(Author's note: This is one of three articles in a series. You might want to check out the others: A former Stanford dean's advice on raising successful, independent kids, and a former Navy SEAL's advice on raising kids to be resilient.)
Life changes when you have kids. It's a cliché, but I've experienced it myself. You still aspire to great things--but you think more about the life you want for your child(ren), too.
One thing I want for my daughter is the chance (if she wants it) to be an entrepreneur. Having studied and written about entrepreneurship for years, I believe it means more money, more control over your time, more freedom--and it doesn't necessarily mean starting a business.
Mark Zuckerberg's father, Dr. Edward Zuckerberg, did a lengthy interview with a local radio station some time ago, in which he talked about how the choices he and his wife made led his son to--well, to go on to Facebook and become a billionaire. Here are the biggest takeaways from his talk:
1. Model working for yourself.
Dr. Zuckerberg is a dentist. Even today, he runs his practice out of the Zuckerberg family home at 2 Russell Place in Dobbs Ferry, New York. His wife (a licensed psychiatrist) worked as his "overqualified" office manager, he said. As a result, young Mark grew up watching his parents take responsibility for their livelihoods and run a business out of their home (as well as use the most modern technology of the time).
"My kids all grew up around the office and were all exposed to computers," Dr. Zuckerberg said. "There are advantages to being exposed to computers early on. That certainly enriched Mark's interest in technology."
(By the way, I'm not doxxing the Zuckerbergs by publishing the address; it's on Dr. Zuckerberg's Yelp page, and he himself references the fact that he's Mark's dad.)
2. Provide security for your kids.
There are plenty of stories of entrepreneurs who grew up with nothing, but it's more likely that kids will grow up to be willing to take risks if they have a stable background behind them. In Dr. Zuckerberg's case, he was working to provide that kind of stability long before he even met his wife and had children.
"Growing up Jewish in New York City," he said, "if you had half a brain, your parents wanted you to be a doctor or a dentist."
So, despite the fact that he himself was interested in computers, Zuckerberg pursued what was seen as a stable, somewhat lucrative career--enrolling in 1975 in New York University College of Dentistry.
2. Discover and encourage your kids' interests.
"Probably the best thing I can say is something that my wife and I have always believed in," Dr. Zuckerberg said. "Rather than impose upon your kids or try and steer their lives in a certain direction...recognize what their strengths are and support their strengths and support the development of the things they're passionate about."
In a separate Los Angeles Times story, for example, Dr. Zuckerberg described setting up his son with the tutorial disk from one of his office computers, which the younger Zuckerberg used to learn to code
"He was bored with his schoolwork," Dr. Zuckerberg said, so he let his son "rig up a primitive version of instant messaging that enabled people in different parts of the dental office and the house to communicate via computer." The family called the program ZuckNet.
3. Show them you're proud of them.
Dr. Zuckerberg talks about his son as having been "a good student" and having "a special affinity for math and sciences." But he said the younger Zuckerberg, who left home for Phillips Exeter Academy before Harvard, was "a very quiet guy...[who] doesn't like to boast about his accomplishments."
He adds, "I'm proud of his accomplishments and the accomplishments of all my kids."
4. Set limits and enforce them.
According to one summary of his radio appearance, Dr. Zuckerberg weighed in on discipline, too. He said he "didn't believe in physical discipline..."
but added that certain behaviors require parents to let children know "right there on the spot, this is a behavior that will not be tolerated. If you impart your dislikes about certain negative behaviors early in their lives, they will learn to understand what your feelings on certain matters are."
Basically, you can be a progressive parent--but remember that kids are kids. They need you to be their mom or dad.
5. But make sure kids play, too.
It's pretty clear that Dr. Zuckerberg has his avocations and encouraged his kids to as well. (In a New York magazine article, he's described as "a committed diver" who features "murals of coral" and a 200-gallon fish tank in his office.) He said it's something he encouraged in his kids.
"I think that extremes in any form in parenting are not good. Children need to be well-rounded. There's a place for work and a place for play," he says.
6. Balance work and life
In answer to a caller to the radio show who asked about work-life balance, Dr. Zuckerberg came back to the fact that he and his wife both worked from home.
"My wife was a superwoman," he said. "She managed to work and be home. We had a unique situation because my office was in the house. I highly recommend it if it works for your occupation. It did afford the ability to work and be home with the kids at the same time."
By the way, I'm sure you're wondering: Dr. Zuckerberg reportedly held the equivalent of about $60 million in Facebook stock at the time of its IPO; if he held onto it all, it would be worth about $167 million today.
7. Don't grow old too fast.
When New York magazine interviewed Dr. Zuckerberg, the reporter described him like this:
... short and densely built, with soft almond eyes and a stare he often holds one beat too long, as if he is attempting to stare directly through you. Despite his bald pate, the 57-year-old is notably youthful. He is wearing a blue button-down tucked into Calvin Klein jeans, a thick leather belt, and a smart pair of loafers. A gold medallion of a triggerfish is nestled in the collar of his shirt.
The word that jumps out at me is "youthful." No matter how old you are, model the idea of living for your kids, and refuse to give in to old age.