The mother of three hugely successful women–two leaders in technology, one a doctor–is calling out parents on excessive involvement in their children’s lives, saying that “helicopter parenting” hinders more than it helps.
Esther Wojcicki–the mother of Susan, the longtime CEO of YouTube, Anne, the founder of 23and Me and Janet (professor of pediatrics and epidemiology)–said she refused to deprive her children of self-efficacy, and applying her “unpopular parenting rules,” she raised three international visionaries.
A journalist and educator, the woman–a model of parenting excellence with kids who “rose to the top of competitive, male-dominated professions”–says stop coddling kids and empower them with responsibility.
Packed with some serious power, Anne, Janet and Susan Wojcicki are three influential leaders known as pioneers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Susan, 55, spent more than 20 years at Google, including nine-years as CEO of YouTube, Janet, 53, is a doctor and professor at the University of California San Francisco and Anne, 50, is the CEO and co-founder of 23andMe, the first personal genetics test with FDA approval.
The women credit their mother and father–an emeritus physics professor–who drilled in the confidence to “follow your passion, be creative and there’s no limitations,” even in fields where women are underrepresented, says Anne.
“My dad gave us this notion that not everybody has to take the same path, and the path is not always linear,” Janet says of her dad, who died in May 2023. “Being able to have a support structure you can return to and feel like, ‘OK, I can regroup from here, I can bounce back from this,’ is very key.”
“My mom, who’s the teacher, she’s like, ‘All you need is one person who believes in you,’” Anne adds. “And we had lots of people believing in us.”
With the support of their parents, the women are trailblazers in an industry dominated by males–men make up 73% of the STEM workforce–and they were pushed toward reaching their goals, knowing, as Janet says, “there were no limits as far as what women could do.”
Esther says American parents need “a wake-up call,” and that “We are doing too much for our kids. This is the origin of helicopter parenting, in which we constantly remove obstacles so that our kids don’t have to deal with challenges.”
According to Medical New, helicopter parenting is defined as “over-parenting” that “involves excessive levels of involvement and control by parents in their children’s lives. A motivation for this parenting style is driven by the parents’ worry that their child might come to harm or not flourish.”
But Esther argues her “many unpopular parenting rules”–the first being “Don’t do anything for your kids that they can do for themselves”–is what served in the impressive development of her three highly successful daughters, in a male-dominated industry.
Trust your children to do things on their own and empower them with “guided practice: It’s the ‘I do, we do, you do’ method.”
Tips for simple every actions:
Waking up: Have them set their own alarm
Getting dressed: Let them pick out their outfit
Breakfast/lunch/dinner: involve them with meal preparation and cleanups. Let them stir the pancake
batter, clean their lunchbox and set the table
Backpacks: Have them run through a list of what they need to take to school
Making plans: Let them think of weekend plans or after school activities
Homework: They don’t need to be get 100% correct, let them learn from mistakes
Chores, Esther explains, are especially important and they can be used as an opportunity to learn. The 82-year-old mother said that dishwashing was important when her three daughters were growing, and that they had a little stool to stand at the sink while washing dishes after dinner.
And, when the family went grocery shopping, the mother would ask for two pounds of apples, encouraging the kids to “pick out the good ones, which I’d taught them how to do, and measure pounds on the scale.” If, while shopping the family was over budget, she’d have her children calculate what should be returned.
The elusive quest for perfection
Esther recalls that making beds in the mornings were a challenge: “I expected my daughters to make their own beds every morning. Ha! A bed made by a kid can look like she’s still asleep in it. But I didn’t fight them. As long as they did it, I was happy.”
Speaking of reaching a level of mastery, the bestselling author adds that it “means doing something as many times as it takes to get it right. Being a writing teacher taught me this. In the 80s and 90s, one of the supposed characteristics of a good teacher was that your class was so hard that many students failed.”
But, she said the students who got a D early on found it impossible to recover and lost the motivation to improve, since they started out so far behind.
“So I gave them the opportunity to revise their work as many times as they wanted. Their grade was based on the final product. And when it came time for testing, my students performed in the 90th percentile of state exams.” She continued, “It was the learning and the hard work that I wanted to reward, not getting it right the first time.”
Trust and empower
Esther urges parents to give their children more credit, but within reason and in a safe environment.
“The idea is to teach them how to cope with what life throws at them. One of the most important lessons I taught my daughters is that the only thing you can control is how you react to things.” She continued, “When you trust kids to make their own decisions, they start to feel more engaged, confident and empowered. And once that happens, there’s no limit to what they can achieve.”
As for her daughters, in February 2023, Susan retired her position as CEO of YouTube, the largest video platform in the world to spend time with her family. Anne is revolutionizing health care with DNA testing and Janet is continuing her research in anthropology, pediatrics and epidemiology.
In March 2023, the trio, hoping to inspire young girls into embracing STEM, was honored by Mattel with one-of-a-kind Barbie doll. Susan, Anne and Janet are three of seven influential global citizens who received one-of-a-kind Barbies.
“Our parents fostered independence and a belief that we could truly be anything we wanted to be when I grew up, but most important was to pursue a passion,” Anne said in a statement. “I hope that sharing our stories encourages young girls to try something new, face something that may scare them, and look at challenges as exciting opportunities.”
Esther Wojcicki seems to have found the perfect formula for raising kids, with results that prove her “unpopular parenting rules” are effective!
What do you think of Esther and her three amazing daughters?
Please share this story and let’s give a shoutout to these incredible trailblazers who are inspiring women around the world to pursue their passions!
If you found inspiration in this story, we’re sure you’ll also enjoy reading about the oldest women to travel to space!
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