New group offers surrogate grandparents to kids in Dubai
Being a mum is no easy feat, what with the threat of postnatal depression, a recovering body that has been stretched to breaking point, and a screaming child to contend with throughout the night. Sometimes the only person who will understand is your mum. Yet what do you do if your own mother is on the other side of the globe?
The expat lifestyle has huge benefits, especially in Dubai, with its blue skies, tax-free salary and endless beaches. But expat life also has its drawbacks – the most obvious being lack of family support. With most expats coming to the UAE for work purposes, it’s common to feel a void at home, with no aunties, uncles or grandparents to turn to.
Part-time British expat and mum of two Andrea Alan recently found herself utterly worn out after a series of sleepless nights when her young daughter had chicken pox. ‘It’s so difficult being here and being so isolated, especially if you don’t have any help or anyone you generally trust with the kids,’ she explains.
Searching a Dubai forum, Andrea noticed a post from an older woman, explaining that she didn’t know anyone in the city and missed her grandchildren and children. ‘It just popped into my head: why not get the two groups together and benefit from it?’ she explains. ‘My children get the privilege of having surrogate grandparents, and these ladies get the opportunity to spend some time with some honorary grandchildren.’ Andrea blogged about her idea and was inundated with parents and older people interested in participating.
She held her first weekly meeting last month and now has more than 90 mothers and ‘fairy godmothers’ involved, as well as a very active Facebook group. Catherine Harper, a part-time new mum, has been in Dubai for 10 years but can relate to Andrea’s situation. ‘All of my friends are still going to Rock Bottom bar at the weekend,’ she says. ‘I can do that once in a while, but I have to make new friends that are more appropriate to our family situation’. Catherine was one of the first to join The Fairy Godmother Club and has since befriended a few older women, and hopes they will fit in well with her particular family life. ‘The Fairy Godmother Club is an added support network, rather than just having friends,’ she explains. ‘The friends who do relate to my situation are in the same boat as me. You don’t want to call on people because you don’t want to add to their burden.’
While it’s nice to have someone around to share a cup of tea and a gripe or two, those who have been through the parenting experience can also offer handy tips. ‘It’s very useful to have one of the older generation around. We’re all new to this – if you have a baby, they don’t come with a manual,’ says Catherine.
The group now holds meetings where parents and fairy godmothers can meet to get to know each other, and the group is completely voluntary. ‘It has to be a personality hit,’ explains Andrea. ‘I’m not pairing people off; they have to do it themselves. If they’re happy for “godfathers” to be involved, for example, it’s entirely up to them. You set your own boundaries.’ Andrea is adamant it’s not a babysitting service; it’s about bringing someone into the family – you need to feel you trust them.
The group has also caught the attention of people outside Dubai, including families in Sharjah and as far afield as Cyprus, with several families contacting Andrea to set up their own Fairy Godmother Clubs. But for now, Andrea is keeping things simple, and in Dubai it’s up to the mums and fairy godmothers to make the magic happen.