Child Care Entrepreneur Pens Guide to Assist Working Mothers

Linda Mason never intended to establish the world’s leading provider of employer-sponsored child care centers.

As she puts it, she was an idealist. She studied history and piano performance before using her Yale MBA to work in refugee programs in Asia and Africa.

By Jilian Mincer
Knight Ridder News Service

But when she and her husband returned to the United States in the mid-1980s, they discovered a child care crisis: A growing number of women were in the work force, but the quality of care was generally bad to abysmal.

So they launched Bright Horizons Family Solutions in their living room.

"We had several near-death experiences," Mason said, referring to the company’s early finances. "But I think the demographics caught up with employers."
The company now manages more than 460 child care and early education centers in the United States, Europe, Canada and the Pacific Rim.

Mason, now the mother of three, has learned a lot about parenting and work from her life and from the thousands of women who work at Bright Horizons or use its centers.
Mason shares what she has learned in her new book, The Working Mother’s Guide to Life: Strategies, Secrets and Solutions.

"Whenever I met a group of women, there were always one or two who were thriving, and it was those women that I wanted to interview," she said.
Mason interviewed more than 100 women — from factory workers to vice presidents — to see what strategies they used to succeed as working mothers.

She had assumed that they were succeeding because they were "superwomen." She was wrong.
"They were not trying to be Supermom," she said. "They were not trying to do it alone. They had a variety of support."

She discovered that the women who succeeded had what she calls "the three pillars of successful parenthood — a supportive employer, a partner in parenting and excellent child care."

"So many of the women had the attitude that they could be activists in their own lives," Mason said.

The book gives a lot of practical advice and step-by-step strategies for tackling everything from deciding whether to work and finding good child care to creating a strong family culture and negotiating flexible work options.

Mason said one key to success is finding a family-friendly workplace. Good places to look are in Fortune magazine’s annual list of the 100 best companies and Working Mother magazine’s annual list.

At a job interview, find out whether employees have lives outside work and whether the parking lot is still full at 8 p.m.

Once you are hired, Mason advises, make yourself indispensable. Do a great job. When the time comes to ask for a flexible schedule or a part-time job, be specific. Meet with your supervisor three months later to show that you are keeping your productivity up.

Mason said that the women who succeeded had partners in parenting. These people often were husbands, but they also included parents, siblings and good friends, whom they could rely on.

Mason believes that fathers must be active participants.
"The dad certainly should be involved for no other reason than it affects how children develop," she said.

Successful working mothers also had good child care, whether it was provided by a center, home care provider or family member. Good care is harder to find, she said, but it is available.

Said Mason: "No mom can thrive at work if she is worried about her child."

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