How Does Your Parenting Technique Compare to Elon Musk's, Sheryl Sandberg's and Jeff Bezos'?
How much screen time do tech giants allow their kids? And which entrepreneur let his kids play with sharp knives?
We all want to be amazing parents, although sometimes we end up falling short. The tug of war between work and parenting is especially strong among families with two working parents, who make up 61.1 percent of families, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Parenting will always be a challenge in the life of any ambitious entrepreneur and/or business leader, and there are many ways to raise a child: with hired help, with the support of extended family or working for a company with generous family policies that allow for flexible work hours and parental leave.
While global power players certainly have the advantage of impressive financial resources to bolster their parenting techniques (hello, hired help), many of the recognizable names in business rely on solid parenting techniques that don’t require money. They also have made fascinating choices in parenting.
Check out these nine slides to see how business mavens, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg and more, parent their kids while running their empires.
While Elon Musk reportedly spends 80 to 90 hours per week working, it’s clear he’s a hands-on father to his five boys. The thrice-divorced Musk brings his sons to his California-based factories regularly and takes his sons on an annual camping trip.
“I’m a pretty good dad,” Musk has said. “I have the kids for slightly more than half the week and spend a fair bit of time with them. I also take them with me when I go out of town.”
In the area of his children’s education, Musk goes beyond the scope of “pretty good dad.” He’s so invested that he began his own uber-exclusive, by-invitation-only school, Ad Astra (Latin for “to the stars”) in southern California. He spoke about Ad Astra during an interview with a Chinese network in 2015 and has been tight-lipped ever since.
What we know about the school is that it doesn’t have grades and the education caters to the aptitudes of the children. Musk, who believes that children should be taught critical thinking through problem-solving, has said, “If you want to teach children how engines work, you wouldn’t want to first teach them all about wrenches and all about screwdrivers. You would show them the engine, and ask how they would take it apart. Then a very important thing happens, which is that the relevance of the tools becomes apparent.”
Ad Astra also teaches the ramifications of advancing technology and ethics to its students. No surprise, considering Musk is extremely vocal on the topic.
Mark Zuckerberg is one gushy dad. When his first daughter Max was born in 2015, he posted a lengthy letter on Facebook that he and his wife penned, which boiled down to wanting to make the world a better place and announcing the creation of his and his wife's foundation, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. For the arrival of his second daughter, August, in 2017, Zuckerberg posted a less lengthy but nonetheless sweet note to hail her arrival.
“Childhood is magical,” the post read. “You only get to be a child once, so don’t spend it worrying too much about the future.”
As for his parenting techniques, Zuckerberg hasn’t gone into lengthy detail, however it’s public knowledge that both he and his wife Priscilla Chan are extremely invested in childhood education, which is likely a part of their parenting style. The two are involved in an ambitious push to personalize and democratize education through providing every student with customized learning, an initiative tag-teamed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In other education news, the Facebook founder and CEO also shared his diaper-changing hack during a Facebook forum: “Have you figured out yet that when you change the diapers you have to slide the new diaper underneath?” he asked the audience, adding, “That saved me a lot of time and wasted clothing.”
“How much screen time should my child have?” is a big question parents ask, and the answer given by Microsoft founder Bill Gates is “not much” for his three children. Two of his children are adults (Jennifer is 21 years old and Rory is 18), while his youngest, Phoebe, is 15 years old. While the average age for a child to get his or her first mobile phone is 10, Gates said he made his children wait until they were 14 -- much to their chagrin. He and his wife Melinda also implemented no screen-time during dinner and after a certain hour, which “helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour.” This rule was a response to one of his daughters, who was starting to form an “unhealthy attachment to a video game.”
Gates advocates using technology in the larger sense in order to personalize education (e.g. “tailor lesson plans for each student”) and for child development, not entertainment. His no-frills attitude is aligned with the multi-billionaire’s attitude toward parenting and money.
The Gates children are given an allowance (although it’s not known whether the adult children still receive one), however, they must save a third of it to donate to their charity of choice. The Giving Pledge co-founder says that he will not be leaving the bulk of his fortune to his children when he passes, although his children will be financially secure. "Our kids will receive a great education and some money so they are never going to be poorly off, but they'll go out and have their own career,” Gates explains. “It's not a favor to kids to have them have huge sums of wealth. It distorts anything they might do, creating their own path."
In spite of her busy schedule, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg drops her two young children off at school in the morning and leaves work by 5:30 p.m. to be at home with them. That isn’t to say that Sandberg stops working by that hour, however the now single working mother has shaped her schedule so she can be routinely present for her children, who, in 2015, lost their father Dave Goldberg. That event set Sandberg off on a mission to learn as much as she could about resilience and overcoming adversity, so she could pass the lessons on to her children and the public.
In a New York Times op-ed, Sandberg writes about parenting techniques she’s been using to build resilience, such as showing kids they matter (meaning they make a difference to others). Another parenting skill that builds resilience that she mentions is “companioning,” or providing support by simply being present and listening.
When her husband was alive, she says they had a dinner tradition of revealing their best and worst moments of the day. It was a small ritual, but one where the children received undivided attention, another tool that can build children’s resilience and belief that they matter. To that end, Sandberg also didn’t shy away from talking about her late-husband in front of her children, encouraging them to do so. Talking about the past, while painful at the time, provides children a sense of where they came from and builds resilience over time.
To help keep coping tools at the forefront, Sandberg and her children wrote down their “family rules,” such as “It’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh.” The rules, she said, were taped to a visible spot as a reminder for her and her kids.
Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder and CEO of genetics company 23andMe, was once married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, with whom she had two children. She said in an interview with The New York Times that despite the enormous wealth and privilege that her two children were born into, she has tried to instill a sense of normalcy with regular chores and by being present to maintain her house rules.
"I have people who clean the house three days a week,” she says. “And I just told them to stop doing laundry on Fridays because my kids need to learn how to do laundry on Fridays. It's so easy to be like, 'I don't have to do laundry again. I don't have to cook again.' But then you're not normal. I have a new rule lately. I just don't go out on weekdays. If I'm raising kids, I need to be focused on helping implement that normalcy.”
Although Wojcicki endured a humiliating and public divorce from Brin, the two are now friendly, and the outdoorsy entrepreneur, who eschews makeup and rides her bike to work every day, admits that she sometimes allows her kids to wear their clothes to bed “to save time in the morning.” The other quirky parenting insight she discloses is “when we’d travel in the summers, because I don’t like to pack a lot ... I’d have the kids bathe in their clothes, and then they change into something else. And then their clothes are clean for the next day. Versus the hotel laundry, which is so expensive.”
Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie do not buy into over-protecting their four children. The couple give their kids a long leash to play and experiment, including with knives and power tools at relatively young ages. The Amazon CEO explained that his wife MacKenzie has said, “I'd much rather have a kid with nine fingers than a resourceless kid."
Bezos greatly values resourcefulness, which is one of the traits he was looking for in a wife. "I’m looking for a woman who can get me out of a Third World prison,” he has stated. Mackenzie, a Princeton graduate who worked at the same investment firm as Bezos when he was its vice president, aptly fits that description.
When it comes to their children’s education, Mackenzie has said they’ve “tried a range of strategies, including, ‘off-season travel, kitchen-science experiments, chicken incubation, Mandarin lessons, the Singapore math program, and lots of clubs and sports with other neighborhood kids.’”
However, one traditional and sweet parenting routine Bezos has is that he doesn’t schedule meetings in the morning so and his wife can eat breakfast with the brood.
Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who has two daughters in their 20s, has said, “I always felt guilty. I think that’s something which every working mother feels.” Huffington revealed that to her daughter Christina Huffington in a Huffington Post video series produced by Christina called “Talk to Me,” where daughters interview their mothers in order to open up lines of non-traditional dialogue.
The media mogul is extremely close with both her daughters. “I am very grateful to be a mom. It’s the most wonderful thing in my life,” she said. She speaks to her daughter Christina several times a day over the phone. However, her parenting skills were strongly tested when her daughter became addicted to drugs and developed an eating disorder in her teens. (She has since gotten treatment and has fully recovered.)
The Thrive Global founder has since become an outspoken ambassador of self-care and being present in the moment, two behaviors that directly relate to good parenting. She cites her mother as a wonderful role model for “living life in the present, able to really enjoy every moment instead of, as often happens in our lives, getting lost in our thoughts or in our smartphones.”
Huffington has dealt with her own addiction to technology and does digital detoxes. She explains, “Disconnect from technology and really connect with myself, my loved ones, my children, nature, books. I loved the feeling of renewal that came from that.”
Richard Branson has two adult children, Holly (age 36) and Sam (age 32), who are both involved in the Virgin family business. Branson is close with his kids and has spoken about how, despite his naturally wishing for them to be involved with the Virgin business, he has always given them the freedom to do what they wanted to in their lives.
The exuberant Virgin founder eventually got what he wanted. Holly, was on the path to becoming a doctor when her father offered her a job she couldn’t turn down. She left medicine in 2008 to join a health and medicine arm of the Virgin empire. Sam, the head of film company Sundog Pictures, pegs himself as a social entrepreneur and is involved with Virgin Management, where he uses his storytelling skills to tell the stories of good works that Virgin does in the world.
Branson also, this past year, revealed that one of the ways he was able to spend time with his children was by working from home. "I encourage our staff if they want to work from home,” he says in a podcast with CNN.
Branson made public a rather edgy parenting tip recently at an entrepreneurial conference in 2017. When asked about parenting advice, he said, “If they're going to have a joint, do it with them. Don't let them sneak off and do it on their own." He later qualified that he regards drugs as a health problem, not a criminal one.
Like his competitor Bill Gates, Steve Jobs strictly limited his kids’ screen time. The parent to four children (Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Eve Jobs, Reed Jobs and Erin Siena Jobs), had said, after the first iPad was released in 2010, that his children had yet to play with an iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” he volunteered.
While Jobs’s treatment of his first child, Lisa, was deemed to be seriously lacking (with good reason) in Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs, and the silver screen film adaptation that followed, he apparently had changed his parenting ways with the three children he raised with his wife Laurene Powell Jobs. The Apple co-founder had a standing dinner routine with his kids, and according to Isaacson, “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things." With not an iPhone or iPad in sight.