The trials, tribulations – and joys – of family life are so much better when they’re shared. “Our human ancestors evolved in small tribes with lots of extended family and friends close together,” says Amy Vogelaar, lactation consultant, antenatal and parenting educator, Love Parenting (loveparentinguae.com). “They depended on each other for survival, and no new parent would ever have found themselves alone, trying to meet all the needs of their baby or figure out everything without help and wisdom from peers and elders. If they did, they wouldn’t have survived for long and we wouldn’t have made it as a species this long.”
As an expat, our friends often become our family. Living thousands of miles away from mothers, sisters and aunts, we form strong bonds with women who are going through the same daily challenges as us. Reach out, and they’ll be there. But we don’t always recognise the impact they have on our lives, so make an extra effort this month to appreciate the wonderful women in your Dubai village.
Your best gal pals
Where would you be without your girl squad? From picnics on the beach to those much-needed mums’ nights out and sharing advice on everything from schooling to where to get a great cut and colour, your Dubai friends are an essential part of your support network. It’s common to form super-quick bonds with the women you meet, as life in the desert has a charming way of bringing us all together through shared experiences. They understand when you open the door to your play date still wearing your dressing gown, at 2pm, and don’t judge you for your parenting choices. You laugh and cry together as you grow your families on foreign land – and that’s what makes your friendships so special.
“The friends I’ve made in Dubai have helped me to realise I am far from alone,” says Kayleigh Houghton, mum to Mason, three, who lives in Layan Community. “I feel as if I can pop over to a friend’s house for a chat or meet for coffee at any time and get some reassurance that, whatever phase we’re going through, everything is going to be OK. Plus, our child-free meet ups provide a fantastic excuse to switch off from mummy duties.”
If you’re struggling to meet other mums, be brave and put yourself out there. There are lots of opportunities to mingle with likeminded women in a fun environment, such as at baby massage classes (Bumps and Beyond Dubai offers group classes, visit bumpsandbeyonddubai.com); Baby Sensory (call 055 112 6895 or find them on Facebook at /BabySensoryUae); and The Baby Book Club Dubai (find them on Facebook at /Thebabybookclub).
The fairy godmother
Missing your female family members intensifies when you have kids and although those relationships are irreplaceable, there is a fantastic back-up system you can tap into.
Andrea Allen set up the Fairy Godmothers initiative five years ago to put those in need of extra support in touch with women who are only too happy to help. “Our volunteers offer practical and emotional support to families who are struggling with life in Dubai for one reason or another,” says Andrea.
“It’s a bit like online dating but you send in your details and we match them to a godmother with similar interests and availability. We then introduce you and see how the relationship progresses. Our volunteers are not cleaners or babysitters but they are surrogate godmothers, sisters or aunties. Many new mums find the first few days and weeks exhausting and unsettling and are often full of questions. Our volunteers are mums themselves and have been through the same struggles, adventures and traumas and can help show you the light at the end of the tunnel.”
To find out more, visit ‘The Fairy Godmothers Club Support page’ on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your baby doctor
Your child’s paediatrician is an incredibly important link in your support network. Finding someone you are comfortable enough to depend on, knowing that your child is being well looked after and getting the medical attention he or she needs, is crucial for peace of mind.
“Ideally you would start searching for the right paediatrician while you’re still pregnant,” says Dr Deepti Chaturvedi, Specialist – Pediatrics, Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi (02 5085556/burjeel.com). “Start by gathering recommendations from friends, family and by doing some research online. You can then draw up a shortlist based on the reputation of the doctor and hospital or clinic they work in. Next, schedule a face-to-face meeting with a couple of top choices so you will be able to gauge the chemistry between yourselves and find out more about his or her specialist knowledge. Check that they can offer you the support you need, whether that’s extra advice over email or if they are happy to give their mobile number for emergencies – it’s important to ensure you are both on the same page. Most importantly, you should feel you are being listened to and that your concerns, however small, are properly addressed.”
Your handy helper
It’s common to have a full-time helper in the UAE and the ladies we welcome into our homes can quickly fill an everyday practical role that grandparents and besties may have helped to plug back home.
“We hired a full-time, live-out nanny to help look after our daughter Leila as I returned to work when she was six months old,” says Nadia Aininou of The Greens . “We interviewed a lot of candidates but there was something very professional about Dee, and I had a reassuring feeling that I could fully trust her with my baby. Over the past two years Leila and Dee have really bonded and she’s become an integral part of our family. She’s a huge support to me, allowing me to pursue my career comfortable in the knowledge that Leila is happy and thriving in her care.”
Online mummy groups
If you’re into social media – and who can avoid it these days? – then you can’t have failed to notice the rise of virtual mummy support groups. Some of the most popular Facebook groups, for instance, include British Mums Dubai, Breastfeeding Q&A UAE, Mums & Bumps Dubai and Abu Dhabi Mums and it’s easy to understand why.
“We know from research and our own experience that mothers’ preferred resource for solving parenting problems is other mothers – people who have been where you are, who know what it’s like and who have found their own way forward,” says Sian Baldwin Khoury, founding member of closed Facebook group Breastfeeding Q&A UAE, which was founded 10 years ago. “Members of our group can log on around the clock and chances are they will find someone else on at the same time to chat to and get reassurance and information from. With most expatriates being far away from family, friends and our traditional support networks, groups like this can help fill the gap.”
Your professional support network
We’re blessed with an increasing number of professional service providers to see us through those early weeks and months, tide us over during bouts of illness and educate us on the nitty-gritty of parenting.
“The only way to survive and thrive as a new parent is to find your own community of like-minded mums and dads,” says Vogelaar. “Often the best way to meet these friends is in a class for expectant or new parents. Meeting people with babies about the same age, who have chosen the same class or group (a sign they are at least somewhat like-minded) can help you find your tribe. Hopefully, the instructor or leader of the class will also be an experienced parent with evidence-based information, plus personal tips and insights that will help you feel more confident and find your own path as a parent.
“Professionals who tell you that you are ‘doing it wrong’ or that their way is the only right way are not really what you need at this stage. Every new parent needs to hear that they are doing great, that they are the expert of their own baby and their baby will teach them whatever they need to know, and that there is nothing wrong with trial and error when it comes to parenting. We all do the best we can each day, we make mistakes and then we figure out something that works better.”
School and nursery mums
Far from being strangers in the hallways, class mums are clubbing together to share advice, keep on top of news and help each other out when needed.
“We created a What’s App group for all the mums of the kids in our nursery class so we can stay in touch about everything from who’s signed up to the field trip to coping with the latest hand, foot and mouth outbreak,” says Tina Goussous, mum to Sara, 19 months. “It’s nice to get to know the parents of all the wonderful kids my daughter sees five days a week. As the children are growing together, I believe we, as parents, should always try to stay connected. We don’t always get to see each other at drop-off and pick-up times but we have planned playdates so we can get to know each other better and having our class mums in close contact makes me happy to know I am part of a caring and supporting group of women who have all of our children’s best interests at heart.”
Teachers and TAs – not to mention the school nurse – invest so much time, love and attention in educating our little ones that it’s natural for them to make a mark on our lives.
“We find that a lot of our parents don’t necessarily have the support they would normally get from their home country, so we act as a sounding board for them,” says Jessica Johnson, Centre Manager, Nursery DIFC (hummingbird.ae). “We always invite the parents in to meet their child’s new teacher before they start so they know who is looking after their children and to create a home away from home environment.”
“Parents love to hear how their child is succeeding and developing, so when I talk with a parent about their child I always use the same enthusiasm as if the child were my own,” adds Ms Ana, teacher of the Ladybirds class (2-2/12 year olds). “All parents love to hear ‘I am so proud of... today!’ or ‘They really tried their best!’”
With many of us opting to return to work sooner than we may have done in our home countries, our colleagues play a vital role in making an easy transition from new mum to working mum. While your initial goal may be enjoying an uninterrupted cup of coffee at your desk, it quickly comes to light that having an understanding and supportive team is key to juggling employment with mummy duties.
Cavell Higgins, 32, is mum to Harrison, one, and lives in The Springs. She says: “When I returned to work when my son was six months old, I was amazed and humbled by how supportive everyone was – especially as many of my colleagues weren’t parents yet.
“They happily listened to me moaning about sleep deprivation and baby milestone stories, which probably seemed entirely insignificant to them – not to mention all the polite ‘ohhing’ and ahhing’ over endless baby pictures. Most importantly, when Harrison was quite seriously ill last year I was touched by everything they did, from pitching in to help with my workload to all the flexi-time they allowed me to make all his extra doctors appointments.”
The women we could not live without
The Aquarius team name their go-to gals
“My sister is my lifeline, even if she’s 3,500 miles away. If I’m having a rubbish day, on goes Skype; we might not say much and just get on with our days, but she’s still ‘there’.” Catherine, writer
“Naning makes me a better mother; she gives me space, time and reassurance to enjoy my kids, work and life. We juggle the many balls together. ” Katie, associate publisher
“My kids’ step-mum is like the wife I never had. Schedules, nit checks, birthday parties or simply a natter and a w(h)ine – I can always rely on Nourie to help with the chaos.” Louisa, editor
“I’m fortunate that I have my mum living here with us. She is the mum that I want to be. My life here would be very difficult if not for her support.” Melany, art director