Steve Jobs: From Rebellious Child to One of the Most Influential People of Our Time

Posted October 28, 2011 by

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Do you ever feel like your situation with your oppositional, defiant child is hopeless? You might have more in common with the parents of Steve Jobs than you realize.

On the surface, you wouldn’t think Steve Jobs had a fortuitous start in life. His biological parents were grad students from Wisconsin (his mother was an American from a strict Catholic family, and his father was from Syria). He was first adopted by a lawyer couple in San Francisco who returned him to his bio mother for unknown reasons. Next he was adopted by a California couple who’d never been to college, but who promised to send their new son to university. His adoptive father, Paul Jobs, was a repo man who’d been in the Coast Guard.

By his own account, Steve Jobs had a turbulent childhood — he was rebellious and defiant at times — and was quoted as saying he didn’t care about school very much until he met his 4th grade teacher, who figured out a way to “bribe” him into learning. (She used candy and her own money.) He attended a middle school in a poor area where he was bullied at the age of 11 by some of the older kids. At his insistence, his parents sent him to a different school.

Steve Jobs was also a college drop out who experimented with drugs and had a child out of wedlock in his early adulthood. Though never formerly diagnosed, it was widely thought that he had ADHD.

And he was arguably one of the most influential, brilliant people of our time.

As amazing as he was, I’m sure raising him couldn’t have always been easy. And the truth is, some of us are given difficult children, whether they’re adopted or biological. There are nights when we wonder what we’re doing, why our kids are so hard to manage, why they act out and won’t accept the answers that other children seem to be fine with. But it’s important to remember that many people who would be labeled as “difficult” have done some incredible things and made some of the most important advances in human history — maybe in part due to the fact that they’re rebellious and think differently from the rest of us.

Is it easy to parent a child like this? No. There are days when you’re exhausted and wonder if you’re doing the right thing, if you’re even getting this whole parenting thing right. Then your child says or does something that makes you realize how remarkable they are — or that makes you see how difficult is for them to navigate in the world, as well — and it all becomes worth it.

Asked in a 1995 interview what he wanted to pass on to his children, Jobs said, “I just want to try to be as good of a father to my child as my father was to me. I think about that every day.”


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. VDF (Edit) Report

    Thank you. As a parent of a young adult child (she’s 20), it hasn’t been easy. In my case she was an adorable, intelligent and respectful child. But after her sixteenth birthday; it was like a transformation. I’ve had many days where I questioned “where did my child go”? Especially because we ALL want our child to fit into what I call the “traditional child”. Therefore, reading about these successful people help strengthen my hope and show me that as a parent I should never give up. I also thank James Lehmans because his strategies have been of such great help. Please keep sharing this information!

  2. Lea (Edit) Report

    It is one of the toughest things raising a child that clearly does not learn in the box established for educating large masses of students. The subsequent labels meant for the purpose of diagnosis, along with the next educational box created for children with disabilities of various nature, deeply leaves their mark. My son hears the lying whisper in his soul that he is retarded, a loser, dumb, has no purpose. I look for articles such as the above and my son has come across a few on his own on You-tube that highlight the success of those who have experienced struggles common to himself but moved beyond to living the future of promise.
    I tell him he is smart,fun and designed for a purpose that hasn’t fit mainstream schooling, but when he finds that place he is designed for he will not only know it and fit, but lead in it. Thank you for your article.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      I tell him he is smart,fun and designed for a purpose that hasn’t fit mainstream schooling, but when he finds that place he is designed for he will not only know it and fit, but lead in it.

      Lea, I love that you say this to your son — so powerful and so true.

      It’s hard for us to replace those words we say to ourselves in our dark moments, and I think it’s doubly hard for kids to do so. (So easy to believe the bad stuff about yourself and dismiss the good!)

      If you haven’t already, please also tell your son about:

      Leonardo Fibonacci: Laughed at and ridiculed by people in his village, and called “slow.” Later developed the Fibonacci sequence.
      Albert Einstein: Said to have had early speech difficulties.
      Thomas Edison: His teachers called him “addled.” He later said, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

      And as you may know, James Lehman, who wrote many of our articles and created The Total Transformation Program, also had a troubled childhood but achieved lasting greatness in his life. (Besides being one of the most wonderful, wise and witty people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.) You can read more about his life story here:

      Thanks for chiming in, Lea. And thanks for sharing your words with us on EP.

  3. Mary (Edit) Report

    It is wonderful to finally have a resource that clearly outlines how I should be handling these very difficult situations. For years I have vented and pleaded with everyone I could to try and figure out what I was doing wrong, and I was always left wanting. I have never met the Lehman’s but I feel very close and connected to them, and will always be deeply grateful for the guidance and understanding they have given to the world of parents and to their children. Our world is a better place because they cared so much for others. We can no longer say: “My child didn’t come with a manual.” Thank you so much for giving me what I could not find.



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