Emily Oster

6 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

There’s No Secret Option C

A mantra for decision-making

Emily Oster

6 min Read

Our lives are full of hard choices.

One example: the reader who messaged me with a question about her second birth. Her first had been a C-section after a stalled labor, and she was now faced with the question of whether to schedule a C-section for the next or to try labor again. She was going back and forth, back and forth, without deciding, as time was running out.

A second example: one of my graduate student advisees and their challenging job question. This student was trying to coordinate jobs with her partner. They both had excellent job offers, but the universities were distant from each other, so they wouldn’t be able to live together. The other option was two jobs at the same university, but the jobs were a less good fit professionally. They were going back and forth, back and forth, without deciding and with time running out.

On one hand, these decisions are completely different. On the other, there are distinct parallels. And both decisions are reflective of many other hard choices we have to make.

What’s very hard about these is that the two options both have significant downsides. Having a repeat C-section means giving up on the possibility of a vaginal birth. Trying for a vaginal birth means risking an emergency C-section. Taking the better jobs in varying locations means not living together. Taking the jobs together means sacrificing some professional ambition. This means that no matter what you choose, you will be actively choosing some downside.

No one likes to actively choose downsides. For this reason, it is hard to choose at all. Decisions like this are left to fester, as we hope that somehow, magically, we’ll avoid the downside choice. In the end, we may let the decision trickle out and either make it under duress at the last minute or have a decision forced on us by having waited too long. Neither of these situations is great.

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 — the thing I remind myself often — is the title of this piece.

There is no secret option C. 

In these complicated moments, we are often waiting for a secret third option. No matter how unlikely it is, how impossible, it’s hard not to imagine it. Maybe you’ll go to the doctor for a routine visit at 39 weeks and find you’re actually 10 centimeters dilated and ready to push. This isn’t going to happen! But … what if it did? (But it won’t.)

Or what if you wait just a few more weeks, maybe some third set of jobs will open up that are better on all dimensions.

This magical thinking, as appealing as it is, gets in the way. There is no secret option C.  

Having this realization, accepting it, reminding ourselves of it, can help force the hard decisions. It doesn’t make it easy to choose something with downsides, but it forces us to accurately weigh the risks and benefits of both choices, rather than weighing them both against an imaginary (but dominant) option.

This came up frequently during COVID. When faced with Thanksgiving 2020, before vaccines, many people considered whether to see family or not. At the time, I framed this as a tradeoff between being anxious and sad. Both options had enormous downsides. If we saw family, we would be anxious about the virus. If we didn’t, we would be sad. There was no secret option C.

It comes up in our hardest parenting choices. It becomes clear that one of your children really needs more parenting time. And yet you and your partner both work in jobs you love. Your choice is between giving up a job you love (and the income) or greater struggles for your child. Both options feel bad. You have to pick the less bad one, though, since there is no secret option C.

It comes up in our hardest relationship choices. When you and your partner realize that you cannot make it work anymore. There is a choice between staying in a marriage that isn’t working or getting divorced. These are both agonizingly hard choices, but they are the only two. There is no secret option C.

These decisions aren’t always hard because the options are bad! Over the last few years, I’ve realized it’s becoming less and less possible to wear all my different work hats.  There are only 24 hours in a day, and something has to give. I have struggled to make decisions about what should go, because I guess I’m waiting to see if the day will magically acquire 28 hours. But it won’t, because there is no secret option C. 

There are two gifts that this realization provides.

The first is to avoid the trap of waiting for the decision to be made for you, perhaps poorly. When there are only two options, one of the options will happen. But just waiting passively is not the right way to choose it.

The second gift, though, is that by facing the decision head-on, you may be able to make the options you do have better. For the first person who emailed me: her reality was that by facing the decision directly, she had a lot of flexibility around her repeat C-section, which would make it much easier on her and her family. But that flexibility was literally going to disappear if she didn’t make the decision in time. Facing up to the decision about a child who needs more time with one parent may help you figure out if there is an intermediate version of time off from work, one that might be better all around.

In essence, by facing the decision, you may find yourself with better options. They aren’t a secret option C! But you might upgrade option B.

You may not need this advice right now. Luckily, tough decisions like this do not come up every day. But we all face choices like this sometimes, and when you do, call this up.

There is no secret option C. 

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SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear. 

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.

SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear.

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.
...

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community! 

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community!

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛
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#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster

“Whilst googling things like ‘new dad sad’ and ‘why am I crying new dad,’ I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief.” Today we’re bringing back an essay by Kevin Maguire of @newfatherhood about his experience with paternal postpartum depression. We need to demystify these issues in order to change things for the better. Comment “Link” for a DM to read his full essay.

#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster
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#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy

What does the data say about children who look more like one parent? Do they also inherit more character traits and mannerisms from that parent? Let’s talk about it 🔎

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy
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SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common. 

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity

SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common.

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity
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Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster

Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster
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Humility. That’s why. That’s the whole reason.

#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor

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#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor
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Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET 
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray
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What an amazing group of women, and an honor to speak at the #MomsFirstSummit debunking parenting myths. 

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

#emilyoster #parentdata #pregnancyproblems #pregnancymyths

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

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

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

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

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

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips

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

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

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

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

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

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

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings

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

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings
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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
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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
...