Make car time talk time — We have found that time in the car is a great opportunity to talk and connect with our children. We don’t allow iPads in the car at all. We don’t listen to music either. We focus on family communication. We talk about what’s happening in school or we will pick a subject and talk about it.
I had the pleasure to interview Stephen Ebbett. Stephen has over 18 years of experience in leading digital marketing initiatives across a number of verticals. As chief digital and marketing officer of American Addiction Centers, he oversees the company’s traditional and digital marketing efforts to drive census and help solidify AAC’s position as a leader in the industry. Previously, Ebbett was the chief digital officer of Assurant Inc. where he was responsible for the company’s digital strategy and execution across all business lines and geographies. Link to full bio.
Thank you so much for joining us Stephen! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in London as an only child. I had two wonderful parents who both worked. Early on, I learned the value of hard work and that you could be a good parent and lead a professional life. For a significant part of my childhood, my mom worked from home as a psychoanalyst. She let me assist her and that gave me an opportunity to connect with the patients. I remember one day asking my mom why her patients needed help because they all seemed really normal to me. She explained that they were dealing with issues, and that for 90% of them, the trauma stemmed from their childhood. This really stuck with me over the years and made me aware of the responsibility of being a parent. You are helping form this human being and you could really cause long-term damage if you are not mindful.
When I was 11 years old, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I watched her battle that and beat it temporarily before the cancer came back a second time. She died when I was 15. From that time forward, I had to do a lot of growing up. It was just me and my dad, and that helped us form a very tight relationship. I remember the devotion of my father. He never missed one of my rugby games and I played from the age of five to 32. Even when I went to university, my dad would drive 400 miles to come watch me play and even take his vacation time. Always seeing him on the sidelines made me want to play better and thankful he was there.
Some of my favorite childhood memories with my parents included the summer trip to Sark, one of the Channel Islands. We went every summer and always stayed at the same place. Christmas was always a very special time of year as well for my family.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
While I attending university to get my degree in philosophy, I became very interested in marketing and how brands are formed. I did a graduate placement at a marketing agency and learned a lot. After graduation, I followed my passion and did sports marketing for a startup before landing a job at an insurance company. While there, I was approached by one of my clients to come work for his company, which was a big brand in the UK. My next position was working for Assurant where I would spend the next 10 years of my career. That experience was pivotal in my career. I started as a mid-level manager but had an opportunity to move up the ranks after several projects I was working on performed really well. My star started to shine and got the attention of the CEO who offered me the opportunity to move from the satellite office in the UK to the corporate headquarters in the United States. I became the chief digital officer and reported directly to the CEO. My boss would ultimately become my mentor. I also learned a lot from him about family values. He always put his family first.
While I loved my job, I found I had a yearning to do something different. I wanted to work in an industry where I could really have an impact on the world. When I retired and was sitting in front of the fire with my slippers and dressing gown on, I wanted to be able to look back and be proud of the work I had done. American Addiction Centers (AAC) came along and I was moved by the mission and vision of the company of truly saving lives. I also had a couple personal connections who battled addiction, including my aunt who struggled with alcoholism all of her life. Knowing I could help families really had an effect on me. Now, I’m driven every day by the opportunity I have through AAC to do good in the world.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
Obviously, as a busy executive there are a lot of hours in the day that are consumed by work. On average, I work 85 to 100 hours a week and almost every weekend. However, I try to have a healthy balance between work and family time. In the mornings, I try to work as much as I can while the boys are still in the bed and do other personal stuff, such as working out. Most mornings we have breakfast together as family. My wife and I share the burden of making the kids breakfast, getting them dressed and dropping them off at school. Every Sunday night, we make a schedule on pick up and drop off duties for the week. Once I drop them off at school, I go to work. I always want to be home to spend time with the boys in the evenings and 80% of the time I’m able to make it happen. In the evenings, we do homework, play games and make sure to read a bedtime story every night. Once the boys are in bed, I’m back at my computer working again. They usually go down around 8 or 8:30 p.m. and I don’t go to bed until around midnight as I finish up my work for the day. When I’m home it’s important for me to be present with my family. However, when I’m traveling for business, I take the philosophy of putting my head down and working really hard, which means I typically put in around 18 hours on those days.
This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
What has stuck with most after all these years is my mother telling me that most of her patients struggled as adults because of experiences from their childhood. This made me keenly aware of my responsibility as a parent in the development of my sons who are ages three and five. I want them to grow up knowing their dad was present in their lives. I think not having that can cause a lot of long-term issues. In a world where people are always working, I worry about a generation of children who feel they are second to a cell phone or a job. I see too many parents that are multitasking and not truly engaging with their children. That’s unfortunately the direction we are headed and I think it’s really bad. You can buy your children all the presents in the world, but what they really want is that time with you.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
My number one job is being a dad. My number two job is being the chief digital and marketing officer at American Addiction Centers. I try to always keep that reference in my mind. This helps to keep me grounded in making the right decisions for my family. The time you spend with your children creates memories that will last a lifetime. I still remember the devotion of my father. In my 25 years of playing rugby, he never missed a game. Spending time with my kids is not a burden; I love it. It’s important to spend time with them because we’re bonded as a family. Once a month, we do one-on-one time with the kids, so that they each get individual time with a parent. It’s not just family time all the time.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
I’m one of the dads who reads at school on Tuesday mornings. My son always says, ‘you are the only dad that does that. Thank you.’ It’s important to me that my boys remember their childhood fondly. I also find time to spend quality time with them by doing the following:
- Limiting TV time — When we are together as a family, we rarely watch television. We either play games or do some type of activity together, such as artwork.
- Planning activities outside the home — Planning activities outside the home helps you to get away from the distractions. This includes activities such as hiking, camping and visiting a museum. We also do a family trip once a year.
- Reading a bedtime story every night — We never just put the boys to bed. We always read them a bedtime story. After a busy day at work, it allows us to have a quiet peaceful time together.
- Making car time talk time — We have found that time in the car is a great opportunity to talk and connect with our children. We don’t allow iPads in the car at all. We don’t listen to music either. We focus on family communication. We talk about what’s happening in school or we will pick a subject and talk about it.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
Five strategies I would recommend to create space in your life for your children include:
- Segmenting your time — If you segment your time and don’t try to multitask you are giving much more quality time to your children. My children know that dad is busy. I travel a lot with work and frequently have to get into the office early for meetings. But when I’m with them, it’s family time and I’m fully present. As soon as I get home from work, I put my phone away into a drawer and don’t look at my laptop. When I’ve got them into bed, that’s when I’m picking the laptop back up and I’m working and catching up on things for work.
- Assessing your priorities — Family and work are the two most important things in life. I also don’t have a lot of hobbies. My advice to others who are trying to find that balance is to be deliberate and purposeful about your time with your kids.
- Working when your children are asleep — I try to maximize my time when the boys are sleeping. I will catch up on work or workout. This gives me extra time to spend with them when they are awake.
- Getting the kids to help with household chores — When your children help with household chores, it can make those tasks get completed much quicker to free up more time to spend together.
- Hiring a housekeeper — Having a housekeeper can minimize the time you spend taking care of your home and give you more time with your kids.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
A good parent is someone who loves their children and is fully devoted to them. The parent is focused on guiding and preparing their children for success in their adult life versus trying to be their best friend. They also understand the importance of discipline and how the lack of it can make them susceptible to behave in certain ways.
One of the ways we prepare our children for the future is to teach them the value of money. We don’t spoil them and make sure they understand how much things cost.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I always tell my children that your potential is only limited by your mind and don’t let anyone tell you can’t do anything. I remind them that if you feel a conviction to go do something, go do it. I also encourage them to be their own person and don’t follow the herd.
For example, my oldest is fascinated by animals. I plan to take him on safari when he is eight or nine years old to further expose him to the animal kingdom.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
What has helped me the most is having an effective work life balance. For me, success is having a happy wife and children while at the same time doing meaningful work. What we do at American Addiction Centers is meaningful for me because we have the opportunity to transform lives.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
I find most of my inspiration for parenting from other people rather than books. I’m not a parenting from a book type of father. I try to use a lot of common sense and find pockets of inspiration from the personal relationships in my life, such as my mentor. He is a great example of a father who always puts his family first. I also believe in finding your own unique flavor for parenting that works for your family. Conversely, I read a lot of books for work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “carpe diem,” which translated in English means “seize the day.” After the loss of my mother, I realized that life is fragile. My mother made the most of her life and I strive to do the same every day. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Our family motto is to be kind. If I could start a movement, it would be around that theme. If everyone in the world had the philosophy of being kind to one another the world would be a better place.