By Karen Mitchell
As a mother and now a grandmother, I’ve found Wee Watch’s child-care business is the perfect fit for me and my family. I’ve owned my franchise in Hamilton for 17 years, during which there have been many challenges impacting the day-care industry, but I’ve been able to grow the business with the support of my franchisor, my employees and my family.
From Sudbury to Hamilton
I was born in Sudbury, Ont., and raised nearby in Capreol, which at the time was an independent town (it became part of Greater Sudbury in 2000). I was the second youngest of six children. We were always outdoors all day long, playing with our friends. We spent our summers at a family cottage, with a lot of time on the water.
My father worked for the Canadian National Railway (CNR) and my mother stayed at home with the kids until we were all off to school, at which point she went to work in accounting in the nearby town of Hammer. Both of our parents also got involved in many community activities.
As a child, I always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. My best subjects at school were math and English.
We moved to Belleville, Ont., after I finished Grade 9 and I completed high school there. Once I’d graduated, I took courses in accounting and some in early childhood education (ECE).
I moved to Toronto and worked for an accounting firm, continuing my studies with night courses. I found I really enjoyed working in accounting.
My next job was for a business that imported clothing from Asia. I handled their books for five years.
I met my husband Gary while spending time with my family at a cottage near Belleville; he was renting one of the neighbouring cottages. He was previously married and had three children: Julie, Jamie and Travis. In 1984, we bought our first home in Carlisle, part of Hamilton, and got married.
We had our first child together, my daughter Sarah, in 1986. She was followed by our sons Joshua in 1987 and Adam in 1989.
Work versus family
Once I started to have children, the commute got quite tough, as I was still working in Toronto, doing bookkeeping in the garment industry. I took three months off for my first maternity leave with Sarah, then dropped to part-time hours until Joshua was born 20 months later. I had fallen into my accounting work, but found I still enjoyed it a lot.
When I got tired of the commuting, I started a child-care service at my home. I put ads in local stores and used word of mouth. I started by taking in one child. When I was pregnant with Adam, in late 1988, we moved within Hamilton.
Gary was working for the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco). They went on strike in 1990. Salaried workers received a reduced monthly wage. The longer the strike lasted, the bigger the reduction.
So, our household income was being severely decreased. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time and we needed to bring in additional money to cover the difference with Gary’s reduced salary, so we flipped a coin to see who would get another job until the strike ended—it was me, while Gary would spend more time at home looking after the children.
In the end, I found work with a wealthy condominium developer who was also involved in the thoroughbred horse racing industry and one of the founding stewards of the Jockey Club of Canada. I commuted to an office in Burlington, Ont. The job involved a bit of everything; I was in the office most of the time, but would occasionally be collecting and sending off blood samples from his racehorses!
The job was a pretty good fit because of the hours. I would get the kids started each morning and then work from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., while Gary finished work at Stelco in time to pick them up in the afternoon.
Still, it was crazy balancing that job with raising three young children. I stayed there for between two and three years before returning to running a private child-care service again out of our home.