no good answer, but among the very hardest are questions from parents contemplating divorce. My marriage isn’t working: how do you know when it’s time to end things? Is it better to stay for the kids? If we do split up, how do we manage the kids? If we do not split up, how do we make it work — can we ever split? 

These are the kinds of questions I was most eager to address on a podcast, with more breathing room and in conversation with someone who brings a different expertise. There’s a bit of data here, but it’s hard to learn much from it given all the differences across families. This is a case where, at minimum, we need to combine the data with the day-to-day experience of working with families and thinking deeply about how these issues play out.

As usual with hard things (sex, death), I turned to Miranda Featherstone, a social worker, writer, and close friend. Today’s episode is not to be missed — a long talk about divorce and kids, and then something a little lighter at the end about how we all like the smell of our own baby’s poop. Listen below, and subscribe in your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss the next one.


Full transcript

This transcript was automatically generated and may contain small errors.

Emily Oster:

This is Parent Data. I’m Emily Oster. Divorce is among the hardest questions parents ask me. When people are thinking about splitting up with their spouse, particularly when they have children, it can feel like there are no good options. When you got married and you had kids, you didn’t imagine this happening, and yet sometimes it isn’t working.

I’ve talked before in my newsletters and my books about the idea of there being no secret option C. Sometimes when we face a hard choice, option A doesn’t seem good, option B also doesn’t seem good, and we wait around in the hopes that secret option C will arrive. But often there’s no secret option C, and you have to move forward with A or B. Divorce can feel like the ultimate example of this. Staying may feel impossible. Leaving may also feel impossible, and yet you have to choose one of them. 

When I get questions like this, really hard, complicated, nuanced questions with no good answers, the person I always want to talk about them with is Miranda Featherstone. Miranda is a social worker and a writer, and she’s one of the most thoughtful people that I know. I asked her to come on the podcast here and talk with me about divorce. Talk about how to think about the impacts on kids, what the data says, and how she talks about this in her practice. There are no answers here, but maybe in the course of our talk we can make these two impossible feeling options feel a little less impossible. 

After the break, my conversation with Miranda Featherstone.

Emily Oster:

So Miranda, it’s great to have you. Do you want to introduce yourself?

Miranda Featherstone:

Sure. So I’m a social worker and a writer and I live and work in Rhode Island. And most of my work, my social work, has been with parents and children of all ages. And my writing is about related things, parenting, grief, loss, stuff like that, sex.

Emily Oster:

Sex. And you and I are friends and you have written for ParentData about sex. That’s a good topic. It’s not today’s topic. So today, we are going to talk about divorce.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes.

Emily Oster:

So I want to sort of open with a question that I think we probably both get a lot, and certainly I get a lot, which is some form of, “My marriage is on the rocks. Is it better for my kids to stick it out or should we split up?” And before we get into talking about that, I think there’s a couple of things we both wanted to say upfront. So the first is that, for people who are in abusive relationships, this is a very different conversation, and one where absolutely protecting yourself is the first thing.

And at the end of this newsletter, and in the podcast, we’re going to put some resources if that’s the circumstance. And the second is that, almost everything we’re going to talk about today is very personal and specific. And so while we’re going to talk in general about some of the considerations that might come up, there are no answers here about, “Yes, you should leave” or “Yes, you should stay.” And that’s not something that we could answer for any individual other than ourselves. And the final thing I want to say is that you and I are both married and so we don’t come at this with personal divorce experience.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes.

Emily Oster:

All right. So when people ask me the question about whether they should stay or go, they often come with data, so. Or they ask the question about data, “What does the data say about divorce and kids?” And the reality is what the data says is sometimes very scary. So I’m actually going to read a quote from a paper, from a meta analysis. So here’s the quote, “Early in the decade, Amato and Keith, 1991,” that’s the citation, “Published a meta-analysis of 92 studies that compared the wellbeing of children whose parents had divorced with that of children whose parents were married to each other.

Their meta-analysis showed that children from divorced families scored significantly lower on a variety of outcomes including academic achievement, conduct, psychological adjustment, self-concept and social competence.” The paper goes on to say that it also has long-term impacts on children’s health. Now these data are flawed in some important ways. One is that there’s a basic correlation versus causality issue. Families with divorced parents tend to be different.

There’s also this important conceptual issue that I think we can talk about, which is that these studies are comparing children of divorced parents to children of married parents, at least some of whom are probably happy. That actually isn’t really the question that people are asking if they’re contemplating divorce. So I think the place to start with this is assuming that your marriage is unhappy, is it better to split up or stay together for the kids?

And that’s a place where you don’t really have very good data. So that’s a very long windup. And I want to start with asking you this question. So let’s say somebody comes to you in your counseling social work role, they say that they’re considering divorce, they’re asking whether it’s bad for the kids, just what do you tell them?

Miranda Featherstone:

So I do think that there are some questions that can be clarifying if they’re contemplating divorce and wondering if it’s a choice that makes sense for them and their family. And I think thinking about how old their kids are is a really important question, both when you think about what the impact of the divorce will be on those kids.

All kids of all ages will be impacted in different ways. But I think it’s also really important to think about what stage of parenting are you in right now. Is parenting likely to get easier? I think we know from data and from people’s reported experience that having young children is really tough. It’s really tough on a marriage, often there’s an adjustment period.

Emily Oster:

So marital happiness goes down dramatically in the first year of a kid’s life and then it sort of recovers by the time you have grandchildren, although it does recover more quickly than that. But that first year it’s often a low. And even that first few years I think is, shows in the data as a real low for people’s marital satisfaction.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yeah. And I think folks with school-age children tend to report being happier, right? Than folks with infant, preschool type age. And it’s really hard to learn how to co-parent for many people and how to have kids and make those sacrifices and make them with somebody else. So the experience of parenting does often get easier and I think that that’s an important consideration.

And I think that also, it goes hand in hand, divorce is quite hard on young kids. It can be quite hard on lots of kids, but young kids in particular, they often lack an understanding of what’s happening if parents are divorcing and why it’s happening and they just sort of are there for the emotional fallout and that can be quite tough.

Emily Oster:

I want to dive into that a little bit because I think one frame on that you could have is, “Well, if your kids are a little, it could get better so you should keep trying.” Of course that can veer into, “Just try harder,” which is not going to work for everybody. So I mean, how do you think about that balance? How do I know if this is just it’s the first year and it’s really hard, or is it actually this is not going to work anytime?

Miranda Featherstone:

Well, I think there’s a number of things to think about there. I mean, I think has counseling been tried? If both parties aren’t amenable to counseling, is there a way to sort of strongly encourage the reluctant party to consider it? And I think it’s really important to think about what’s the mood in your house. Because the marriage is often kind of setting the tone or the temperature of a family or a household, right? And so is the state of your marriage impacting the mood of your family and is that mood impacting your kid?

And if it is in negative ways, that’s something to take seriously I think. It’s not just about, there’s a lot of sort of conversation around divorce about, “Oh, adults [inaudible 00:07:05] their own happiness over kids.” And that’s obviously very reductive because kids respond to the moods and the happiness levels of their grownups and the people caring for them. So I think that’s something to take really seriously and to think about.

I think sort of with the counseling question, is there a plausible path forward for adult happiness within the current household arrangement or does counseling feel like it would be a box to be ticked? And sometimes it’s hard to know. Good therapists, good couples therapists can be really, really wonderful and can really help people resolve problems that feel intractable. They’re skilled professionals, many of them, and they’ve seen a lot and things that feel like insurmountable problems are often things that they can actually help folks address.

Emily Oster:

I want to stay for a minute on this sort of your own relationship part of this because I think when we talk about should I stay for the kids or not, it actually is often framed as like, “Well, I’ve decided that this relationship isn’t working.” And some of what I hear coming from you is, well, maybe that’s the first thing to ask. And of course there are circumstances in which it’s absolutely not a relationship you want to stay in, but that there are actions that one can take.

And so therapy comes up in that. But I think the other piece of this that we’ve talked a little bit about is are there things that are going on that are going to lead to these same kinds of issues in any relationship that one has? There’s sort of the grass is greener on the other side piece of this, which even if you’re going to split up, maybe is worth understanding before you sort of make that decision to try to move on.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yeah. One thing that I’ve heard from couples therapists, from many couples therapists is that many second marriages or partnerships, it doesn’t have to be a marriage, they fail for similar reasons to the first marriage because everybody brings their stuff with them wherever they go. And so without a really comprehensive understanding of what has led to the demise of the current relationship, it’s not necessarily so realistic to imagine that a new relationship is going to be really satisfying.

Not to say that it won’t be and that there are some folks that are just really ill-matched, but I think it is a really responsible action if you’re thinking about doing this for your own happiness and there are kids involved and you want to sort of think about their long-term stability and happiness and what their household will look like. And what your own happiness might look like too is to really take stock of what has caused the problems in the current relationship. And most often it’s two-sided and having a really solid understanding of the things that you brought to this relationship that perhaps contributed to some of its challenges is I think really important sort of work to do.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. This is piece one, which is somebody comes and they say, “I’m thinking about a divorce. Should I say for the kids?” The first question is really, “Can you understand better what is going on in the marriage? Is there a way forward here? Is this a moment or is this a time that is going to get better?” And of course in the end the answer is, “Go to therapy if you haven’t.”

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes.

Emily Oster:

Sometimes the resistance to therapy is like, “Well, what are they going to tell me that I don’t know?” And I take your point very clearly, “Well, I don’t know, but this person is a professional.”

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes. And don’t be afraid to try more than one person. I think that some of my favorite data about the success of therapy is about people getting insights and feeling that they’ve gotten a lot of support from the therapy and a lot of insights and solutions to their problems is really dependent on just the relationship between you and the therapist and whether or not it feels helpful.

Emily Oster:

So then there’s a second piece of this which is let’s say we have been to therapy, we’ve done this. The marriage from a marriage standpoint is over, we’ve understood all of our stuff. This is not the relationship for the long-term. And then the question is, “Okay, should I stay? Should we stay together for the kids, for whatever is some…” And often people will think about this, for some period of time, maybe not forever, but for the duration of our kids’ school age or whatever it is.

And for me, I think the frame I would give on this is I talk a lot about deliberate decision making and the idea of framing a question and then kind of evaluating the options really clearly. And so we have kind of option, “We stay in the household together in this marriage that’s not really working” versus “We live in two different households.”

And within those you could ask kind of what’s the best possible setup and is the best possible divorce setup for your kids better than the achievable setup inside the household? Sort of taking into account that if you’re living together you’ll be unhappy. If you’re living apart, maybe there will be unhappiness. And so thinking about that, what are the things that I want to have in my mind thinking about how my kids are going to interact with or feel about having these sort of multiple lives? And how can I make that as good as possible-

Miranda Featherstone:

Author Comment

Emily Oster:

… if we’re going to go that direction?

Miranda Featherstone:

Yeah. So I think a really important question to ask is, “What would your kids experience be of being parented in two different households and what do you think maybe those two different households will look like?” And most importantly, “Can you both, can parents maintain some threads of continuity for them, for your kids? Is that plausible?” And I think one of the things that winds up being really, really hard for children whose parents divorce is that they wind up living into entirely separate worlds. Right?

These two people have decided to part ways for presumably lots of good reasons. There are a number of differences between these two grownups and the worlds kind of pull apart, right? In a marriage and a marriage that’s working, adults are sort of pulling each other closer towards the middle. Right? One person might be very strict about dessert or bedtime and another, the other parent might kind of soften that a little bit or be a counter to that. And there’s a sort of happy-ish, in many cases, medium that’s achieved.

Each parent can kind of soften the other, pull them toward each other. There’s this countering towards inclinations, but that falls apart when there’s a separation. People sort of go flying in opposite directions. So it might be around any number of things. The things that I see most frequently are attitudes towards food or sweets or healthy, quote unquote “Healthy or unhealthy” food or schedules or rules about TV and video games. And so kids wind up living in these households that have really radically different approaches to the day-to-day minutiae of a kid’s life, like bedtime or whatever.

That’s a pretty significant thing for a kid and that can be really, really hard for kids to sort of code switch between these two really different household cultures. Keep in mind, most kids are also going to school, so that’s another culture that they’re having to kind of become fluent in. And it can be really, really tricky for them to sort of bridge that gap by themselves. Yeah. I think that’s something that folks don’t always anticipate, but it’s something that I see as often pretty tricky for kids to navigate.

Emily Oster:

I mean, I think what’s interesting there is the thing you sort of, in some ways those disagreements are things we have inside a marriage too. Right?

Miranda Featherstone:

For sure.

Emily Oster:

Like somebody cares more about bedtime than someone else or somebody cares more about TV or sweets or whatever is for the other person. But when you’re doing it inside the marriage, you sort of have to do the same thing, or at least you have to kind come together more frequently to interact with this. In the splitting into the households, unless you’re very explicit about all of those things, there is this inevitability in some ways that you’re going to pull into your set of preferences which are maybe different from your partners.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yeah. And some of that I think is unavoidable and I think some of it can be mitigated and is worth mitigating.

Emily Oster:

I agree. So I mean, in terms of that mitigation, by agreeing upfront what our rules are or this should be a part of a parenting agreement.

Miranda Featherstone:

Sure. Yeah, like that bedtime is part of the parenting agreement and that figuring out ways that feel comfortable to each parent, to have rules about food or video games. And not that they will necessarily be the same, but that schedules remain reasonably consistent in each household and that there’s not a sense of things being radically, radically different from a kid going from one planet to another planet, like planet video games and ice cream to planet do your math facts.

Emily Oster:

One way to frame the things that you might want to sort of agree on upfront is that the dynamic that I think is quite hard for many people is when there’s a fun parent and there’s a non. So kind of you’re tempted to be the fun parent and there are some of these things like bedtime or sweets, which of course kids often have a particular view about which thing they prefer and attempting to have some more hard and fast rules so at least we’re sort of both kind of unfun in the same ways could mitigate some of sort of those instincts.

Miranda Featherstone:

I think giving them a sense that you are familiar with their other world, with the world of the other parent, that it is a world that you understand is really valuable for them. Because I think one of the things that many adult children of divorce report that it was great that their parents got divorced because then they fought less or they got to see their parents sort of become happier and self-actualized or whatever. That’s certainly something that people say.

But one of the things that adult children of divorce report as being really hard is a sense that they alone, or maybe they and their sibling are the person who knows the ins and outs of their life, that they were sort of tasked with navigating two worlds and those worlds were unknown by the adults in their life, right? That their mother had no idea of what their dad’s world consisted of.

She didn’t speak that language, she wasn’t familiar with its norms. And so they’re sort of like these lone sailors on this sea moving from one place to another. And that’s hard. That’s a very difficult burden for a kid to carry. Kids want to be seen, they want to be known and understood and have a sense that their adults are looking out for them and sort of are familiar with what their challenges are. Even teenagers want that, even if they pretend otherwise.

Emily Oster:

Author Tell you that they hate you. They really want you to know everything about their lives even though what’s coming out of their mouth is they want to tell you nothing.

Miranda Featherstone:

Exactly. Yes. And so that’s really tricky to have them sort navigating those waters on their own. And the sort of pulling apart of two household cultures is I think a big piece of that. So doing what you can to mitigate that. And for some folks that does mean spending time together with their ex and their kid. And that’s hard, but that stuff is really, really worth doing and I think does go quite a long way towards a kid feeling that they are that sort of lone sailor, dark moonlight ocean.

Emily Oster:

It’s not what we want.

Miranda Featherstone:

That’s not what we want.

Emily Oster:

But then of course there’s, [inaudible 00:19:50] you say, you spend time with your ex, but then there’s the more extreme form of that which is you could say, “Look, you should stay, you should try to work it out.” And [inaudible 00:19:59] interested in going back to what you said about sort of what adult children say is better. And it sounds like some of that or a lot of that, I think this shows up in the data is saying, “My parents were fighting a lot and it was better to not have that” or “They were clearly unhappy and it was better to be away from that.”

So one question I think people could ask is, “Should I stay? If I’m going to stay, what is the atmosphere? Are we fighting a lot? Is it that I don’t feel fulfilled with this person and this relationship isn’t working but I like them okay? We’re not fighting a lot, we’re just not really in love anymore? Or is it that actively in the household the kids are noticing that things are not going well, in which case maybe that’s not something we want our kids to be around because what are we teaching our kids?”

Miranda Featherstone:

Right, because what are we teaching our kids about relationships and what are we teaching our kids about love and what are we teaching them about conflict? I think those are really important questions to ask. What are your kids learning about relationships and conflict as they watch you and your partner? And if they’re learning that relationships are not the stuff of sort of Hollywood romance movies, that’s an okay lesson to learn perhaps. But if they’re learning that people who disagree with one another are unkind to one another and make each other miserable…

Emily Oster:

That’s maybe not.

Miranda Featherstone:

That’s a harder lesson for them to come away with as they enter into their own having of relationships.

Emily Oster:

So one question I think many people think about is, “How much about my divorce should I share with my kids?” So this especially comes up if your kids are a little older. “Should I explain to them why we’re not getting along or why this didn’t work or what we tried and or is that actually making it worse or not something they need to be engaging with?”

Miranda Featherstone:

I think that’s, yeah, that’s a good question. It’s very dependent on the age of the children, how much you would share. There’s sort of like a trope in kid mental health, which is, “Divorce is a grownup problem and you don’t really need to know that much about it.” And that’s useful to some extent, but it’s also a little bit unrealistic. I mean, it’s divorce is a grownup problem that affects children and they see quite a bit of the problem themselves up close often.

So I think it’s worth naming what kids have experienced and giving them language for what they have seen of the partnership. And that I think is almost always worthwhile, right? That mommy and I make each other really angry. We have a hard time using kind words with each other, and that’s part of why this is happening, right? And sort of naming what they have witnessed. I don’t think you can really ever go wrong there because they’ll be trying to make sense of what they’ve witnessed in their own often inadequate way.

Emily Oster:

Confused. Confused.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes. So giving them language for that is pretty much always valuable. I think describing or explaining things that they have not seen is tempting, but I think we are pretty clear that speaking ill about your ex is pretty bad for kids. And so I think being mindful of that and certainly thinking, if you do feel moved to share something with your kids about why a separation or a divorce is happening that it should not be centered around, “Because your mom is a terrible person who has unrealistic expectations of everyone around her and is an architect of her own misery.”

That would not be helpful under any circumstances. I think if you have teenagers and along the way you sometimes want to sort of share with them some of the things perhaps that you brought to a relationship that made it hard for it to work in sort of small doses and in developmentally appropriate doses, you’re not sharing inappropriate things that will make them really uncomfortable.

You’re not asking them to sort of care for you or respond to you in a way that is where they would feel worried about you or feel like they needed to take care of you in some way. I think that that can be honest and valuable and fine with older children. It’s certainly a conversation to have in thoughtful ways with adult children. But I would be pretty careful about what’s shared that isn’t what they’ve sort directly seen.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. I mean, I think the general principle from what you’re saying is that it may be reasonable to share if you think that sharing would help your kid rather than if you think sharing would make you feel better. And that’s a common theme I think in much of what we’ve talked about, which is just prioritizing what they need rather than prioritizing what you need in that moment.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes. We’ve talked about grief and being honest with kids about, “I’m crying because grandma died.” That sort of emotional honesty is valuable, but I do think as much as possible sort of being a little bit more open to what this experience is for them. I think when we grieve with kids and in front of kids, we’re teaching them how to grieve in some ways.

We’re showing them what grief is and this is a little bit of a different experience because it’s an adult decision that has this huge impact on their life. So not that it’s not okay to say, “Oh yeah, I’m crying just because I’m feeling a little stressed about moving out of the house” or whatever it is. But you also, I think it is because their life is being disrupted in this very particular way, as much as possible sort of being a little more in control and a little more just attuned to what this experience is for them, if that makes sense.

Emily Oster:

It does make sense. So I want to, in the last part of this kind of talk a little bit more about mitigation. So let’s just sort of assume that you have planned to divorce, and we touched on this a little bit, but how to make it as easy as possible on kids. And there’s actually not a lot of concrete data on the questions that many people ask like, “Is it better for the kids to stay in the house and have the parents rotate in and out?” Which I don’t think we really know from the data.

I think what we do have very clearly is there’s a value of consistency, which goes back to what we were saying, that in every area of parenting, discipline, kids like to know what to expect. They like circumstances and consequences to be predictable. That just really works much better for most children, which is going to go back to this sort of making things similar in all environments. But beyond that, you think about what could you do to make the divorce the best.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yeah. So beyond that consistency, which is a big one and is more or less realistic for different people, I think that a huge thing you can do is expect it to be really hard for your kids. That is not to say that it always will be. For some kids, the relief of tension being alleviated is huge. But I think for many kids it is really hard. And when kids experience something hard, they don’t say, “Mom, I’m having such a hard time.” They act like unhinged.

Emily Oster:

“Having so many big feelings and I just need you to acknowledge them.”

Miranda Featherstone:

Yeah.

Emily Oster:

“Using gentle parenting words,” yes.

Miranda Featherstone:

Right.

Emily Oster:

“I’m still working on them saying that.’

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes, “I just need a little more-“

Emily Oster:

Yes.

Miranda Featherstone:

… “I need a little more attention, please.” [inaudible 00:28:06] them do that. Although if you can teach your kid to ask for attention, that’s fabulous, but expecting that kids will act out, that they will regress, that’s a huge one. Expecting regression in all areas like behavioral or food or toileting, whatever. I think anticipating that that is a likely outcome can go a long way towards making that less alarming or upsetting.

I think it’s great to give kids agency when possible. Anything like a divorce is something that kids, they don’t have control. They will experience it as a removal of control or… and that is unsettling. So giving them agency as much as possible within reason, giving them choices that they can make about how things shake out, how a new bedroom is decorated, or if it’s possible, do they get picked up by a parent at school or from the other parent’s house, things like that where they could maybe have some say.

I think planning for regression and acting out is important, but I also think it’s really important to plan for the fact that divorce and separation are often a really big deal from an attachment perspective. It’s really, really hard often for a kid to be separated from a parent, often like the primary caregiver parent, yes, but any parent either parent. It can often be really tough for them to be separated and they will experience that as grief and loss and longing.

And that is something that it’s really important I think for parents to be open to tolerating those feelings of loss and sadness and being there for the kid with those feelings and to saying, “Yes, you’re not going to see dad until Wednesday. I hear you, that you really miss him. What can we do? Can we write him a letter? Can we record him a video? Would it be helpful to have a shirt of dad’s at mom’s house that you sleep with, like a stuffy?” Sort of brainstorming with them.

Not that you’re necessarily going to land on a solution that solves the problem for the kid. The problem is not exactly a solvable one, but that they see you as someone who is sort of open to helping them through this challenge and can tolerate their feelings. And those can be really hard feelings to tolerate. If you are experiencing relief at this separation or grief, your own grief.

Also possible to have your kids sort of be like, “I miss Dad.” That can be incredibly triggering. And it can be very hard to rise to that occasion and be like, “Wow, that sounds so tough. I’m so sorry. What can we do?” That is not necessarily going to be your instinct, but I think it’s really, really valuable to push through even if it feels tough and to sort of meet them.

Emily Oster:

Yeah, I think that’s incredibly helpful. I mean, I want to name sort of at the end here that we’re kind of talking about settings in which both partners are in some sense rowing in the same direction. We both want our kids to be okay and we want to do this in a way that makes it okay for them. And also that potentially we’re open to continuing to speak with each other.

And I think one thing that is just really, really challenging is the divorce where we hate each other, where for whatever reason this has turned into a really toxic interaction both before and post-divorce where parents are not talking, where they’re only talking through lawyers, where they absolutely would never agree on how the household should work because they’re almost purposely disagreeing because they want to hurt the other person.

And I do think that’s not every divorce, that is hopefully not the divorce of the people who are wondering about this and listening here. And I don’t think there’s really an answer here. It’s for many people that feels like a totally intractable situation in which we cannot possibly make this okay because it is just so, so toxic.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yes, for sure. And I think in that situation though, the thing you can do, there’s lots of things you can’t do in that situation. There’s lots of things that you can’t sort of make their schedules align and sort of have these shared household routines or cultures. But I think what you can do is you can be there for your kid through that. You can accept their feelings and you can validate their feelings and you can sort of try as much as possible to see things from their perspective, to see how this is impacting, this series of adult decisions and actions is impacting them.

And do your best to really just be there for them. So I mean, and I think the thing that I think it’s really important for people to know is that divorce can absolutely be a really hard thing for a kid, but many, many kids face really hard things of all different kinds, and that’s okay. That’s not something that we should be trying to avoid at all costs. What I think we need to think about is how do you prioritize their experience of this big life change?

And just showing up for them emotionally is so important. What we know about kids who are resilient, who sort of experience a setback and come out of it is that they have an adult who they love and trust and who they feel really sees them and gets them and loves them unconditionally.

Not someone who doesn’t make any mistakes, not someone who doesn’t raise their voice ever, but just a person who really cares about their experience, believes their experience, and is sort of in it with them. And I think that doing that for your kids, regardless of whether the divorce is a relief for you, whether it’s a huge loss and a source of grief, it may be many or any of those things, but being there with them for what it means to them is really, really significant. That goes quite a long way.

Emily Oster:

That is a good note to end on. Thank you, Miranda. I really appreciate you being here and talking about this. It’s hard, but hopefully there are some helpful takeaways for people who are listening.

Miranda Featherstone:

Yeah, I hope so.

Emily Oster:

More ParentData after the break.

Jamie: 

Hi Emily. This is Jamie calling from Boston, Massachusetts. I can’t believe I’m about to ask you this question, but why do I not mind and sometimes even like the smell of my baby’s poop? Okay, thanks. Bye.

Emily Oster:             

Let me say first, I love this question because it’s not full of anxiety and it is the kind of thing we are all always asking. Why are there these weird things that are true about parenting? 

Why do I like the smell of my kids’ poop? The first thing I want to say is that you’re not alone. There’s actually data that suggests that moms can recognize and in a relative sense, enjoy the smell of their own baby’s poops. The way that researchers figure this out is they bring moms in, they have a bunch of poopy diapers, and they have the moms smell them. It turns out moms like the smell of their own baby’s diaper more than they like the smell of other baby’s diapers. This is a great research project.

An interesting follow-on question would be why. I think part of the reason is that your poop probably smells kind of like your baby’s poop, and we know that people prefer the smell of their own poop to the smell of other people’s poops. Now, why does your baby’s poop smell like your poop when you’re eating very different things? That is probably in part because of the microbiome, the smell of your poop is influenced by the gut bacteria you have, and that is shared with your baby for a bunch of reasons, genetics, environment, things getting passed on during birth. 

In conclusion, you like the smell of your own poop, and as a result, you like the smell of your baby’s poop, and that’s why we keep being parents, even though it’s primarily poop oriented.

Tamar the Producer:

Even though it can be kind of shitty sometimes, batta-bum.

Emily Oster:

Dah-dah-dat-dah.

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 at Parentdata.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.

A green door and a yellow door symbolize two options.

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There’s No Secret Option C

A mantra for decision-making

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How Society Fails Parents

Dr. Dana Suskind on what it can do better

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Children's and adult's shoes lined up in a hall.

Mar 31 2023

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What Is the Data On Blended Families?

I am one of the many millions of Americans in a blended family. My husband had three kids when we Read more

Emily Oster
ParentData podcast cover art

Nov 30 2023

13 min read

Self-Care Without Candles

Self-care is everywhere. Bubble baths, massages, Instagram encouraging you to “take time for yourself.” Get up early to have coffee Read more

Emily Oster

Instagram

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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
...

How many words should kids say — and when? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about language development!

For this graph, researchers used a standardized measure of vocabulary size. Parents were given a survey and checked off all the words and sentences they have heard their child say.

They found that the average child—the 50th percentile line—at 24 months has about 300 words. A child at the 10th percentile—near the bottom of the distribution—has only about 50 words. On the other end, a child at the 90th percentile has close to 600 words. One main takeaway from these graphs is the explosion of language after fourteen or sixteen months. 

What’s valuable about this data is it can give us something beyond a general guideline about when to consider early intervention, and also provide reassurance that there is a significant range in this distribution at all young ages. 

#cribsheet #emilyoster #parentdata #languagedevelopment #firstwords

How many words should kids say — and when? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about language development!

For this graph, researchers used a standardized measure of vocabulary size. Parents were given a survey and checked off all the words and sentences they have heard their child say.

They found that the average child—the 50th percentile line—at 24 months has about 300 words. A child at the 10th percentile—near the bottom of the distribution—has only about 50 words. On the other end, a child at the 90th percentile has close to 600 words. One main takeaway from these graphs is the explosion of language after fourteen or sixteen months.

What’s valuable about this data is it can give us something beyond a general guideline about when to consider early intervention, and also provide reassurance that there is a significant range in this distribution at all young ages.

#cribsheet #emilyoster #parentdata #languagedevelopment #firstwords
...

I saw this and literally laughed out loud 😂 Thank you @adamgrant for sharing this gem! Someone let me know who originally created this masterpiece so I can give them the proper credit.

I saw this and literally laughed out loud 😂 Thank you @adamgrant for sharing this gem! Someone let me know who originally created this masterpiece so I can give them the proper credit. ...

Perimenopause comes with a whole host of symptoms, like brain fog, low sex drive, poor energy, and loss of muscle mass. These symptoms can be extremely bothersome and hard to treat. Could testosterone help? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about the data on testosterone treatment for women in perimenopause.

#perimenopause #perimenopausehealth #womenshealth #hormoneimbalance #emilyoster #parentdata

Perimenopause comes with a whole host of symptoms, like brain fog, low sex drive, poor energy, and loss of muscle mass. These symptoms can be extremely bothersome and hard to treat. Could testosterone help? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about the data on testosterone treatment for women in perimenopause.

#perimenopause #perimenopausehealth #womenshealth #hormoneimbalance #emilyoster #parentdata
...

What age is best to start swim lessons? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about water safety for children 💦

Summer is quickly approaching! You might be wondering if it’s the right time to have your kid start swim lessons. The AAP recommends starting between 1 and 4 years old. This is largely based on a randomized trial where young children were put into 8 or 12 weeks of swim lessons. They found that swimming ability and water safety reactions improve in both groups, and more so in the 12 weeks group.

Below this age range though, they are too young to actually learn how to swim. It’s fine to bring your baby into the pool (if you’re holding them) and they might like the water. But starting formal safety-oriented swim lessons before this age isn’t likely to be very helpful.

Most importantly, no matter how old your kid is or how good of a swimmer they are, adult supervision is always necessary!

#swimlessons #watersafety #kidsswimminglessons #poolsafety #emilyoster #parentdata

What age is best to start swim lessons? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about water safety for children 💦

Summer is quickly approaching! You might be wondering if it’s the right time to have your kid start swim lessons. The AAP recommends starting between 1 and 4 years old. This is largely based on a randomized trial where young children were put into 8 or 12 weeks of swim lessons. They found that swimming ability and water safety reactions improve in both groups, and more so in the 12 weeks group.

Below this age range though, they are too young to actually learn how to swim. It’s fine to bring your baby into the pool (if you’re holding them) and they might like the water. But starting formal safety-oriented swim lessons before this age isn’t likely to be very helpful.

Most importantly, no matter how old your kid is or how good of a swimmer they are, adult supervision is always necessary!

#swimlessons #watersafety #kidsswimminglessons #poolsafety #emilyoster #parentdata
...

Can babies have salt? 🧂 While babies don’t need extra salt beyond what’s in breast milk or formula, the risks of salt toxicity from normal foods are minimal. There are concerns about higher blood pressure in the long term due to a higher salt diet in the first year, but the data on these is not super compelling and the differences are small.

Like with most things, moderation is key! Avoid very salty chips or olives or saltines with your infant. But if you’re doing baby-led weaning, it’s okay for them to share your lightly salted meals. Your baby does not need their own, unsalted, chicken if you’re making yourself a roast. Just skip the super salty stuff.

 #emilyoster #parentdata #childnutrition #babynutrition #foodforkids

Can babies have salt? 🧂 While babies don’t need extra salt beyond what’s in breast milk or formula, the risks of salt toxicity from normal foods are minimal. There are concerns about higher blood pressure in the long term due to a higher salt diet in the first year, but the data on these is not super compelling and the differences are small.

Like with most things, moderation is key! Avoid very salty chips or olives or saltines with your infant. But if you’re doing baby-led weaning, it’s okay for them to share your lightly salted meals. Your baby does not need their own, unsalted, chicken if you’re making yourself a roast. Just skip the super salty stuff.

#emilyoster #parentdata #childnutrition #babynutrition #foodforkids
...

Is sleep training bad? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article breaking down the data on sleep training 😴

Among parenting topics, sleep training is one of the most divisive. Ultimately, it’s important to know that studies looking at the short- and long-term effects of sleep training show no evidence of harm. The data actually shows it can improve infant sleep and lower parental depression.

Even so, while sleep training can be a great option, it will not be for everyone. Just as people can feel judged for sleep training, they can feel judged for not doing it. Engaging in any parenting behavior because it’s what’s expected of you is not a good idea. You have to do what works best for your family! If that’s sleep training, make a plan and implement it. If not, that’s okay too.

What’s your experience with sleep training? Did you feel judged for your decision to do (or not do) it?

#sleeptraining #newparents #babysleep #emilyoster #parentdata

Is sleep training bad? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article breaking down the data on sleep training 😴

Among parenting topics, sleep training is one of the most divisive. Ultimately, it’s important to know that studies looking at the short- and long-term effects of sleep training show no evidence of harm. The data actually shows it can improve infant sleep and lower parental depression.

Even so, while sleep training can be a great option, it will not be for everyone. Just as people can feel judged for sleep training, they can feel judged for not doing it. Engaging in any parenting behavior because it’s what’s expected of you is not a good idea. You have to do what works best for your family! If that’s sleep training, make a plan and implement it. If not, that’s okay too.

What’s your experience with sleep training? Did you feel judged for your decision to do (or not do) it?

#sleeptraining #newparents #babysleep #emilyoster #parentdata
...

Does your kid love to stall right before bedtime? 💤 Tell me more about their tactics in the comments below!

#funnytweets #bedtime #nightimeroutine #parentinghumor #parentingmemes

Does your kid love to stall right before bedtime? 💤 Tell me more about their tactics in the comments below!

#funnytweets #bedtime #nightimeroutine #parentinghumor #parentingmemes
...

Got a big decision to make? 🤔 Comment “Link” for a DM to read about my easy mantra for making hard choices. 

When we face a complicated problem in pregnancy or parenting, and don’t like either option A or B, we often wait around for a secret third option to reveal itself. This magical thinking, as appealing as it is, gets in the way. We need a way to remind ourselves that we need to make an active choice, even if it is hard. The mantra I use for this: “There is no secret option C.”

Having this realization, accepting it, reminding ourselves of it, can help us make the hard decisions and accurately weigh the risks and benefits of our choices.

#parentingquotes #decisionmaking #nosecretoptionc #parentingadvice #emilyoster #parentdata

Got a big decision to make? 🤔 Comment “Link” for a DM to read about my easy mantra for making hard choices.

When we face a complicated problem in pregnancy or parenting, and don’t like either option A or B, we often wait around for a secret third option to reveal itself. This magical thinking, as appealing as it is, gets in the way. We need a way to remind ourselves that we need to make an active choice, even if it is hard. The mantra I use for this: “There is no secret option C.”

Having this realization, accepting it, reminding ourselves of it, can help us make the hard decisions and accurately weigh the risks and benefits of our choices.

#parentingquotes #decisionmaking #nosecretoptionc #parentingadvice #emilyoster #parentdata
...

Excuse the language, but I have such strong feelings about this subject! Sometimes, it feels like there’s no winning as a mother. People pressure you to breastfeed and, in the same breath, shame you for doing it in public. Which is it?!

So yes, they’re being completely unreasonable. You should be able to feed your baby in peace. What are some responses you can give to someone who tells you to cover up? Share in the comments below ⬇️

#breastfeeding #breastfeedinginpublic #breastfeedingmom #motherhood #emilyoster

Excuse the language, but I have such strong feelings about this subject! Sometimes, it feels like there’s no winning as a mother. People pressure you to breastfeed and, in the same breath, shame you for doing it in public. Which is it?!

So yes, they’re being completely unreasonable. You should be able to feed your baby in peace. What are some responses you can give to someone who tells you to cover up? Share in the comments below ⬇️

#breastfeeding #breastfeedinginpublic #breastfeedingmom #motherhood #emilyoster
...

Potty training can feel like a Mount Everest-size challenge, and sadly, our evidence-based guidance is poor. So, I created a survey to collate advice and feedback on success from about 6,000 participants.

How long does potty training take? We found that there is a strong basic pattern here: the later you wait to start, the shorter time it takes to potty train. On average, people who start at under 18 months report it takes them about 12 weeks for their child to be fully trained (using the toilet consistently for both peeing and pooping). For those who start between 3 and 3.5, it’s more like nine days. Keep in mind that for all of these age groups, there is a range of length of time from a few days to over a year. Sometimes parents are told that if you do it right, it only takes a few days. While that is true for some people, it is definitely not the norm.

If you’re in the throes of potty training, hang in there! 

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlerlife

Potty training can feel like a Mount Everest-size challenge, and sadly, our evidence-based guidance is poor. So, I created a survey to collate advice and feedback on success from about 6,000 participants.

How long does potty training take? We found that there is a strong basic pattern here: the later you wait to start, the shorter time it takes to potty train. On average, people who start at under 18 months report it takes them about 12 weeks for their child to be fully trained (using the toilet consistently for both peeing and pooping). For those who start between 3 and 3.5, it’s more like nine days. Keep in mind that for all of these age groups, there is a range of length of time from a few days to over a year. Sometimes parents are told that if you do it right, it only takes a few days. While that is true for some people, it is definitely not the norm.

If you’re in the throes of potty training, hang in there!

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlerlife
...

For children or adults with severe food allergies, they can be incredibly scary and restrictive. We may imagine that it’s easy to deal with a peanut allergy by, say, not eating peanut butter sandwiches. But for someone with a severe version of this allergy, they may never be able to go to a restaurant, for fear of a severe reaction to something in the air. Right now, there’s only one approved treatment for severe allergies like this and it’s limited to peanuts.

This is why the new medication Xolair is very exciting. It promises a second possible treatment avenue and one that works for other allergens. A new trail analyzed data from 177 children with severe food allergies. Two-thirds of the treatment group were able to tolerate the specified endpoint, versus just 7% of the placebo group. This is a very large treatment effect, and the authors found similarly large impacts on other allergens. 

There are some caveats: This treatment won’t work for everyone. (One-third of participants did not respond to it.) Additionally, this treatment is an injection given every two to four weeks, indefinitely. This may make it less palatable to children. 

Overall, even with caveats, this is life-changing news for many families!

#xolair #foodallergies #allergies #peanutallergy #emilyoster #parentdata

For children or adults with severe food allergies, they can be incredibly scary and restrictive. We may imagine that it’s easy to deal with a peanut allergy by, say, not eating peanut butter sandwiches. But for someone with a severe version of this allergy, they may never be able to go to a restaurant, for fear of a severe reaction to something in the air. Right now, there’s only one approved treatment for severe allergies like this and it’s limited to peanuts.

This is why the new medication Xolair is very exciting. It promises a second possible treatment avenue and one that works for other allergens. A new trail analyzed data from 177 children with severe food allergies. Two-thirds of the treatment group were able to tolerate the specified endpoint, versus just 7% of the placebo group. This is a very large treatment effect, and the authors found similarly large impacts on other allergens.

There are some caveats: This treatment won’t work for everyone. (One-third of participants did not respond to it.) Additionally, this treatment is an injection given every two to four weeks, indefinitely. This may make it less palatable to children.

Overall, even with caveats, this is life-changing news for many families!

#xolair #foodallergies #allergies #peanutallergy #emilyoster #parentdata
...

If you have a fever during pregnancy, you should take Tylenol, both because it will make you feel better and because of concerns about fever in pregnancy (although these are also overstated).

The evidence that suggests risks to Tylenol focuses largely on more extensive exposure — say, taking it for more than 28 days during pregnancy. There is no credible evidence, even correlational, to suggest that taking it occasionally for a fever or headache would be an issue.

People take Tylenol for a reason. For many people, the choice may be between debilitating weekly migraines and regular Tylenol usage. The impacts studies suggest are very small. In making this decision, we should weigh the real, known benefit against the suggestion of this possible risk. Perhaps not everyone will come out at the same place on this, but it is crucial we give people the tools to make the choice for themselves.

#emilyoster #parentdata #tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancytips

If you have a fever during pregnancy, you should take Tylenol, both because it will make you feel better and because of concerns about fever in pregnancy (although these are also overstated).

The evidence that suggests risks to Tylenol focuses largely on more extensive exposure — say, taking it for more than 28 days during pregnancy. There is no credible evidence, even correlational, to suggest that taking it occasionally for a fever or headache would be an issue.

People take Tylenol for a reason. For many people, the choice may be between debilitating weekly migraines and regular Tylenol usage. The impacts studies suggest are very small. In making this decision, we should weigh the real, known benefit against the suggestion of this possible risk. Perhaps not everyone will come out at the same place on this, but it is crucial we give people the tools to make the choice for themselves.

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

Parenting trends are like Cabbage Patch Kids: they’re usually only popular because a bunch of people are using them! Most of the time, these trends are not based on new scientific research, and even if they are, that new research doesn’t reflect all of what we’ve studied before.

In the future, before hopping onto the latest trend, check the data first. Unlike Cabbage Patch Kids, parenting trends can add a lot of unnecessary stress and challenges to your plate. What’s a recent trend that you’ve been wondering about?

#parentdata #emilyoster #parentingtips #parentingadvice #parentinghacks

Parenting trends are like Cabbage Patch Kids: they’re usually only popular because a bunch of people are using them! Most of the time, these trends are not based on new scientific research, and even if they are, that new research doesn’t reflect all of what we’ve studied before.

In the future, before hopping onto the latest trend, check the data first. Unlike Cabbage Patch Kids, parenting trends can add a lot of unnecessary stress and challenges to your plate. What’s a recent trend that you’ve been wondering about?

#parentdata #emilyoster #parentingtips #parentingadvice #parentinghacks
...

As of this week, 1 million copies of my books have been sold. This feels humbling and, frankly, unbelievable. I’m so thankful to those of you who’ve read and passed along your recommendations of the books.

When I wrote Expecting Better, I had no plan for all of this — I wrote that book because I felt compelled to write it, because it was the book I wanted to read. As I’ve come out with more books, and now ParentData, I am closer to seeing what I hope we can all create. That is: a world where everyone has access to reliable data, based on causal evidence, to make informed, confident decisions that work for their families.

I’m so grateful you’re all here as a part of this, and I want to thank you! If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to sign up for full access to ParentData, this is it. ⭐️ Comment “Link” for a DM with a discount code for 20% off of a new monthly or annual subscription to ParentData! 

Thank you again for being the best community of readers and internet-friends on the planet. I am so lucky to have you all here.

#parentdata #emilyoster #expectingbetter #cribsheet #familyfirm #parentingcommunity

As of this week, 1 million copies of my books have been sold. This feels humbling and, frankly, unbelievable. I’m so thankful to those of you who’ve read and passed along your recommendations of the books.

When I wrote Expecting Better, I had no plan for all of this — I wrote that book because I felt compelled to write it, because it was the book I wanted to read. As I’ve come out with more books, and now ParentData, I am closer to seeing what I hope we can all create. That is: a world where everyone has access to reliable data, based on causal evidence, to make informed, confident decisions that work for their families.

I’m so grateful you’re all here as a part of this, and I want to thank you! If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to sign up for full access to ParentData, this is it. ⭐️ Comment “Link” for a DM with a discount code for 20% off of a new monthly or annual subscription to ParentData!

Thank you again for being the best community of readers and internet-friends on the planet. I am so lucky to have you all here.

#parentdata #emilyoster #expectingbetter #cribsheet #familyfirm #parentingcommunity
...

Just eat your Cheerios and move on.

Just eat your Cheerios and move on. ...

The AAP’s guidelines recommend sleeping in the same room as your baby “ideally for the first six months.” However, the risk of SIDS is dramatically lower after four months, and the evidence in favor of the protective effect of room sharing is quite weak (both overall and even more so after four months). There is also growing evidence that infants who sleep in their own room by four months sleep better at four months, better at nine months, and even better at 30 months.

With this in mind, it’s worth asking why this recommendation continues at all — or at least why the AAP doesn’t push it back to four months. They say decreased arousals from sleep are linked to SIDS, which could mean that babies sleeping in their own room is risky. But this link is extremely indirect, and they do not show direct evidence to support it.

According to the data we have, parents should sleep in the same room as a baby for as long as it works for them! Sharing a room with a child may have negative impacts on both child and adult sleep. We should give families more help in navigating these trade-offs and making the decisions that work best for them.

#emilyoster #parentdata #roomsharing #sids #parentingguide

The AAP’s guidelines recommend sleeping in the same room as your baby “ideally for the first six months.” However, the risk of SIDS is dramatically lower after four months, and the evidence in favor of the protective effect of room sharing is quite weak (both overall and even more so after four months). There is also growing evidence that infants who sleep in their own room by four months sleep better at four months, better at nine months, and even better at 30 months.

With this in mind, it’s worth asking why this recommendation continues at all — or at least why the AAP doesn’t push it back to four months. They say decreased arousals from sleep are linked to SIDS, which could mean that babies sleeping in their own room is risky. But this link is extremely indirect, and they do not show direct evidence to support it.

According to the data we have, parents should sleep in the same room as a baby for as long as it works for them! Sharing a room with a child may have negative impacts on both child and adult sleep. We should give families more help in navigating these trade-offs and making the decisions that work best for them.

#emilyoster #parentdata #roomsharing #sids #parentingguide
...