In How to Raise Successful People, educator and journalist Esther Wojcicki shares a thoughtful and holistic philosophy of parenting with five pillars: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness.

If we can embrace these qualities as a parent, Wojcicki argues, we can help our children become independent, resilient, caring, and successful adults capable of living a meaningful life. And I think she’s onto something.

Although this book was heavy on personal anecdotes (that may seem self-aggrandizing) and light on implementation ideas (that some rumination or even ChatGPT can easily provide), I still enjoyed and recommend How to Raise Successful People because Wojcicki’s formula identifies what seem to me as several of the “first principles” of productive parenting—part of the 20% of parental attitudes and actions that produce 80% of the outcomes. 

That isn’t to say following her formula is easy, but if you’re willing to treat the teachings in this book as a compass (they won’t serve as a map), and if you’re willing to try, fail, and try again, you’ll inevitably become a better parent.

How to Raise Successful People by Esther Wojcicki

My Top 10 Takeaways from How to Raise Successful People by Esther Wojcicki


Our goal is not to create a stress-free and hardship-free environment for our children. The painful and difficult experiences are often how we grow. Our goal is not to take these challenges and the growth that results from them away from our children—the fatal flaw of helicopter parenting—but to help our children face these challenges and learn from them.


Respect is a complicated topic. First, there is respect for your child as an autonomous person. Respecting the timeline of a child’s development isn’t only about walking and talking. Patience—sometimes lots of it—is needed there. Development is also about turning into the person we’re meant to be. And this process requires a deeper layer of respect: accepting a child for who he is and letting his life unfold accordingly. Kids need to be allowed to take the lead. That means you follow them. Children know who they are. Your job is to honor and respect that.


Your children will see you make mistakes. They will learn more from how you respond to your own mistakes than from the mistake itself.


Students often don’t know why they’re learning something. Asking why is so important to kids and they deserve a better answer than “because it will be on the test.” By the time kids reach middle school, they give up asking and focus on getting a good grade. To increase curiosity, it is important to address the “why” questions.


In one study, a test based on NASA’s recruiting process for engineers and rocket scientists was used to measure creativity and innovative thinking in small children. At age five, 98 percent of the kids had genius-level imaginative abilities. But at age ten, only 30 percent of the children fell into that category. Want to guess how many adults maintain their creative thinking skills after making it through our educational system? Just 2 percent.


The best way to teach the importance of family is to have fun together. The more positive experiences, the more support the child feels. It can be just playing a board game, or going to the park, or jumping on a trampoline.


If you ask me, the single most important life skill we model for our children is our ability to have functional relationships with other people. The happiness we experience in life is determined by the quality of our relationships. This, perhaps more than anything else, sets our children up for success or failure as adults.


In a 2014 analysis of three decades of research on family structure and the well-being of children, Dr. Jane Anderson concludes that with the exception of abusive relationships, “children fare better when parents work at maintaining the marriage.” Dozens of studies point to the adverse effects of divorce, including reduced time with each parent, loss of economic and emotional security, decreased social and psychological development, impaired cognitive and academic development, and a decrease in physical health. Interestingly, additional research has found many of these same effects in the parents.


1) Give your child a vivid sense of how empty and non-gratifying a life without purpose is. If you have nothing to believe in, you don’t attach yourself to anything, you don’t develop a purpose and follow it. You aren’t serving others. Even though hedonism is fun for a little while, it gets old fast, and you get bitter. 2) You also must vividly portray the joy of living a meaningful life. Whether it’s through stories, theater, religion, or modeling purposeful behavior yourself, we have to teach our kids what meaning looks like. And it doesn’t look like a new Mercedes and a vacation home on Cape Cod. Meaning is connection, relationships, contribution, and service. That’s what our children should understand about a life well lived.


Parenting may start small, but it has profound implications. We all share the future, and the way we treat our children is the way they’ll treat the world.