Emily Oster is a writer and a thinker after our own heart. Frustrated with all the bad parenting advice—most of which seems to be based on old wives’ tales and ridiculously bad data—she set out to apply her economist training to the subject of parenting. What kind of sleep training is best? Formula or breastfeeding? Screen time, good or bad?
The result was her book Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting from Birth to Preschool, which is worth reading and recommending to anyone with young kids. But what’s so interesting about the book is where it ends, which is not with some data driven insight but something completely anecdotal, and yet totally true. Oster, about to take her daughter on an international trip, anxiously asked the pediatrician what would happen if her daughter was stung by a bee while they were away. What if she’s allergic? What if something bad happens? You know the script, what if, what if, what if?
The doctor’s reply: “I’d just try not to think about that.”
As Emily explained in an interview:
I think about that advice all the time because it’s pretty broadly applicable to a lot of things in parenting. We can get caught up in every tiny decision and miss the enjoyment of parenting and the part of this that’s supposed to be fun. It just pushed against some of my worse instincts as a parent to just obsess over everything. Sometimes you just have to accept that you cannot control everything. That’s hard, but it’s part of the fun. Also, the kid was eventually stung by a bee, and it was totally fine.
Selective ignorance seems like a dangerous parenting strategy, and, of course, if practiced all the time, would be. But there is no way you’re going to be a good dad if all you do is worry about everything that could possibly happen. There’s no way you’ll be present or fun or attentive if your mind is constantly running through worst case scenarios. There’s no way you’ll get the big decisions right if you’re sweating every tiny decision.
There are some things it’s better not to think about. There are some times when we just need to accept that we’re winging it. There are some problems we’ll just have to solve when we get to them–if we even have to get to them. In the meantime, we’ve got plenty of other things to do…so go do it!
You can pick up a copy of Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting from Birth to Preschool at Ryan’s bookshop The Painted Porch and support indie retail by picking it up online too!