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Workplace seminars help parents tackle home-oriented issues

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Fran Litman is helping to nudge today's rapidly changing family situations -- working mothers, single parents, mounting child-care needs -- onto the agenda of corporate America. A mother, grandmother, and director of the Center for Parenting Studies at Boston's Wheelock College, she spends much of her time figuring out ways to help working parents shoulder their varied responsibilities.

One of her prized projects: a program of workplace seminars for parents -- an idea that got its start in the Boston area but has sparked interest elsewhere. And there's a sparkle in Mrs. Litman's eyes as she recalls how the seminars evolved from their rather shaky beginning in the late '70s.

The goal was to share research findings and practical information with parents, but attendance at the original sessions, held at Wheelock, was disappointing. Mrs. Litman remembers the initial puzzlement over ``why parents were not attending in droves as we expected them to.'' She and her colleagues decided to look again at the ``demography.'' What stood out were the ``increasing numbers of mothers employed outside the home'' -- at that time 44 percent of those with children under 6. Now the figure is ov er 60 percent, points out the Wheelock professor.

The implication of those figures, she says, was that the seminars might have to go to the parents -- i.e., the workplace -- rather than expect the parents to travel to the college. And that's exactly what came out in discussions with representatives from New England Life Insurance, a company Mrs. Litman had been in contact with for some time. To its credit, she says, the company agreed to pilot the seminars as a ``corporate benefit.''

Thus began ``what we called `brown bag' seminars,'' she continues, ``which got a lot of acclaim, and we've been doing it ever since in corporations around the Boston area.'' A second seminar program, aimed at senior and middle managers ``who had at-home wives and whose daughters and sons were not yet involved in two-career marriages,'' soon followed.


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