What is a parent’s role in raising smart, confident and successful children? What matters? What not? Even though I am the mother of two happy and driven entrepreneurial sons, these are questions I never thought to ask.
Looking back, I would love to read stories about how entrepreneurs grew up – not just Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but people we could actually identify with.
Entrepreneurs, in my opinion, are not only founders of profitable businesses. They are resilient, hardworking people who start something, who come up with ideas and bring them to life, who turn passion into projects.
While researching and writing my book “Raising an Entrepreneur,” I interviewed 70 parents who raised highly successful adults. Here are their four hard parenting rules that set them apart from most others:
1. Give children extreme independence
Susan and Anne Wojcicki are two incredibly talented sisters. Susan, Google’s first marketing manager, became its CEO in 2014. Anne co-founded 23andMe, a genomics and biotechnology company.
When I spoke with their mother Esther, it was clear that her girls grew up knowing that she trusted them to act responsibly.
The girls were given the freedom that some parents, especially today, would refuse. “I gave my children the opportunity early on to be very independent,” Esther told me. “I had three children in four years, and no help, so I put them to work out of necessity.”
Her children loved that sense of freedom. “I think it gave them a lot of confidence,” she said. “I would put my five-year-old daughter on a plane [alone] – with a name tag around her neck – to visit her grandmother in LA”
Even if you’re afraid to give your kids the kind of freedom that Esther gave her daughters, she said, “you can still give them things to do around the house to contribute to the family, like chores to make them responsible to make and to develop their self-confidence.”
2. Actively cultivate compassion
Children whose parents show them what it feels like to help others who are struggling, whether around the world or across the kitchen table, get a head start in developing a compassionate outlook.
Scott Harrison is the founder of charity: water, a non-profit organization that repairs and maintains wells to give people sustainable access to clean water. In just 15 years, charity: water has funded 60,000 projects in 29 developing countries, brought clean water to 12 million people and raised nearly half a billion dollars for the cause.
Before Scott’s mother Joan passed away, she told me that she attributed his success to the parenting foundation she laid early on, built on spiritual community, discipline and hard work.
When he was in elementary and middle school, she helped him sort through his clothes, books and toys, and they gave some away to kids who could use them.
Early awareness of other people’s problems can also encourage children to start asking entrepreneurial questions: “Do things really have to be this way?” “How can I make them better?”
3. Welcome failure early and often
Nia Batts co-founder Detroit Blows, an inclusive, non-toxic hair and beauty service. I met Nia about 10 years ago when she was working at Viacom.
When I asked her how she mustered up the courage to leave her secure job and start something from scratch, she said it was because she learned the merits of failure early and often when she was young.
“My mom was a trial lawyer. Most of the time she won, sometimes she lost,” Nia said. “I remember my father often asking me, ‘What did you fail at today?’ He asked me when I was young and he drove me to and from school; he asked me when I was in college; and he asked me more often when I started working.”
I have seen so many parents trying to save their children from failure. But Nia’s parents wanted to make sure they created an environment where it was okay to fail. “I think they were excited to see the process unfold as I grew up and learned that lesson. My father taught me that in your wounds lie your gifts, and in your failures lie your opportunities,” she said.
4. Let go of control and lead by following
Children need time to discover their paths. Many experience periods when it is unclear where they are going. In this situation, some parents may see their children as lost. But parents of children who grow up to become entrepreneurs are more likely to see their children than explore.
Here’s the hard part for many parents: If you want to raise an entrepreneur, you have to lead by following, regardless of where your child wants to go.
Kenneth Ginsburg, author of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens,” offers this advice: “Getting out of the way is a challenge. We want to help, fix, and guide children. But we have to remind ourselves that when we let them think. things out for themselves, we communicate this: ‘I think you are capable and wise.’
In other words, see what your children want, what their passion is, what they are good at and what makes them happy. Allow their gift to reveal itself. Then support it. Tell them how proud you are of them for succeeding in their chosen path. And then tell them again and again, until you’re sure they believe it.
They may not end up with a career you had in mind, but if they are able to pursue their passion, they will be happy and fulfilled. And isn’t that what all parents want for their children?
Margot Machol Bisnow is an author, mother and parenting expert. She spent 20 years in government, including as an FTC Commissioner and Chief of Staff to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and is the author of “Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dream.” Follow her on Instagram @margotbisnow.