Marlene Mejia Weiss longed for a place where she could talk to other women who were also figuring out their next career move after staying home with young kids.
“While I had an amazing time being at home, and don’t regret that, it has been quite the journey back trying to rebuild what I had before,” she says.
Marlene had previously worked in sports marketing in New York City, where she forged licensing partnerships for Major League Baseball.
When her family was transplanted to Seattle, she tried her hand at consulting for small businesses in the neighborhood, but found herself wanting more.
“Freelancing life is a bit lonely,” she says. “I’m more of a collaborative person.”
Fortuitously, Marlene found parents who were trying to get a non-profit women’s business incubator off the ground. She became a founding board member for The Inc., where she helped shape the mission, goals and even the physical space–which included co-working and part-time preschool.
“I loved that I was helping to solve a problem that I myself faced,” she says. “I know that feeling, of feeling isolated, and not knowing exactly who to connect with, where to go career-wise, or even parenting.”
It Takes a Village
The Inc. attracted mostly part-timers, consultants, students or “anyone who could work remotely and was in charge of their own schedule.”
Plus, Marlene says full-time working parents often showed up when nannies or daycare fell through.
“Which made you realize, gosh, childcare is such a big issue for so many parents, no matter what type of work or schedule,” she says.
When I asked Marlene about the complexities of setting up a preschool from scratch, she pointed out what made it possible.
“The four hour mark is the big differentiator,” she says.
Plus, they applied what Marlene describes as the “IKEA rule,” meaning parents had to stay close if there kids weren’t potty-trained.
“We were set up to have some time for parents to work on their own while still being nearby their children,” she says. “A lot of parents just need those 2-4 hours.”
“Nap time was actually our biggest competitor,” she says.
“By 12:30 or 1:00, you could feel and hear when the energy changes.”
As parents themselves, the founders brought perspectives from a variety of childcare experiences to inform their approach.
“We were focused on making sure the care was quality care,” Marlene says. “So it’s making sure the curriculum was what was needed for the kids, that the teachers were caring, nurturing people and had the right credentials.”
For the parents, it was designed to be much more than a space to pop open their laptop while their kids are cared for.
“We have a lot of small business owners just starting up, like really in the early stages,” says Marlene.
“They have this idea. They’ve incubated it for some time. They needed the confidence and the feedback to try it out, and this was really a safe space for them to do it.”
She says lots of members reached out to the community to do a workshop, or a lecture, or offer different things.
“That was the heart of it all,” she says. “It was really about the parents and what we could do to help them during this time.”
Women Helping Women Succeed
Marlene spent 2.5 years at The Inc., both as a community cultivator and executive director, all the while “trying to do it as a mom, building up yet another thing.”
With everything in good hands, she decided it was time to start thinking about her next chapter.
“My season of life has changed, and my boys are older now, and I felt like I was in a place for a new challenge,” says Marlene.
“I felt like it was in a really good place to kind of go on without me, as it should,” she says. “And it’s a non-profit, so it’s not my thing to own.”
“Just seeing it continue to help parents is really, really satisfying to me.”
Marlene says that while her experiences with The Inc. have served as a springboard for other opportunities, she’s taking time to figure out what those next steps are.
“I’m still trying to stay in touch with members of the community, because I helped to cultivate it,” she says. “I don’t want to lose touch with those relationships.”
In the meantime, she’s volunteering at her boys’ school, where her youngest started kindergarten.
“I was a little nervous for the transition but he did great.”
On the subject of transitions, Marlene and I talked about the blur of life with babies and toddlers, compared to the age of her boys now.
“It’s a little bit of a weird feeling because you come out of this crazy experience and you’re like ‘oh, that was actually really fun.’ They’re not little anymore,” she says. “It just happens and then it’s gone.”
Figuring out what’s next, professionally, has many parallels.
“I just love that creative energy in the beginning,” she says. “Not really knowing where it could go to, and when it does, it’s really awesome to see it blossom like that. Getting people really excited and energetic about it is really great too.”
“I think I just like building stuff,” she says. “I guess the Lego building of my boys really does come from me!”
Marlene encourages other moms to tap into the desire to create that comes with motherhood.
“I think a lot of moms–there’s just this inner voice–you want to do stuff but you just feel like you can’t do it,” she says. “We’re really good at making excuses.”
“It doesn’t have to be this one, big giant, enormous, great thing,” she says. “Just take the little steps because you’ll get there. But you gotta take the little steps.”