A former CIA agent’s advice on parenting will make you reconsider the way you raise your kids

Christina Hillsberg, along with husband Ryan Hillberg, delivers fun and fresh take on parenting guides perfect for parents looking to navigate the risks around raising a child today.

Amongst all the parents out there who believe themselves qualified to give advice, few can stand out like a pair of CIA agents boasting years of experience under their belt.

In her book, Christina dives into her transformation from a future parent of the ‘helicopter variety’ to one more open to teaching children survival tactics akin to special operatives.

From CIA to parents

License to Parent sees us learning an angle to parenting the general public has never considered. A tip that might turn heads when inundated with the traditional advice around constant surveillance. After all, the author may have been a special agent, but she leads down a different path.

The book begins as an autobiography. We revisit Christina’s past from a typical midwesterner to a potential member of the peace corps to an almost accidental recruit of the Central Intelligence Agency. Her journey to meeting her husband is anything but conventional.

Only after failed romances, Vegas parties, and years obsessing over national security do we meet Ryan, Christina’s eventual husband. Perhaps the story keeps us on this journey for a bit longer than necessary. However, it does drive home one point―Christina did not see herself adopting the beliefs she goes on to evangelize.

What draws the reader into Christina’s story isn’t her parenting style. In truth, it is not originally her style but that of her eventual husband.

Acknowledging this, she recollects her gradual adoption of her husband’s beliefs with sincerity. Reading about her mental shift not only endears the reader but allows us to understand why her mind changes from one extreme to another. In following her story, we receive a chance to adopt these ideas in the same way.

The core thesis that License to Parent lays out is that in teaching your children the key principles of survival, children will no longer rely on the parents.

The lessons in the book will empower your kids to act when emergencies do strike. Other books may recommend surrounding your children with stuffed animals to be comfortable, while Christina urges us to teach our children CPR and first aid. To make survival kits with them, ensuring they understand the basics of using such kits.

It’s hard to disagree with the efficacy of an approach where you don’t have to worry about your kids being able to bandage themselves after falling off the bike or playing sports with their friends in the park.

This book’s advice does transcend the typical realms of parenting at times, taking itself to an extreme the reader may find unrelated to the original subject matter.

Despite her best efforts to tie everything back to parenting or family, points like relying on motorcycles when cars are not available steer the conversation too far off the road, pun intended.

While many of the key takeaways are apt and thoughtful, one about establishing getaway vehicles seems extreme. After all, equipping kids with necessary survival skills and insisting parents keep motorbikes or motorcycles on deck for emergencies may be too CIA for parenting.

Despite being what I might consider too creative, some of the insight this book provides is invaluable. What I most appreciate about Christina and Ryan’s approach is how they work to provide anecdotal evidence in the form of asides across the text.

Points like how cautiously introducing children to technology allow them to become ‘savvy’ with them. These anecdotes break up the guidebook-like nature that these books adopt and transform it into a much smoother read. One that I, indeed, was able to get through quickly and without missing any of the key lessons.

This book is ultimately a gem because, unlike any other parenting book―and even many survival books―I’ve read, License to Parent focuses on teaching the reader how to make decisions quickly and effectively. Almost without noticing, I found I was learning how to equip myself with the skill side by side with the narrative encouraging us to teach our kids the same.

As mentioned with the note on anecdotes above, Ryan’s story about discovering how not to freeze up through his CIA training, for example, packages this lesson in a way that’s as exciting as a thriller novel without losing the educational element.

The bottom line

I would recommend this book to parents of children, both young and old.

While many of the lessons will only be feasible for teaching children that can at least walk, the book’s heart is the skill it provides parents.

Christina’s mindset in her readers will serve them at any stage of the parenting journey. Be sure to add this to your parenting book club. If anything, it will make for a great conversation!