For Mother’s Day, let’s explore myths about raising successful kids, from the Helicopter Parents who hover over their kids, fixing everything that goes wrong, to the Tiger Moms who dictate to their kids what they should study and how they should spend their time. Margot Machol Bisnow discovered what actually works during interviews with 60 successful entrepreneurs and their moms about how they were raised, as she researched a recently published book, Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers. Here are five myths she shatters in her book:
Dhani Jones as a kid
Teachers can tell which kids will be successful
Many parents believe that kids who get good grades in all their classes will do better than kids who focus on one thing. But lots of smart, talented kids struggle in school because they have a different learning style or interests than their teachers’ expectations. Or because they question the rules or challenge the way things are done. High school football star Dhani Jones wasn’t always popular with his teachers. His mom said, “Sometimes you’re not a favorite of the teachers when you ask a lot of questions.” Looking at things differently may not make you a teacher’s pet, but it can help you succeed in business. He was All American at the University of Michigan, then joined the NFL, playing with the Giants, Eagles, and Bengals. When his football career ended, he went on to a host a TV series, Dhani Tackles the Globe, and then became an entrepreneur as founding partner of VMG Creative.
Following your passion often isn’t practical
Well-meaning parents often snuff out their child’s passion because they fear their child won’t be able to earn a living unless he or she follows a conventional route. So they say, “Of course you can take music lessons in high school, but when you get to college, you have to major in something useful.” Or they say, “Stop drawing and study your math!” But often a childhood passion can lead to a career. When kids love something, they work really hard at it. And often that leads them to find ways to improve or expand or reinvent or promote what they love. And that can lead to a company or an organization. African American Rhodes scholar Greg Gunn had two passions growing up: computers and education. When he was young, his parents encouraged his spending time on the computer, even though many of their friends thought it was a waste of time. In high school, he had a tutoring program to help kids with math. After he got an MBA, he began to think how to combine his two loves. He cofounded educational software company Wireless Gen, and sold it for $450 million.
Kids should be shielded from adversity
A common misperception is that successful adults got there in a straight line. But there were more tales of overcoming challenges than of easy going. An astonishing number of the successful entrepreneurs had a tough time growing up: raised by low income single moms, parents who got divorced, a family that lost all its money, serious illness in the family, kids struggling with learning issues, several with parents who died. Even those who didn’t grow up with personal crises were taught about their parents or grandparents’ struggles. And they all learned to choose resilience when adversity strikes. Erica Ford was raised by a single mom; her father was killed in the Vietnam War when she was only three. Her mother always supported her, even when she didn’t support her choices. She’s now one of the country’s top anti-violence and self-empowerment advocates as the founder of LIFE Camp, which improves the lives of Black and Latino youth by providing tools that promote critical thinking.
Birth order and family structure matter
Birth order and family size didn’t matter at all. Every entrepreneur in the book said that wherever they were in the birth order was an advantage. Family structure also didn’t matter. Greg Gunn was raised by two happily married parents. But others weren’t and turned out fine. Some, like Erica Ford, were raised by a single mom. MissionU cofounder and Pencils of Promise founder Adam Braun’s family adopted two boys from Africa. What matters is that the parents loved all their kids the same and treated all their kids the same.
Successful people always choose their careers to make money
Many mistakenly believe that people start companies or organizations to make money. But the book shows that young people today want to pour their passion into their work to make a better project or service or to make a difference in the world. The entrepreneurs in the book were raised with compassion, with a focus on helping others. And many were raised with a belief in something bigger than themselves, a sense that they have a duty to contribute to the world. Quddus got his break when he became the host of the hit MTV show Total Request Live. He was described by Chris Rock as “if Oprah and Ryan Seacrest had a love child” and now spends his time consulting, working with his production company the Q Side, and hosting large events, such as The Global Citizens Festival. He says his goal is “to connect people with the ideas and experiences that will inspire and educate.”
So parents, stop worrying about what others tell you. Forget the myths. Celebrate your kids’ gifts. You can raise successful, resilient, joyous kids by supporting them as they follow their dreams and find a fulfilling career. Here is what is not a myth: Every child has a gift. Help them figure it out. Nurture it. Support it. Let your child follow their passion. They’ll work hard because they’ll be doing something they love. And they’ll find something in that sphere that they can expand, change, develop: something that they can create. And they’ll be happier and more fulfilled than if they went down the well-worn predictable path.
Margot Machol Bisnow, a former Chief of Staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, is author of Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers and Change Makers.