Sarah Colombo West Side reading nook

Working at a library and being friends with lots of moms has taught me that there are more than enough parenting books in the world. It seems like every few months there’s a new method or technique to try out, or another country we should be imitating so our kids will grow up to be geniuses. Now that I’m expecting my first child, I had to do some serious librarian work to figure out if any of these books were worth my time. My timing was lucky, because this April, a new book was released: Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster.

Oster is an award-winning economist and she takes an economist’s approach to “advice” about parenting. I put advice in quotation marks, because this book isn’t really about giving advice. Far from straying into the “mommy wars” about any given topic, Oster presents the reader with well-researched studies on everything from sleep habits to food, being honest about the fact that often there are multiple ways to go about dealing with any of these parenting issues and reminding the reader that what works best for each individual family is also a factor that statistics can’t cover. The book lives up to its subtitle. It encourages a more relaxed approach to parenting, by giving the parent, or parent-to-be, plenty of information, and encouraging every individual to interpret the information through the lens of his or her personal preferences and family dynamics.

In the end, the data shows us that it’s going to be OK. Kids turn out fine whether or not they’re allowed to watch a little TV, or have early issues with sleep, or eat a few too many chicken nuggets. It’s all about doing your best. There is one piece of statistical evidence that I have to mention as a librarian: reading to young children is linked with later reading success, so don’t skip those bedtime stories!

I highly recommend this book to parents of babies or toddlers who feel overwhelmed by all of the advice and books and DVDs out there. It’s a reassuring reminder that you can do this. Oster ends the book with, according to her, the best parenting advice she ever received, which came from her pediatrician. She was worried because she was traveling somewhere with her baby, and there would be bees there. She peppered her doctor with questions about preparing for bee stings, wondering if she should bring an EpiPen just in case her daughter was allergic. Her doctor’s advice: “I’d probably just try not think about that.”

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