How a Single Mother Went from Struggling to Owning Several Businesses
A Transparent Interview with Jessica Thompson
Jessica Thompson is a true testament of never giving up, or as Beyonce’s grandmother would say turning lemons into lemonade. She never had plans to live in the United States and had a hard time making a living with an invalid immigration status. She started working in childcare as a means to survive and provide for her daughter and soon found a love for impacting children’s lives. Despite the odds, she now owns four childcare centers in the Houston area.
In a transparent interview, she discusses her trials and tribulations and the difficulties of being a single mother in business. Her interview is sure to inspire you to never take no for an answer.
What past experiences helped shape who you are today?
Not having enough, not knowing where the next meal would come from, not knowing where funds would come from for me to stand. My pain helped me to become who I am today.
When I came to America, I had no plans of wanting to stay in this country because I lived in England. I went to school there and was very much settled there. Coming to the United States, my intention was solely to have my daughter here and move back to the United Kingdom, where my son and I lived. But as it turned out, once I was ready to return back to England after having my daughter, I was unable to leave the U.S. because my immigration status was invalid. It now became a need for me to survive in the U.S., since I didn’t have my papers and I had a little daughter to take care of. I came to this country under the notion that I was going to receive help from the person that invited me here but it didn’t work out that way. I had to stand up and fend for myself. It was a little difficult because I couldn’t easily get a job without proper documentation. I had to practically ask for help everywhere to try and get a job so that I could keep a roof over my head and take care of myself and my daughter. Initially, I was very bitter about the things that were happening to me at that point in my life, because prior to coming to the states I was doing very well in the United Kingdom. Financially, I was very very much okay. But then, coming down here, I literally had to beg to keep a roof over my head and to keep food on the table.
I was bitter. I was hurt. I became vengeful and full of hatred. After a while, I decided to start reading the Bible. Prior to that, I felt like I knew the Lord a whole lot. I use to read the book of Psalms all the time, but I had to really start opening the pages of the Bible to read and understand God. When I started reading Bible passages that said you can’t be hateful, you can’t repay evil for evil, you have to repay evil with good, it dawned on me that I’ve been doing everything the wrong way. What gave me the biggest turn around was Matthew 6:23, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” That started my search to understand the kingdom of God and his righteousness. I already knew all the other things I wanted to be added to me; I knew I needed money to keep a roof over my head and to take care of my daughter. It was more of a financial thing for me, and I knew that, but I didn’t truly understand what the kingdom of God was and his righteousness. From reading the Bible, I realized that I needed to stop being bitter. I had to learn how to forgive. I had to learn how to let go. I had to learn how to not depend on men and to just depend on God. That was a turning point in my life.
Growing up, did you struggle with any insecurities? If so, how did you overcome them or how are you dealing with them today?
Growing up in Nigeria, my dad was the main one there for me and my siblings. My dad took care of us. Even though my mom was alive, she wasn’t a part of our lives. I didn’t get to know her as a person until I was about 26. But, my dad did everything that he could to make sure we had a good life and the best when it came to education in Nigeria, at that time. He also helped facilitate my transition to England for school.
I don’t think I missed anything growing up. I didn’t miss not having a mom that much because I never knew what it was like to have one, even though I saw people with two-parent families. I guess because I never experienced it I didn’t think I was missing anything. But I did feel rejection. I felt it would’ve been understandable if my mom was dead but she wasn’t dead. Her decision to not be a part of my life, although she was alive, made me feel like she rejected me. In order to deal with that thought I just tried to be the best that I could be, in terms of maintaining relationships. But people tend to betray you, and stab you in the back anyway. But seriously, it all just made me a better person.
Today, I’m always able to overcome rejection. I realized that if someone could give birth to a child and not even care, look back to see how that child is doing or if the child made it, there’s nothing anyone else can do to me that would make me feel like they’ve killed me or assassinated me. I get hurt. I feel the pain but I just learned to shake it off because, in my mind, I’m like, “Ok, my mom did that. If they’re doing the same thing, maybe that’s just one way of life.”
You currently own four child care learning centers in the Houston area. As a successful business owner and entrepreneur, what motivated you to start your own business?
It was the need to survive. It was the need to do better for myself. I started working in child care in order to have some income to pay my bills, take care of my daughter and take care of myself. That’s what actually motivated me to go into childcare, not because I liked it or because I wanted to do it. It was just the next job that was available without any kind of pressure in terms of my immigration status. But after the first 6 months I felt like it was something I could do on my own, so I went to someone for help to see if the person could help me finance a childcare center, and of course the person said no. On top of that, a lot of people were telling me that I couldn’t start my own childcare center because I wasn’t married and I needed a husband to be able to do it. Everyone just kept telling me no, that it’s not something that I can do on my own. So, I just ended up working for others.
At a point, I even left childcare and ended up working in the corporate world. I worked with another company for about 2 to 3 years. During that time, I had to go back to England because my older son who lives in London had Scoliosis and was very ill. I abandoned my job and I went back there to be with him. He was in the hospital for three months. When I came back to the U.S. I was fired from my job because they said I overstayed my visit in England. I was unemployed for while so I had to go back to childcare in need of a job. I went to work for a friend who owned a child care center and while working there I had another friend open a daycare, so I left and went to work there; my goal was always to help others. Unfortunately, after some time, I was told by the owners that they didn’t want me working there any longer because I seemed to act as though I was the owner and everyone liked me. It was actually on my way home, they just called me and told me not to come back the next day. I was seriously taken back. I had to look for yet another job, also in childcare, and I just kept doing that.
I started to actually like what I was doing because I started to understand that I was helping shape the lives of children. It wasn’t about the money for me because I wasn’t getting paid that much. It was the fact that I was helping make a difference in the lives of the children I encountered.
After a while, I started to feel again that maybe I should have my own daycare because the daycare I was currently working at had many different things going on as far as disagreements about how to do things. It was almost to a point where I had to kiss the floor that they walked on in order to keep my job. At a point I was like, “Lord I think I can do this by myself, I think I have more exposure, more experience and I can do it.” Even though I had been working at daycares for years and things were not like what I expected, I was inspired to start looking for a space after there was a big misunderstanding between myself and the person I worked for. I felt that maybe it was a sign that it was time to move forward. So, I went out there and looked for a space.
I started with just one center and I was so grateful to have one because it is not cheap to open a childcare center. The fact that after so many years I was able to start my own childcare center; I was so grateful to God. Having worked in child care for such a long, it helped me get a perspective on how a daycare center should look and operate. After I opened my first center I was like, “Yes, finally. I can now settle down into my own center and enjoy it.” But at that time, I was still also managing the other two daycares for the person that owned them. I just felt a nudging that I shouldn’t just quit working at the other centers just because I opened this one. The person that owned the other two was still expecting me to manage those two locations plus my own center. So, I started managing all three childcare centers and it was great. It taught me that even though God blessed me with my own center it doesn’t mean I should live and die in my business. It taught me how to learn to trust and relinquish power to other people to manage and lead the center as though it belonged to them – just as I was given the opportunity to do so at the other two centers where I worked. Because of that, I didn’t feel there was need for me to sit there and watch everything and do everything myself just because I was given the opportunity to own it. I was actually doing more for the other centers and I trusted people to take care of the one that I owned. People would tell me that I shouldn’t do that and that I should pay more attention to my own business since I owned it but I didn’t feel released to do that. I felt like I owed more to the other two centers that I was managing because a river must not forget its source and that was where I was able gain the experience and knowledge to be able to open my own center. So, I just kept managing all three.
Before I knew it, I was able to start a second center. And, before you could say Jack, the third center opened. And then, the fourth center opened. I can’t say it was something that I planned or something that I thought about because I was too smart or better than anyone. I just think it’s the grace of God because here’s a woman who cried for so many years to open up one center and now I have four centers. I still look back some days and wonder, “How did I get here?”
On top of the four centers, we also have a corporate office, where I consult others and help them open their own childcare centers and with the help of God, I’ve been able to help 4 business owners start their own childcare centers. I have a lot of expertise in childcare. I do trainings and I’ve been able to mentor a lot of women because it got to a point in my life where I just felt I wanted to empower women, especially since this industry is dominated by women.
What an amazing story, tell us more about how you’ve been able to impact other women through your success.
The teachers that work at my centers are used to me always saying that if I could come all the way from Nigeria and stand and do this, you all can do even better than myself. I had to overcome many barriers because I wasn’t born here, I wasn’t raised here and I have an accent. But, I let the teachers know that they don’t have to deal with all those obstacles and that everyone should see this as something they could do. You don’t need a degree to own a daycare center, you just have to know what you’re doing, stay in compliance with the law and want to make a difference in children’s lives.
Even when I consult people, some often say, “Oh Ms. Thompson has four daycares. She’s making all the money. It’s easy. We can do it.” But I always tell them that it’s not about the money, it’s about your love for children. It can be very challenging sometimes and I always tell people: don’t do it for the money, do it because you want to make a difference in the lives of the kids and because you want to reach out to the parents. Doing this, I found out that you’re not just an owner, you’re constantly talking to people – encouraging the parents, the teachers, and the children. It’s about trying to impact lives.
I’ve been able to mentor a lot of people. Thus far, we have two administrators and both of them started with me from the other two centers I used to manage. We’ve been working together for over 10 years now. And they also see a future in childcare. I’m so grateful to God for the ability to mentor them. I’m happy I’m able to help them believe in themselves and become better people.
As a single mother and business owner, was it difficult balancing both responsibilities in the beginning?
Yes. It was very difficult. My daughter had to do a lot on her own and my son still lived in England. I remember there were days that I had to drop my daughter off at 6:15 a.m. to catch the bus to school because I had to go to work. Even before starting my own business, when I had different jobs, I had to find people to help me pick her up from school. I always made sure that whatever school she went to I had a friend or someone who could help me, in case I couldn’t get a chance to pick her up. Being a single mom in business actually made me raise my daughter to depend on herself. I always remember myself telling her when she came home with homework that she should speak to her teachers and her friends for help. A lot of times, by the time I got home, I was tired and worn out. There was no time to do homework. Most of the time, I ate at work before I got home, so when I got home I was always ready to rest and go to sleep.
It was just the grace of God, because I felt like I lacked in that area, in terms of spending more time with my daughter and son—even though I was busy raising other people’s children. I wasn’t really there for them. It was a big struggle because most times I would leave the house around 5:30 a.m. and wouldn’t get back home until around 11:30 p.m. or midnight. Either my daughter was already in bed or sometimes when she was awake and wanted to talk I was more so like “Leave me alone. I need to rest. I can’t talk.” It was hard but overtime my daughter came to understand the fact that I had to work because it was just the two of us. There was no help from anyone, anywhere, in terms of trying to pay the bills. I guess she got to a point where she got used to it. Looking back now, it helped her to become the strong young lady that she is, knowing that she had to do so much by herself then.
Even when my daughter went off to college, people asked me how was I going to do it since it was always just me and her. But I knew I was going to be okay because even when she was home I was never there when she was around. By the time she left for college, I was already use to being my own person and she was used to being her own person. I was able to balance things quickly when she left because I was always busy.
What keeps you inspired to keep pursuing your dreams?
The need to help others. The need to reach out. I feel like I’m here to be a blessing. If I look at my circumstances and my situation right now, it’s easy to feel like I can just take life easy. I just turned 53 years old in June, so it’s easy to feel like I can slow down but there’s just a quest to keep going. I feel like when it comes to matters of finances, you have to always have a means to make income.
Most importantly, I have an urge to reach out and help people. I’ve come to understand that you don’t just encourage people with your words. A lot of times you need to be there in person and you need to do a lot financially. There were times in my life when I needed help and I would hear people tell me that I can do it and I knew I was capable of doing it myself but I didn’t have the money. I was always left feeling like if you’re not willing to help me financially, how am I going to be able to do it. That kind of shaped me to be a person that reaches out to others even when I can’t afford to do so. It’s not always enough to just pray with people, if you can also help them financially. That thought of wanting to reach out to the world, that thought of wanting to make sure that other women do not have to go through what I went through, keeps me going. It keeps me wanting to do more and keeps me wanting to stay motivated because I do have a lot of people who look up to me, people that think I got it together. But that thought alone keeps me motivated, keeps me going. My biggest motivator is my desire to be a blessing to people and to the world.
You’ve been lucky enough to live for over 50 years now, if you could go back in time and talk to Jessica at 25, what advice would you give her?
Don’t take no for an answer. Always seek the best. Always believe that you can. Even when the world is saying no, just listen to your inner self and tell yourself that you can do it. And know that doing it involves action. It’s not just fasting, praying and waiting for something miraculous to happen. Even the ability to wake up in the morning is a miracle, it’s not about waiting for something huge to happen before you realize your life is miracle. When you’re able to wake up and get up, do it. Keep dreaming and never take no for an answer.
Believe in yourself and be willing to let go of things when it happens. Don’t dwell on it, move on – even if someone says no or you’ve been rejected. Even in relationships, there are times when you put your hope in people and they’ll fail you, but just keep trying and don’t be bitter. Never be bitter about anything. In life people are going to disappoint you or let you down, but that’s not the end of your world. Every day is a new day, and that’s one thing I’ve learned and maybe if I had known that back then I would be much further today. Lastly, reach out to people; it makes a difference.
Such great advice! If you would like to learn more about her childcare centers, visit Attitude Respect N Manners on Facebook and to continue with Jessica on her journey through life, follow her on Instagram, @luvnjesi.