If you want to raise confident , capable kids, you might want to raise them spy-style.

Unsure of where to start? Former CIA operative Christina Hillsberg covers the basics in her new book, License to Parent: How My Career As a Spy Helped Me Raise Resourceful, Self-Sufficient Kids .

It's a fun, informative read—and we sat down with Christina to learn more about parenting spy-style!

What is 'License to Parent' about?

The book begins with Christina's recruitment to the CIA and follows her journey as a spy, wife, stepmother and mother. Christina's husband is also a former spy, and when they first got together, she realized that he empowered his three older children to be self-sufficient by using tactics they learned together at the CIA. When the couple later welcomed two children, Christina realized that parenting 'spy-style' has some serious advantages.

"Our goal is to raise kids who are security conscious and really well-rounded. The CIA equips their employees to deal with just about anything they can encounter in the world, so we wanted to do the same for our kids," Hillsberg said.

"We found ways to apply these skills in practical, straightforward ways. It's not flashy gimmicks, it's not what you think of when you watch a James Bond film. These are real-life skills to prepare our kids to get out in the world," she added.

Christina shares how to help your child develop soft skills, like communicating effectively, vetting information and how to persuade others to your way of thinking. She also tackles tough topics, like surviving extreme circumstances and spotting and avoiding danger.

"In the book, we talk about it in the context of 'get off the X.' And that's something the CIA teaches in training. The X basically means danger in any form: a person, a place, an environment," she explained. "We started teaching our kids this concept really young and it's this idea of moving away from danger because the longer you stay on the X, the more likely it is that you'll be harmed."

You can emphasize this by teaching your kids to listen to their gut and what that means, listening to alarms and warning signals and responding urgently, the importance of not freezing in crises and when it's appropriate, ignoring authority figures.

"None of this has to be done in a paranoid way," she said. "It's not done because we really think they're going to be in this crazy awful situation. The idea is that when you weave it in organically and they're comfortable with these terms and they start thinking in this way, and it's all about critical thinking really, they're more likely to get out of that scenario."

"When you think about [the lessons] in a vacuum, some of them can sound really intense. But when you realize that none of these skills are taught or learned independently, they're really part of a larger kind of stepping stone, they start to feel more logical. And when we give our kids the autonomy to try some of these things, we realize they're more capable than we thought."

Ready to learn more about parenting like a spy? Pick up a copy of License to Parent today!

License to Parent


G.P. Putnam's Sons

Christina was a single, successful CIA analyst with a burgeoning career in espionage when she met fellow spy, Ryan, a hotshot field operative who turned her world upside down. They fell in love, married, and soon they were raising three children from his first marriage, and later, two more of their own.

Christina knew right away that there was something special about the way Ryan was parenting his kids, although she had to admit their obsession with surviving end-of-world scenarios and their ability to do everything from archery to motorcycle riding initially gave her pause. More than that, Ryan's kids were much more security savvy than most adults she knew. She soon realized he was using his CIA training and field experience in his day-to-day child-rearing. And why shouldn't he? The CIA trains its employees to be equipped to deal with just about anything. Shouldn't parents strive to do the same for their kids?

As Christina grew into her new role as a stepmom and later gave birth to their two children, she got on board with Ryan's unique parenting style--and even helped shape it using her own experiences at the CIA. Told through honest and relatable parenting anecdotes, Christina shares their distinctive approach to raising confident, security-conscious, resilient children, giving practical takeaways rooted in CIA tradecraft along the way. License to Parent aims to provide parents with the tools necessary to raise savvier, well-rounded kids who have the skills necessary to navigate through life.


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