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Emily Oster on Parenting During the Pandemic

In honor of Women’s History Month, Squarespace is highlighting working women who are also balancing parenthood along with their professional pursuits — and inspiring other women along the way. We spoke to best-selling author and full-time college professor Emily Oster on how she’s been able to manage parenting responsibilities alongside her professional duties while simultaneously being a voice of knowledge and reason for so many other parents searching for certainty during this difficult time. 

SQUARESPACE: As a full-time college professor, your professional world has likely been disrupted by the pandemic. How have you been navigating these changes in your work life? 

Emily Oster: There have been a couple of big changes for me. In the spring of 2020, my kids were home and that dramatically disrupted my ability to get anything done. Moving into the summer and fall I had a better child care situation but was working a lot on COVID-related data and research. In most ways I've been much busier during the pandemic than before, especially with teaching this semester. The big challenge for me has been figuring out the balance between the "normal" parts of my job and the COVID parts. I'm not sure I've got it yet.

Photography by Rachel Hulin

Photography by Rachel Hulin

SQSP: You’ve also written best-selling books with the goal of “creating a world of more relaxed pregnant women and parents.”  Has your approach to pregnancy or parenting advice shifted due to the pandemic? 

EO: In somewhat fortuitous timing, I started a digital newsletter the month before the pandemic. So I've been writing a lot there for parents and pregnant people, mostly (although not entirely!) about COVID. In a sense, I think my approach is very similar to pre-pandemic, non-COVID topics: try to combine data with good decision-making practices. The biggest difference is the amount of uncertainty we are all grappling with in COVID. It is increasingly difficult to feel sure about the choices that we make since the data is simply not as good as it is in other areas.  A big part of what I have been doing, therefore, is trying to help people make choices they are happy with despite being unable to be fully sure of the data.

SQSP: Your books rely on research to mitigate the world of accepted parenting guidance. How do you balance the data with conventional wisdom when it comes to your own writing? 

EO: There's always a balance here. There is often a higher value put on data, but in a lot of cases our priors are really formed by conventional wisdom — and they should be!  Someone once told me that if my baby daughter wore mittens as an infant she would "never learn to use her hands." This is ridiculous, and you do not need data to tell you. So, sometimes you need to use the conventional wisdom to think about what's reasonable, and then think about what the data can add. 

SQSP: What role does your online presence play in your research and advocacy efforts?

EO: I use my online presence — on Squarespace, on social media — to disseminate and promote my research and my other writing. There is no question that without these opportunities the reach of what I'm producing would be much less.

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