Around the dinner table, I give my kids the big talks that I hope will influence them to live their lives a certain way. But often, my grand insights or are met with blank stares or giggles. So frustrating!
So, it was encouraging to me to read Raising Bill Gates in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. It turns out raising genius, Bill Gates, wasn't exactly a cake walk. But it also turns out Bill's parents had a huge influence on his life. The article says Bill grew up in a close family that thrived on competitive board games and rituals such as Sunday night dinners at the same time every week. Bill Sr. was a lawyer that showed little emotion and left much of the day-to-day parenting to his wife, who spent a lot of time involved in philanthropy.
It seems Mrs. Gates clashed often with son Bill. She expected her kids to dress neatly, be punctual and socialize with the many adults who visited their home. It sounds like Bill can thank mom for any people skills he has today. "...she had high expectations of all of us,"says Libby Armintrout, Bill's younger sister. "Not just grades but how we behaved in public, how we would be socially." Because Bill would spend so much time reading, his mom forced him to be social by being a greeter at their parties and a waiter at his father's professional functions.
As he got older, Bill pushed against his mother's instinct to control him and expectations of a clean room and being at dinner on time, sparking a battle of wills (Can any of you parents relate to this?)
And, if fighting with your kids has come to the need for intervention, you might feel better knowing Bill's parents actually brought him to a therapist who told them that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence and to ease up on him. They ended up giving him space and lots of time away from home to enjoy free use of the computers at the University of Washington.
Still, even after Bill made it big, his mom again tried to guide him in the right direction. She pressed him to get into philanthropy, which irked Bill because he said he was too busy to give money away. Eventually, she got him to start a program at Microsoft to raise money for the United Way. When his mother died of cancer, Bill set aside about $100 million to create a foundation for now retired Bill Gates Sr. to run.
As I tackle the daily challenges of raising kids that think they know more than mom, it's comforting to know that Bill Gates mom must have felt the same way, too. It's especially comforting to see that for his parents the pay off was big in many, many ways.