More Panda Mom

From the Daily Mail, an interview by Julia Llewellyn Smith with Esther Wojicki.  She is the mom of 2 very successful daughters – the CEO of YouTube, and the founder of 23-and-Me.

But Esther, who is warm, funny and not remotely smug, is horrified by scary Tiger Mother methods — the tough parenting rules of fellow American Amy Chua, who once threatened to burn her daughter’s soft toys when she failed to master a piano piece.

‘I admire Amy Chua’s devotion to her daughters,’ Esther says measuredly. But I think her approach failed to instil a sense of passion or independence in them. The key to happiness is a sense of power over your life, and I think a lot of people feel they don’t have that. They feel controlled by their families, that they’re doing things they don’t personally want to do to make somebody else happy.’

She also has no time for ‘helicopter’ parents, who do everything for their children, as personified by Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman — the star recently pleaded guilty to paying bribes to help her daughter win a place at a top university.

In contrast, Esther’s maternal style (Stan, her husband of nearly 60 years and a retired physics professor, left the majority of parenting to her) involved being as hands-off as possible.

From the ages of five, the girls walked to school alone; as soon as they could count she allocated them a budget and let them organise the family food shop.

She let all three quit learning a musical instrument and refrained from comment when, on graduating from Yale University, Anne announced she wanted to be a nanny. (With no maternal nagging, she changed her mind and bagged a fancy finance job.) ‘As a parent, you have to keep it zipped,’ Esther says.

This relaxed style — dubbed Panda mothering, first by her German publishers then worldwide in honour of those notoriously lazy mammals — is great news for mums like me, who’d far rather binge-watch old episodes of First Dates than help my eldest make a Taj Mahal model for her history homework, or supervise the youngest’s piano practice. So is Esther giving me permission to do nothing? She shakes her head, laughing. ‘Panda mums aren’t lazy. What they do is give children scaffolding to let them go free. Instead of always intervening, you only help when they need it.’

On material things:

Frugality runs through Esther’s veins. The daughter of Russian immigrants, she grew up in an impoverished agricultural community in California. ‘Having very little taught me to find solutions to get the things I wanted,’ she says. ‘I only had one pair of shoes, so I polished them every night to make them look like new.’

Today’s children, she thinks, possess far too much. ‘Electronic games, Lego sets, hi-tech bikes, rooms so full of stuff they can’t use it all. It means they never learn the real value of working hard for something.’ The Wojcicki girls all worked unglamorous jobs as students. ‘And my grandkids have all worked from the age of 14, in shops and restaurants. They’re not given large allowances; they’re not bought cars and they have to help around the house,’ Esther says.

Such behaviour is highly unusual in Esther’s billionaire-studded neighbourhood, but she’s never cared what the neighbours, or anyone, thinks.

I like her type of parenting.

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