Are your kids busier than squirrels in nut season? Are you a super-stressed parent? Time Out talks to four Dubai mums to find out how to cope
• Benedicte Dambly lives near the Burj Khalifa and is mum to 11-month-old twins, Tiphaine and Heloise and four-year-old Albane. 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 kids, Emmanuella, six, Alex-ander, 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 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.
So you feel under pressure in Dubai to get your kids involved in more classes? Vanessa: Definitely. The whole environment here is about perfection. And, in an ideal world, I’d like to be this sexy, slim, manicured thing that’s in the kitchen producing beautiful homemade lunches, then ferrying the kids to rugby training, violin lessons and the odd fencing class. There’s a lot going on in this town, we’ve all got a little bit of extra money – and we’ve usually got more time too, because we have maids – so we want to do it all. And we want them to do it all as well.
Vanessa: We’re just trying to force more into the day – and as a result, we force more into our children’s day as well.
Caroline: A friend of mine always has lots of stuff going on and lots of people staying with them all the time. I picked up her little boy from school and he said to me, ‘Hooray! I’m so excited!’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because we don’t have any activities and nobody’s staying, so we can do what we want today.’ I thought that was quite sad.
Do you pick their activities for them or do they have the choice? Maria: The choice has to be theirs – and they must enjoy it. Otherwise there’s absolutely no point in them doing it. If you make them do something for the sake of it, they’ll end up hating it.
Caroline: That’s true, but I also think kids need to appreciate the fact that activities are expensive. They are a treat. The equipment you need to buy for them – be it sports stuff, or a musical instrument – is costly – and if they ask to do it, but then change their minds after one week, that’s not acceptable.
Benedicte: I agree. Often children want to join a class because a friend is doing it – and they want to be the same as their friend. But that doesn’t mean they’re really interested in the activity.
Vanessa: I’m with you on that one. When it gets to the stage where they just expect to be taken here, there and everywhere, you need to pull them up short and make sure they know how to say thank you. Because giving them the opportunity to do all these things can be a way of spoiling them – especially if they don’t appreciate it.