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On Resilience and Work-Life Balance with Andy Chambers
Dadditude Newsletter #4
Andy Chambers swapped a career in banking for a career helping other dads build resilience and balance in their own lives. But his journey truly started when Post Natal Depression hit home and he had to learn to cope while caring for his wife and kids.
We spoke with him recently about keeping two young kids entertained during lockdown and launching his new venture helping employers balance productivity and parenthood in the workplace.
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Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Andy Chambers, I live in Bath and I am the founder of Born Human. I’m a proud Dad to Wilbur who’s 5 and Mimi who’s 18 months. I’m sleep deprived, fairly exhausted and dying to see friends and family again but in challenging times I’m so grateful (most of the time!) to have had the chance to spend an unusual amount of time with my kids this last year.
How did your new company Born Human come about? What made you decide to start it?
My journey to Born Human wasn’t conventional. I started my career working in London in banking spending most of that time on a trading floor. Unbeknownst to me, that high pressure, unforgiving environment would become the first piece of the puzzle in what would become Born Human. After 14 years in banking, I realised I needed a more fulfilling career and when I met my wife, I relocated to Bath from London in search of something new.
Not long after I moved, I was given an opportunity to retrain as a cabinet maker which sparked a passion for woodwork and creativity I didnt realise I had. Whilst working there, my wife fell pregnant with our son and I took the skills I’d learned to design and craft all the furniture for his nursery. My intention was to create pieces that would become family heirlooms for him to share with his children when the time came.
After Wilbur was born my wife suffered with Post Natal Depression which really took its toll on our family. Through making my own mistakes, I learnt a lot in that time about self care and the patience it takes to support someone you love with a mental health condition. What I also realised was the lack of opportunities for Dad’s to express their emotions and so when my wife was on her way to recovery I wanted to change that. I spent the next 2 years working as a peer support worker for a charity called Dads in Mind supporting other Dads struggling with their mental health. One of the overwhelming messages that always came out when talking to Dads was how difficult it was juggling work and family life and having seen many of them struggling to cope I guess that was where the spark came from.
We are all human and so we carry our emotional baggage with us everywhere we go until we are able to offload it, ideally calmly and constructively. Most of us spend such a large percentage of our lives at work and so it stands to reason that stress at home will naturally spill over into our professional lives on any given day, significantly impacting our overall wellbeing and as a consequence our productivity.
As with physical health, solving a problem is best done when things are caught early and so Born Human was created to get upstream, to solve problems before they become problems. When organisations are able to recognise their workforce as human and commit to supporting their wellbeing, we build rich and nurturing working relationships that foster loyalty, commitment and mutual benefit.
By helping them build resilience, knowledge and by empowering them with tools to be able to cope with the things parenthood might present, we are able to encourage a proactive approach and minimise their exposure to long standing, deep rooted mental health problems that take much longer to unpick.
What I have learnt through my own struggles and through supporting others is that conversation is the single most effective tool we have in our armoury to stay mentally fit. Having the courage to be vulnerable and ask for help is crucial, but creating an environment that is safe, supportive and non judgemental is essential to encouraging that vulnerability. If we are able to do that in the workplace, we are able to create a place where people can flourish and be the best version of themselves both at home and at work.
You spend a lot of time helping other dads through support groups, how has that helped you become a better dad and partners at home?
I have always approached group sessions as an even playing field. Even when I am facilitating, I am still a Dad myself with his own struggles and challenges. The sessions are as much an opportunity for me to learn as they are to share. Group work has always given me the gift of perspective, which I am eternally grateful for. Realising others are or have been through the same challenges always reminds me that the job I’m doing as Dad may not be perfect but I’m doing my best and that's all I can ask. It also gives me the capacity to see when something is behind me and be grateful to have survived another difficult moment.
You have 2 kids. Can you tell us about an especially favorite/special moment with your kids recently?
As my kids have grown up, I have always been grateful to see them both love dancing. With lockdown in March, we had to get creative with ways to burn off any excess energy in the day and keep ourselves sane, so we kept a daily ritual of a kitchen party complete with disco lights every day after dinner. I’m not sure if they will remember those days as vividly as I do but the smiles and laughter that rang throughout our house in those difficult times will always be very precious to me.
What do you think is your biggest strength as a parent?
Being a positive role model both as a Dad and a Husband. That and the ability to fall asleep on demand absolutely anywhere!
What's the toughest thing for you about being a parent? What stresses you out most?
I like to keep a tidy house (and subsequently a tidy mind). I accept that with children that’s a physical impossibility but it doesn't stop me trying. When I’m short on time and patience that’s the thing I struggle with the most, although often I recognise it’s my own lack of planning that’s causing the stress so I try to learn from it where I can.
What side of parenthood do you wish you had invested more time and energy in the past?
I’ve been as constructive as I feel I could have been and whilst I’m sure there are things I might have done differently they have all been part of the learning curve and no parent is perfect. That or I’m not sure my brain has enough function to think about things I can’t change now!
What's the one piece of advice you'd like to give your younger parent-self?
Trust your gut and take the hard path to an easier future. (Specifically around sleep training!)
Where do you typically go for advice, training, tips about being a parent or partner?
I trust my peers and I’m open about our challenges so having supportive friends and family makes a huge difference. The Wonder Weeks book was an invaluable resource for us for the first 18 months when babies can’t communicate.
Thank you Andy!
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Next week, we’ll be featuring our interview with Black Fathers Foundation’s Matt Prestbury.
See you then!