| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Busy kids

Are your kids busier than squirrels in nut season? Are you a super-stressed parent from all the extra scheduling?

Debate team

• Benedicte Dambly lives near the Burj Dubai and is mum to 11-month-old twins, Tiphaine and Heloise, and Albane, aged four. Originally from France, she came to the UAE 18 months ago and works as a freelance translator.

• A business and marketing consultant, Caroline El-Etibi is currently enjoying a sabbatical and taking care of her two daughters, Janna, three, and Lea, six. Living in Umm Sequim, she came to Dubai from Germany two years ago.

• Traditional Greek girl at heart, Maria Kathreptakis is a stay-at-home mum who moved to Al Safa from Australia 18 months ago with her husband and three children, Emmanuella, six, Alexander, four and Angelo, two.

• Voiceover artist and full-time mum, Vanessa Woodthorpe-Wright has lived in Dubai for 15 years. She and her husband Nick, and their children, Louis, 15, Oscar, 11 and Che, two, live in Umm Suqeim.

What got us talking

Every parent wants their child to be brilliant. Being academically gifted is one thing, but if little Ben’s mastered the flute and plays polo like a pro, nothing can touch him, right? Well, not unless you count exhaustion and burnout by the time he’s 11. Are Dubai’s parents under pressure to ensure their kids have more plates spinning than a circus performer? And how do you prune their packed calendars to fit in some down time? We chewed the fat, and some excellent pastries, at The Address, Dubai Marina.

What is the average day like for your children? Do you think they do too much?
Vanessa: Oscar does prep after school, which means all his homework is supervised during school hours and over and done with. After prep, he does after-school activities, which are compulsory. He wants to be a professional footballer, so most days he plays football. He is usually home by 5.15pm.

Benedicte: Wow. That’s quite a lot.

Vanessa: Yes. I think it is. But at the moment he’s asking to be included in even more football activities after school and at weekends. But it’s very expensive and I really do feel that he’s already doing enough.

Caroline: My eldest does piano, horse riding and swimming and the little one does music and swimming. To be honest, it’s too much.

Benedicte: My eldest goes to swimming and ballet lessons – so she has two activities a week. Initially we had a bit of a shaky start, because she decided she didn’t want to do her swimming class – and nothing I said could make her even get into the pool. But now we have a good routine going, it’s working much more smoothly and she’s happy.

Maria: My six-year-old does ballet, and she and my four-year-old son do Greek lessons on a Saturday. But Emmanuella also wants to start piano lessons in January – so that will be three activities a week. As far as I’m concerned, that’s quite enough. When you factor in all the play dates etc, their social lives are outrageous. I love it – and they’re doing great with it – but they don’t need to pack in anything else.

How do you make sure your children don’t get too worn out?
Maria: I’m very strict about routines. I make sure they sleep before an activity. I make a big effort to get them to bed. They sleep, and then they’re okay to do what they’re going to do.

Caroline: So your six-year-old is able to sleep in the day?

Maria: Sometimes. She’s not a big sleeper now. But she knows if she wants to do something, she has to have that rest time before she gets to do it. Rest is a big must.

Caroline: I’ve tried to do that with my six-year-old because if she’s too tired the activity becomes a chore and there’s no point in making her do it. But, mostly, we only manage a 15-minute nap before its time to wake her up and go. And often that’s counterproductive because I then have to wake her from a deep sleep. Unless you have this very strict routine, doing so many activities just doesn’t work.

Vanessa: The running round all these places is a headache too. You get tired too – and that affects your kids’ enthusiasm as well.

Maria: And then on top of all the taxi-ing, you’ve got to be this great mother, this great wife, this great cook and this great organiser.

Vanessa: Yes, but we all want to be that, don’t we? That’s why we enrol our kids into extra activities.

By Joanna England
Time Out Dubai,

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Can you please put me in contact with Maria, I used to work with her back in Australia some years ago and would love to speak to her again. please pass this message on to her if you can.

Vanessa Mathieu.

Review by : Vanessa Mathieu