'Panda parenting' is proof there are no new ideas


If you have a few minutes to spare, try coming up with your own spurious parenting philosophy. It's easy. All you've got to do is repackage a few glaringly obvious life principles in a natty way and you're on your way to a publishing deal - and maybe a Ted talk.

First, you'll need a gimmicky label for your philosophy. Dolphin parenting, elephant parenting, free-range parenting, helicopter parenting, lighthouse parenting, tiger parenting and snowplough parenting have been taken. And now, so too has "panda parenting".

How do pandas parent? Just like writer Esther Wojcicki, apparently - with the perfect ratio of cuddliness and claw. The 78-year-old, known as the Godmother of Silicon Valley, made a splash in the crowded world of parenting philosophies this week with the publication of, How to Raise Successful People. You'll note it's "people", not "kids".

Wojcicki's chosen parenting approach can be summarised in the acronym "Trick" - trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness - all groundbreaking ideas in the raising miniature humans domain.

Pare it down, and we're back to the "grit" that another American, Paul Tough, wrote about in his 2012 bestseller, How Children Succeed. Give it another couple of years of ping-ponging between hard and soft parenting and we'll likely see the idea first touted by the cavemen urging offspring into confrontations with antelopes get recycled once again.

I'll break off from the sneering for a moment, because if anyone has the credentials to lecture the First World on parenting (the Third being too busy keeping their children alive to obsess over whether or not to encourage an ascent to the top of the climbing frame) it's clearly Wojcicki, a teacher for more than 30 years who serves on countless developmental boards in California, where she still teaches.

She has, moreover, raised "a superfamily". This looks a little like yours and mine, only successful enough to be written about in Forbes and Time magazine: the youngest, Susan, is the CEO of YouTube; the middle child, Janet, a professor of paediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco; and the baby of the family, Anne, the founder and CEO of 23andme, a genetic testing company.

All of which shows that Esther and her physicist husband, Stan, have indeed done a lot right - and I'm happy for them. But ever since Dr Benjamin Spock, the American paediatrician and "father of permissiveness", encouraged Fifties mothers and fathers to relax around their children, parenting philosophies have become less about kids and more about the insecure generations raising them.

These generations, I sometimes think, prefer to play at parenting than parent. After all, how many of the mums buying these self-help books will spend hours in the shallows of a Virgin Active pool discussing the relative dangers and merits of screen time and mindful eating, while a Filipino nanny raises their child?


Today, parenting philosophies are on a par with diet books: each reacting to and deflating the myths of the one that came before; each feeding that inner voice telling you your judgment is flawed. And none, from what I've seen, helping us to forge infinitely superior generations to the ones that came before. Remember, baby-boomers loved parenting philosophies... and they made millennials.

Self-help books have their place. You can usually extract one or two great nuggets from each: Wojcicki's "trust-instilling" idea that teenagers can be given a budget and allowed to shop for needed items on their own, being an example. And I'm interested to know why the Silicon Valley Godmother feels "fear of technology" can "cloud our judgment and harm our children" - that whole area being unchartered and terrifying territory that parents genuinely do need advice on.

But don't we instinctively know the broader parenting brushstrokes? Discipline: good. Overindulgence: bad. Just as nobody needs to be told that hamburgers and fries aren't a great daily diet staple - the best diet book I ever read being completely blank, aside a single sentence on page one that read: "Don't put too much in your mouth" - we can surely now all agree that an excess of screens, video games and social media probably isn't ideal. But where's the gimmick, the quick fix, the fun in that?

So it's back to the create-your-own parenting philosophy drawing board. I quite like the sound of mosquito parenting: the frenzied circumnavigation of one's children, a high-pitched whine serving as a constant reminder of your presence, broken up only by intermittent bloodsucking divebombs. A sure-fire bestseller for all but those reminded of their mother-in-laws.

The Daily Telegraph