The New Self-Help

The Hidden Struggles of Working Parents Are Now Live in Video Chat

It’s time to stop pretending our kids don’t exist

Emily Oster
Published in
6 min readMar 19, 2020
Book jacket cover of Expecting Better by Emily Oster

This story is part of The New Self-Help: 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century.

A few days ago, not long after my co-workers and I were banned from the office because of the coronavirus pandemic, I was in a faculty meeting on Zoom when one of my colleagues appeared on the screen holding their eight-month-old. They texted me later: “Sorry the baby was naked; diaper blowout right before the meeting.”

There was nothing to apologize for. Right now, all of us with kids are parenting out in the open like never before. And in the coming weeks and months, it’s something we’re going to be witnessing more and more.

Last year, I wrote a piece called “End the Plague of Secret Parenting,” which called on everyone to make their parenting more visible at work, to acknowledge their dual role as employee and parent. Put up kid pictures, sure, but also be honest about having to leave at 5 p.m. to see your kids, about sometimes needing to take them to the doctor, or go to a baseball game. I called on employers to acknowledge the schedule constraints parents face, and think about how to work around them.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in my dual role as economics professor and mom, and here’s my argument: It makes economic sense for employers to support this kind of parenting. Lack of flexibility, or a culture that doesn’t give employees the space to acknowledge family obligations, pushes people to quit. That’s not good for anyone.

Now, with Covid-19, parents don’t have a choice: We are now all parenting in the open. Like, really, really open. And on top of this, most of us are now trying to not only be good employees and good parents, but also good teachers. The challenges of juggling all these roles at once are tremendous.

One of the biggest things I’m feeling right now — one thing all of us are feeling — is uncertainty about what society will look like on the other side of this. But when we do come out on the other side, we’ll be confronted with the opportunity to figure out how we can make more open parenting easier for…



Emily Oster
Writer for

Professor of Economics, Brown University. Author: Expecting Better and CRIBSHEET (April 2019). Goal: creating a world of more relaxed pregnant women and parents