As the young co-founder of a learning centre chain with her husband and young mother of two, Marie Bernadette Paul had it all figured out from the start.
INTERVIEW LOW LAI CHOW
There is something quite striking about Marie Bernadette Paul at first glance. The BrightMinds line of learning centres that the entrepreneur and blogger co-helmed with her husband has been around for no less than eight years, while her eldest son Shayne is seven years of age. Little Nathan, her second son, is a newly-minted one-year-old. For all that, Marie is not only youthful, but actually very young: she’s 28 this year.
As a law degree holder, Marie decided, early on in life, after an internship, that law was not for her (“There were so many cases which were legally right but morally wrong, and I always felt immensely uneasy by the verdict of these cases.”). She knew, straight away, that she would need to pursue positivity in her vocation. One thing led to another, and her first BrightMinds learning centre was born.
In the Beginning
From starting out in 2008 with less than ten students at one tiny outlet that barely measured 400 square feet in space, BrightMinds now operates across three busy outlets today. As Marie said, teamwork beats having a solo business: “I knew my husband for about three to four years on a very personal level, before we became business partners. He’s trustworthy, reliable and smart; and these are the qualities which every business partner should have. It was a no-brainer for me to partner with him and run our learning centres together.”
Running the business together as work partners for eight years, she said, has taught her to learn to appreciate and respect her husband, whom she has been in love with for 11 years, on a deeper level.
“I’m more of a micro-manager and manage the daily operation of our centres. As for him, he’s more of a macro-manager. He doesn’t question my role and vice versa, I don’t question his role in our company,” she said, adding that the two hardly get into business-related quarrels.
“However, once, we had a major quarrel at home and this conflict at home nearly came in between our work. We had a big quarrel on our parenting techniques (I guess all parents do, right?) but once we reached work, we had to put on a professional front and continued to talk to each other professionally although we were both steaming mad inside.”
The two usually unwind after a hard day at work by watching funny YouTube videos together (“Laughter is the best stress relief”).
As a young wife and mum, Marie did not always get the instant approval of her friends and loved ones, though they were supportive: “I’ve been with my husband since I was 17 years old (he was my first love!) and truthfully, my family thought that it was just a passing relationship. My mother even once told me not to be upset if we broke up one day… When we first told our family and friends that we were going to welcome a baby boy, they were very concerned for our well-being. The most common question was ‘Are you sure you’re ready?’”
“Unfortunately, particularly in our Asian society, young parents are frowned upon… we would be walking along the streets, or eating at a restaurant with our elder son who was just a baby at the time, and people would stare at us. They would really just stare. I’ve even overheard some of them commenting to each other words like ‘Wah, so young have baby’. Luckily, I’ve learnt to take such criticisms with a pinch of salt. Someone else’s opinions don’t matter as long as I know that I’m a good parent. I’ve always believed that age is just a number; it doesn’t determine you as a parent or person.”
While Marie acknowledged that parenting is hard work for young mothers, she said that it is important for them to be reminded that they have not missed out on life.
“Even if you feel that you may have done something ‘too soon’, you learn to pick yourself up and live the life you now have to its fullest. You can be a mummy and still go on to complete your diploma or degree, and have a job! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this or that after you have a child. Don’t believe any of that. Too often, young mums receive shame instead of support. I sincerely hope that this will change, and it has to start from home.”
A Mother’s Strength
Marie’s biggest inspiration in life is her mother, who raised her and her sisters single-handedly without help from her father or his family: “She’s the most fearless, determined, hardworking and courageous woman I know of… I’m forever grateful to her and whenever I’m having a hard day, I tell myself that my hard day is never comparable to hers and if my mother can go through all the difficulties and obstacles in life, I can do it too!”
Similarly, Marie is taking a leaf from her mother’s book of parenting by focusing on positive parenting: “I’m following that approach towards parenting my children too. Positive parenting is about empowering children. It’s about giving unconditional support which fuels children’s self-esteem so as to prepare them to get the most out of themselves and life.”
“I believe as parents, we need to minimise our own personal biased ambitions and instead support our children’s interests, and then help them find their own potential and guide them towards it.”
Top Tips! When Your Husband is Your Colleague or Co-owner
Get some survival tips from Marie when your spouse is your colleague.
#1. Define your responsibilities
“Have a clear understanding of who is in charge and responsible of certain things. Trust that your spouse is making the right business decision. You may consult each other, but at the end of the day, one of you should be the decision maker.”
#2. Respect each other
“Do not question or belittle your spouse in the workplace, especially in front of other colleagues.”
#3. Take couple time out
“Don’t talk about work 24/7. Remember, you’re not married to your career! You’re married to a wonderful man who is more than a career. Spend some personal quality time together and if you’re up for it, take a short vacation together. A romantic getaway never hurts any relationship.”