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Worst parenting book of the year: Esther Wojcicki’s homage to narcissism

By Jason Freely / a few months ago
Worst parenting book of the year: Esther Wojcicki’s homage to narcissism

Esther Wojcicki wrote her book, How to Raise Successful People, so she could take credit for her daughters’ success: “I raised two CEOs and a doctor. These are my secrets to parenting successful children.” Here are Esther’s five stunningly obvious secrets: trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness.

This book is a case study for how a narcissistic parent destroys the children through gaslighting, breaking boundaries, and emotional neglect. The small group of people who read the book hated it. But I’m thinking this book is important as a university text. There’s a subreddit devoted entirely to how difficult it is to describe the invisible-but-devastating abuse of a narcissist parent. The photo above is one of Frances Berry’s photo distortions and it is a great illustration of the narcissist’s world. Esther’s book is the text-based version of that, chapter by chapter, describing the mind of a narcissist parent.

Esther states, for the record, that Susan is CEO of YouTube, Anne is CEO of 23andMe, and Jane is a doctor at the University of San Francisco. Only she isn’t. Jane is an anthropologist and epidemiologist. The only person who refers to Jane as a doctor is her mom, on the book cover. Because Jane’s identity is an extension of Esther’s and Jane has to be what Esther needs her to be.

Esther says people are begging her to tell them parenting secrets, which is hilarious because even her daughters hate the way she parented. Susan has five kids. She is also the CEO of YouTube. So however Susan handles her five kids, it seems like a pretty clear rejection of her mom’s classically narcissist style of parenting. Susan has a separate identity from her children.

The book is an argument for why education reform could never go far enough and we need to start over from the beginning to get a fair system. The dad was a physics professor at Stanford, which means the girls had a built-in network and mentor. And they experienced the breakfast-table effect, which is the scientific word to explain the outsized benefits of having educated parents. Susan explained  what really made for successful daughters: “We grew up on a college campus, surrounded by academics, mathematicians, and scientists.”

The girls used totally legal back-doors to the Ivy League. Susan attended Harvard as a legacy applicant. Janet attended Stanford as a faculty kid. And Anne attended Yale as a hockey recruit. These three applicant pools each have a 40% acceptance rate to the Ivy League. Esther could have also written a book about the importance of recalibrating the education system, but that would have taken the focus away from her.

The book describes why the Bay Area quickly became a playground for rich kids instead of an incubator for new ideas. Esther’s husband rented their garage to Larry Page and Sergey Brin who founded Google. In the garage. That was lucky. Susan became employee number 16 at Google. That was both smart and lucky, which is how success usually happens.

Anne is the other CEO featured in the title of the book. Anne majored in biology, took the MCAT, and didn’t go to medical school. She married Sergey Brin and he funded her company with $3.9 million in the first year. We should all be so lucky to have a sister with a future billionaire in her garage. Oh. I mean, we should all be so lucky to have a mom like Esther.

The key to being a successful entrepreneur is to come from families with money. Poor kids don’t have access to capital, and poor kids can’t afford to take risks. But kids who grew up in the geographical center of the tech revolution with parents who provided a safety net were more likely than any other kids to be a startup founder.

Buy the book? No. Of course not. But… I believe the three sisters are very hard workers and I have nothing against them. My problem is with the mother mistaking achievement for love. Esther says, “I used [my kids] as an educational experiment, and my goal was to see how early I could teach them anything. It was fun for me to teach them to swim early, read early, ride a bike, know facts about the neighborhood. You can teach kids really early.” For Esther, her kids are a tool to express her talents and receive glory.

Her book is a way to measure that glory with dollars. So I recommend that you find someone who bought the book and buy it from them and then return it to the store. And if you want to read about narcissist mothers read Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.

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