Esther Wojcicki has an impressive bio. She’s an American journalist, educator, and vice chair of the Creative Commons advisory council. She founded the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Program in Palo Alto, CA. Along the way, she inspired many Silicon Valley legends, including Steve Jobs. But on top of her illustrious career, she’s even more famous for something you don’t usually win prizes and accolades for -- being an amazing mom and raising strong daughters.
Esther raised three highly successful daughters who are all making significant contributions in STEM and are now strong women in their own right. Susan is the CEO of YouTube. Anne is the Founder and CEO of genomics company 23andME. Janet is a top epidemiologist and medical researcher.
- Does having a mom who teaches journalism somehow give kids an extra advantage in life?
- Did her own early adoption of technology in the classroom encourage her kids to pursue STEM careers?
- What were her secrets exactly, and how can other moms apply them?
Fortunately, Esther wrote a book to share her story and her tips on raising strong daughters, called “How to Raise Successful People.”
As a woman working in technology and a mom of two strong girls of my own, this book immediately jumped to the top of my reading list. Unlike most “parenting books” I’ve read, Esther’s book gave me not only a lot of practical advice, but plenty to reflect on with regard to our role as parents and how we shape our kids with even very small, everyday decisions.
Raising Strong Daughters Means Letting Children Lead the Way
Esther makes clear in her book that she believes tremendously in independence and enabling kids to be themselves. She talks extensively about how children are unique and that parents need to foster their independence and sense of self, letting them lead the way, so that they can become truly self-sufficient.
She issues many warnings about parents who project their own interests and wishes onto their children, essentially suffocating them and not allowing them to become who they are meant to be.
In today’s era of over parenting (and she argues, overprotecting), her advice is that a parent’s job is to make themselves obsolete, so that their children can keep growing and evolving and making the right decisions long after the parent is out of the picture.
Why are parents today so afraid of bad things happening?
Esther is clearly an optimist and believes in possibilities. She points out that the world is safer and poverty is lower than at any time in documented history. Yet, our level of trust in fellow human beings is lower than ever before, mostly due to fears stoked by the media.
A journalist, she knows that bad news sells and good news doesn’t. She warns that the prevalence of negative news shouldn’t get in the way of believing that most human beings are good and can be trusted.
She has an important point. If parents are constantly scared, we pass these fears on to our kids. It naturally follows that if they’re afraid, they won’t feel empowered to make bold choices when they’re older -- such as founding a company, taking a chance with a new job, or asking for a promotion.
Kids need to learn how to advocate for themselves, and dream big dreams, but it’s really hard for them to do that if they are parented from a position of fear.
Our Most Important Job Is Enabling Kids to Make an Impact
Esther believes every parent’s job is to enable their child to make an impact. I was impressed by how she links each person’s parenting to a higher calling and mission.
As she explains, you never know what kind of impact that child will have in the world later on. Her book really isn’t about parenting philosophies alone, but more of a call for society to help our kids be good people and contribute to the world and the next generation.
In fact, she believes this duty of enabling kids to reach their full potential doesn’t just apply to parents, but to teachers, to neighbors, to aunts and uncles, and all other adults who happen to have children in their lives.
Foster Independence Even When Parenting Trends Suggest Otherwise
Esther also isn’t afraid to disagree with “expert advice.” Much of her advice goes directly against a lot of modern parenting trends. For example, in a world where many people want to ban devices and are afraid of them, she thinks it’s fine that her eight-year-old granddaughters have smartphones.
She views them as vital tools not just for communicating, but for teaching them restraint, self-discipline, how to manage their own digital footprint, and how to make good choices amidst a universe of options.
In fact, she takes a contrarian view on many situations that adults would regard as “scary” -- like dropping kids off alone at a store to shop by themselves and picking them up later. She views most things as an opportunity to teach kids good lessons for survival into adulthood, not as something to be feared, which is refreshing.
She believes that kids should learn, early on, that they are perfectly capable of surviving without adults around -- and this goes somewhat against the “attachment parenting” trends of recent years.
Recognize That Kids Are Members of an Interconnected Community
While I knew of her famous daughters, I didn’t realize Sergey Brin was the author’s son-in-law, that she’s friends with Elon Musk’s mother, or that she had Steve Jobs’s children in her classroom as well as many other children of famous tech gurus. It’s clear from her writing that she isn’t just name-dropping. These are people in her life, her kids’ lives, and who are part of her world.
Technology plays such an important role in our lives and in the world at large. So, it struck me how interconnected her own life has been -- not just due to who her children became but due to her own career.
Esther herself was pivotal in making many of these connections with so many key players in technology. It made me reflect on how important it is for kids to be connected to their community, something she discusses too.
As a teacher, her book also made me think more about how vital teachers are in our kids’ lives, and how you never know whose lives their work will influence.
Let Kids Have Pets to Teach Them Empathy
One of the more unconventional suggestions that Esther credits to her parenting style is that she always made sure her kids had pets -- and the associated chores -- growing up. She claims this wasn’t to teach them to do “jobs” around the house or responsibility alone, although that’s great too. The main reason she felt it was important is that it teaches kids what it means to truly care about someone or something other than themselves.
It takes the focus off of them, teaches them to be less selfish, and raises their awareness of the importance of taking care of others.
This was an eye-opening piece of advice for me. I had always seen studies that show that having pets are good for stress relief and health in families, but I had never considered pets as an important way to teach kids about life skills.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that advice. Even after years of not wanting pets in our home, Esther’s words kept ringing true for me, and we recently rescued a puppy. As I watch my own girls help take care of her now, I am much more thoughtful about incorporating Esther’s advice and making sure to point out the importance of them being active participants in caring for their pet.
How Esther’s Own Strong Daughters Describe Her Parenting Style
While I loved Esther’s book, I was also curious to hear what her own kids had to say. As successful adults and moms themselves now, their take was important to me. Some things they shared in the foreword that stood out to me:
- Teach kids to embrace the world. Esther moved the family to France in 1980, and her kids mentioned this in the foreword as something really important in their upbringing. This helped them develop a broader sense of their role within the world at large. Travel was a top priority for their family.
- Have them reflect on what they learn. The girls were encouraged not only to travel, but to keep journals for every single family trip they took, to ensure they reflected on their travel experiences and could appreciate them more.
- Never diminish kids for being kids. They grew up feeling that their ideas were valid and appreciated. Their mom never made them feel inferior by saying, “No, because I’m the parent and you’re (just) a kid.”
- Don’t rule based on authority. If you do this, kids may grow up feeling they can never rise to positions of authority on their own.
- Encourage discussions, not fighting. Arguments were common in their household, but no fighting was allowed.
- Teach financial responsibility early. Teach kids to save money and be careful with it, plan for essentials, and to be creative with resources. All of Esther’s kids had bank accounts at a young age, and had credit cards and checkbooks before they could drive, to teach them the discipline of managing their own money.
- Promote an entrepreneurial spirit. All three girls were encouraged to start their own businesses even as kids. The ideas had to come from them, but they were always encouraged to pursue those ideas.
- Teach kids to complain when it matters. Kids need to be explicitly taught to speak up, speak out, and complain when something is wrong, and not passively accept something that isn’t fair. Otherwise, the same injustice will happen to another person. If the price advertised was even a penny different than what she was charged, Esther would complain until the store fixed it -- for everyone.
- Have a sense of urgency. Their mother didn’t allow procrastinating or whining. “Get it done now, don’t wait!” as the message continually sent. They remember being told to get their homework done on Friday nights so they could enjoy the rest of the weekend without having to worry.
- Don’t force kids to do things. They learned from her that you need to motivate kids to want to do things themselves, versus trying to force them. And to motivate them, you need to understand them first as human beings, as individuals.
- Be open to trying new things. Adults can be reluctant to change routines and try new things. Their mom was the opposite. She balanced the ability to execute and be serious with openness, creativity, and the ability to have fun. Her daughters note that even at age 75, their mom thinks Forever 21 is a great place for her to buy her own clothes, even if they cater more to the teenage crowd.
- Trust: If we are confident in our choices, we can trust our children to take steps toward empowerment and independence.
- Respect: For kids and their autonomy and individuality, they need respect from their parents. Every child has a gift. Make it your mission to respect it and let them pursue what they want. Don’t prescribe it. Respect them!
- Independence: Self-control and responsibility are foundational, because they make children think creatively and innovate. The more independence they have, the more they will feel in control even when things around them are in chaos.
- Collaboration: If parents involve children in discussions, decisions, and even discipline in the family setting, they learn better how to work together in classrooms and the workplace and in life. Ask for their ideas, ask them to help find solutions. She talks about asking her kids what they think their own punishments should be, and realizing theirs were always harsher than what she would have chosen!
- Kindness: Esther rightly points out that many people treat strangers with greater kindness than we do our own children. Real kindness = gratitude and forgiveness, service toward others, and awareness of the world outside yourself. The most rewarding thing in life is to make someone else’s life better. This is an important lesson for kids.
Become a Lottie Super Fan!
- Be the first to hear about new Lottie Dolls
- Help to inspire the latest Lottie Dolls & accessories
- Suggest new ideas & activities you'd love to see
- Take part in exclusive launch team competitions
*Unsubscribe at any time!
Raising Strong Daughters Means Highlighting Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness
Esther shares some very specific techniques that she advises using from the earliest stage possible -- when children are infants. The principles she promotes -- Trust, respect, independence, collaboration, kindness (TRICK) -- are all highly interconnected in her thinking and her approach.
Many of the principles she suggests are also excellent principles to follow not only for parenting, but in work and in life. And, a lot of her attitude -- from her belief in a growth mindset to her open-mindedness and curiosity in the face of change -- are a perfect fit for people working in STEM careers, where collaboration, growth, and constant inquiry regarding, “how can we make this even better?” are critical.
The author also explains that many parents have lost sight of the most basic skills kids need to survive. Some quick takeaways from what she means with the TRICK principles are as follows:
Overall, Esther shares the TRICK philosophy not as a parenting hack per se. TRICK is designed to teach kids what good human behavior should look like. She believes that only by teaching them this will they be prepared to confront the problems we face today, and to enable our kids to someday solve the unknown challenges that lie ahead.
Reflect on Your Own Childhood to Understand How It Influences Your Parenting
There is a section in the book in which Esther describes her own childhood and how it shaped her, what she learned, and how she applied those lessons in her own parenting later on. She explains that becoming a parent allows you to understand the challenges your parents faced that you might not have recognized as a child.
Her writing in this section is very inspiring, and actually elevates the role of parents to a level that is truly uncommon within most parenting books. She goes so far as to say, “Parenting gives us perhaps the most profound opportunity to grow as human beings.” She also explains that parenting is how culture gets transmitted to the next generation.
There is a powerful theme of interconnectedness in Esther’s advice. She asks, “Are you teaching your children the things you want to see them teach their own children? Will this improve their lives, the culture, the world?” She explains that it’s a powerful ripple effect and it starts right at home.
Esther really gets the importance of connecting to a higher purpose and a broader community, and this theme reappears throughout the book. She also has a “growth mindset,” not one of being a victim.
Her advice is to take the good things, improve the negative and learn from them. Esther didn’t have an easy childhood, and she writes about her challenges and her family’s struggles in a very matter-of-fact and practical way, choosing to focus on what she took away from it and the positive memories.
One of the most beautiful and unexpected quotes I highlighted from Esther’s book was this: “Even back then, I understood that music makes it easier to be poor.” As I read about how music got her through many touch times, I was reminded of how so many people have found solace through music during quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s important to teach our kids to focus on beauty and the arts, especially during difficult times.
33 of the Best Esther Wojcicki Quotes on Raising Successful People
There were so many great pieces of advice in Esther’s book that I highlighted something on nearly every page. I ended up taking 10 pages of notes! It’s impossible to encapsulate all her wisdom in this review, but here are some of my favorite quotes from her book:
- “The digital age has resulted in a crisis of trust -- but living without trust is miserable. It makes us fearful and anxious, and we pass this on to our children.”
- “No one seems to trust the teachers anymore, so when a child does poorly, they blame the teacher.”
- “In media, bad news sells better than good news, which is a big reason why so many people live in fear.”
- “A culture of trust in your family paves the way for all other values.”
- “Have children make a list of all the things they are good at -- this quickly increases their confidence. Do it for yourself as well and remind yourself what you’re good at as a parent.”
- “Trusting others, including your kids, starts with trusting and believing in yourself.”
- “If something isn’t working, remember you can change it. Be honest without blaming yourself or becoming insecure.”
- “A single word or sentence can build a child up or shatter his confidence.”
- “Many parents operate from their own insecurities. Doesn’t their child need them? If not, what kind of parents are they? You want your child to want to be with you, not to need to be with you.”
- “Give kids many opportunities to learn time management from an early age.”
- “If children are not empowered with trust, they will not become independent later on.”
- “When we hover over our children, they become fearful as well. They need to take risks and learn they are trusted.”
- “Parents need to calm down about milestones. No one will remember at what age you walked or were toilet trained when you’re an adult.”
- “Kids need to be allowed to take the lead. YOU follow THEM. Children know who they are. Your job is to honor and respect that.”
- “Kids will take detours. Few find their passion right away. They will figure it out.”
- “Travel with a friend, volunteer in a foreign country, spend a few months learning another language, or work with a foundation.”
- “Children will listen to you -- they want your approval and love -- but If they want to be happy, they’re going to have to listen to themselves.”
- “We can’t really prepare children for a career -- we don’t even know what the jobs of tomorrow will be.”
- “We need to define ‘success’ as ‘passion’ and remember kids’ passion comes from within themselves.”
- “When kids can be experts in something, they feel good about themselves.”
- “Respect includes setting high standards. But the standards should be high in areas where they have personal meaning for the kids, not for the parents.”
- “You have to show them that you respect their desire to be in control sometimes.”
- “Everything is a learning opportunity. Kids see (and feel) the respect you show to your spouse, neighbors, family, friends. They hear what you say about your boss and colleagues at work. They see how you respect yourself. They model their behavior and values from this.”
- “When children misbehave, have them write an apology and reflect on how they will improve. Writing is thinking, and thinking prompts change.”
- “Teach them to be sensitive to others. Don’t say mean things to others and don’t embarrass anyone in front of others.”
- “Remember if they lose the respect of others, getting it back is nearly impossible.”
- “Self-respect means you can laugh at yourself. Without self-respect, you care about what others think instead of following your own moral compass and your own passions.”
- “Honor their wishes and interests, which may be different from our own. Challenge them to be their best at whatever activities they choose. Give them the love and support so they gain confidence to pursue their own path.”
Final Takeaways on Raising Strong Daughters from Esther Wojcicki’s Book
In her introduction, Esther explains that her goal as a parent was to turn her kids first into independent children, so they could someday become empowered adults. She is very proud of how her daughters “compete and cooperate” today. But, she also has some important observations about parenting in general today.
As a teacher, she has noticed that too many parents today want to prevent children from struggling or suffering. The result? They never deal with hardships or adversity. They lack independence and grit, and become fearful of the world around them, blocking them from innovation and creativity. This leads to kids who focus so much on themselves that they don’t even ask how they might help and serve others.
Kindness and gratitude are overlooked in what most parents teach their kids today. Meanwhile, these are the exact qualities that research shows will make us happiest in life.
As she explains, we’ve turned parenting into something complicated and unintuitive filled with fear and self-doubt. Parents have become slaves to their children’s happiness. Parents are the ones creating this frantic and hypercompetitive world for their kids. Instead, we should focus on giving kids skills that will enable them to continue to educate themselves throughout their lives. For her, those can be concisely summarized with the TRICK acronym: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness.
I can’t recommend Esther’s book highly enough to other parents out there, especially for moms like me who are trying to raise strong, independent daughters who not only believe in themselves, but who care about others and seek to make an impact on the broader world someday.
Don't forget to share this post!
- Tags: Nataly Kelly