Mommyversum - Meet James

As we enter into the last days of January, we are slowly wrapping up our exercise and mental health themed month. We’ve explored on our social media feed that physical activity plays an important role in the management and treatment of depression and anxiety, in some cases exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medications which is truly mind-blowing. It relieves stress, boosts energy, improves sleep, sharpens focus, helps with anger and frustration. Movement can act as an anchor when we go through rough times, when we try to survive sleep deprived days and when we juggle work and parent duties. These are just few of the many-many benefits exercise offers for both body and mind. Even small movements can change a challenging day from a cup half-empty to a cup half-full. A buggy walk, a joint mobility routine, a few sun salutations, 5-10 minutes here and there... Those few minutes are basically equal to an hour in pre-baby time.

To place the cherry on top, here is an interview with James, a dad of two gorgeous little ones. You may also know him as @wannabefitdad on Instagram. His feed is a massive fitness inspiration, but not the kind that makes you feel bad because you missed your gym sessions in the past 3 years... His posts are funny, encouraging, yet relatable and we couldn’t be happier that he agreed to join us on the Mommyversum interview series to share his thoughts about self-care and parenthood.

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Hi James! Welcome to the series! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a 34 year old dad of two, living in Kent and working in the fairly hectic world of marketing, at the Wonderful Creative Agency. My wife and I have been together for around 12 years and married for 7 of those. Prior to all of this I was at the University of Leeds, where I loved it so much I stuck around afterwards for a couple of years, and it took meeting my other half to drag me back down south! In that time I built up a secret life as a DJ and I’ve actually been DJing in bars and nightclubs since 2004, playing on lineups with some pretty big names, from the early days of Calvin Harris, The Streets and Jax Jones, to hosting events with X-Factor stars like Olly Murs or celebs like Joey Essex. Fun times (which all had to (almost) stop once the kiddies came into our lives!).

I've been following your account on Instagram and I love that you write about how you fit physical exercise into your life as a dad. Your posts talk about the struggles, stories in and out of the comfort zone, the smashing workouts and barely finished sessions in a very real and honest way, yet they are super inspirational. What made you start your account in the first place?

Accountability is a big one. I’m actually very lucky to have strong will power, which coupled with an intolerable reliance on routine and structure (I can’t be late to anything and missing an early morning workout puts me in a terrible mood all day), makes sticking to this fairly easy. But it’s the accountability of doing every rep, or improving every session that Instagram gives you. Now I’ve started filming my sessions, I can’t stop, right?! Likewise, seeing others smash their goals is inspirational and truly motivating.

What do you feel was the biggest challenge for you as a new dad?

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I’ve always loved kids, and kids seem to love me. But when they’re your own it’s a whole new ball game. I also thought years of working in nightclubs til 4am would have prepared me for the sleepless nights... but I was catastrophically wrong. At one point I was holding down a 9-5 and DJing 4 nights a week, often getting in after 4am then up again at 7am. So I thought I could survive on a few hours sleep, but I learned the hard way. Broken sleep is infinitely worse than no sleep, especially when it’s the shrill cries of a newborn. We also had some challenges with colic with our first and had to navigate our way to the right milk and bottle combo to alleviate this. But that was nothing to the experience of baby number 2.

Did that change along the way? What are the challenges now as a dad of 2?

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Having two kids is absolutely wonderful, and terrible at the same time. They play nicely together one minute, then forget how to share the next. They are sooooo loving and caring (and cute), cuddling and kissing each other, playing nicely - then BAM! They’ll be pulling each other’s hair, testing boundaries. The hardest part of this, again, is sleep. One baby screaming the house down, needing a feed or comforting, all good. Settle them, get them back down. But now when one grenade goes off, the whole ammo case does! Whichever one wakes up first will inevitably set off the other and then there’s a 2 vs 2 (kids vs parents) battle on our hands. Caveat to all of this? Our second doesn’t sleep well as she is allergic to a shed tonne of stuff (including milk - actual milk! And apple. Which are in sooooo many foods, you wouldn’t believe. Even in baby wipes!). So there’s a heightened risk of an upset baby no matter how hard we try. God love them! It also puts a financial stress on, having two. When we had our first, and before childcare I would say “oh I don’t see why people think having kids is so expensive, their clothes are cheap, they don’t really cost anything to feed etc...” - then the Mrs wanted to go back to work, and likewise with baby number two and BAM - two kids worth of childcare costs! And even at only 2 half days and one full day per week at nursery, this comes in at almost 1.5x our monthly mortgage payment! Bonkers!

How you would define self-care, what does it mean to you?

I guess it’s fairly self explanatory - taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally. I’m probably better at the former than the latter. But plenty of studies show that if you nail taking care of your physical self, it can massively benefit your mental health etc too.

Has the definition changed since becoming a dad?

Yeah, for sure. Now as long as the family are happy, comfortable and excelling, I am doing my job, which ultimately puts me in a good place. Their health and happiness fuels mine: so there’s ups and downs, but hitting the gym, going for a run, getting to play football (as rare as that is these days) all help to normalise this. You also need to share the stresses and strains of parenthood, and this doesn’t always mean with your partner. I’m a fairly active member of the DadsComm group (@dadscomm on Instagram) and find it a huge support during the bad times, but it’s also a good place to bring other dads up when they’re down which can feel equally as positive. Be sure to check them out.

How do you find time for yourself these days?

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Haha, simple. Get up earlier. My time is 6.20am - 8am (getting up, getting to the gym, workout, shower, off to work...). It’s the only way, because the evening routine consists of getting the kids from nursery, getting them ready for bed, teeth brushed, and asleep (the nightly battle); before trying to cook dinner and do any chores I can squeeze in before the Mrs gets home from work (we are very much ‘passing ships’, tagging each other in/out of the childcare and home life).

What kind of self-care routines do you have?

As aforementioned, morning gym workouts and a holistic approach to this means I try to eat well too, prepping meals for the week where possible to save time, money, and maximise benefits of the exercise I am doing.

Do you have one that is your go-to routine for really difficult days?

In the gym, I am lucky enough to be able to utilise a friend of mine who is an online PT (I do pay him of course - always support your friends’ businesses). So, I have a programme 4 days a week, usually including a weekend run. However, prior to this I was fairly competent at programming my own sessions, and one of the go-to’s for difficult days was a 30 minute self-demolishing circuit routine of tyre flips, sledgehammers, kettlebell swings, battle ropes, etc. A really good, versatile full body burn.

Do you have one that takes only a couple of minutes?

You mean other than... y’know...;-)?!

No, but seriously, if you only have a couple of minutes you’re really not going to get your heart rate up, or body pumping and respiring at a level that will have much effect. If it’s literally a 2 minute burn, I’d do a quick punchbag boxing / skipping combo, 30s of each back to back to back to back! Feel the burn!

Finally, where can people find you if they want to follow your journey?


If people are so kind as to want to follow me, they can find me on Instagram at @wannabefitdad (which is also replicated on a Facebook page); or @jamesgrayDJ if you’re into your music!

Photos courtesy of James.