Homeschoolers

Mary-Jane Jansen van Rensburg from South Africa, has three children – Amy, five; Elric, four; and Ashlyn, 18 months

“We decided to homeschool last year as we felt uncomfortable sending Amy to school at such a young age – and Elric this year. I felt it would be better for them to have a more laid-back, holistic and calm approach to learning. Also their dad works both day and night shifts, so making family time would have been very hard if they were in a conventional school. Family time is very important to us and homeschooling has helped allowed him to spend time with our children.

“One of the positives of homeschooling is that there are no stressful mornings in our home. The kids don’t have to rush to get ready to leave the house early in the morning. But I think the biggest positive is seeing how your children learn and grow individually. When Amy started reading it felt like I’d won the lottery, only a million times better!

“I think the biggest negative of homeschooling is other people’s preconceptions that if you homeschool your child isn’t socialised and that they are not getting a proper education. In fact the opposite is true. Another negative when you start homeschooling is the self-doubt about whether you are doing the right thing for your family and children by homeschooling them.

“Yes, sometimes people do judge our choice. The best thing in this situation, we have found, is to approach the question or judgement with a sense of humour and to explain that the choice to homeschool was not made lightly – that we are doing what is best for our family dynamic.

“I don’t feel pressured to conform to other parents’ ways of parenting. There is a huge network of homeschooling families both here in the UAE and in South Africa who are very supportive.

“The only thing I would stress to other mums thinking of homeschooling is to have confidence in yourself. Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of reading to your children – especially when they are little – and to remember that all kids are different, so their learning styles will be different. And to love them for who they are as individuals and respect how they learn.”

Read more: 'Is this Dubai's busiest mum? Expat homeschools her ten kids'

World Travellers

Ghana Bola, 43, from Australia is married to Jagmeet Singh Bola, 40, from the UK. Their daughter Jeevi, 9, was born in London, while their adopted son, Danny, three, is from Ethiopia. They are about to embark on a round-the-world trip

“Do we go against parenting norms?
I honestly have no idea because we are too busy living our peripatetic life to read the latest parenting guidelines. To us the word ‘parent’ is a noun, not a verb. So yes, we are parents, we have children, but we are more of a team, albeit a team in a Roma Gypsy caravan. Sometimes I think it is the kids who parent us – admonishing DJ Dad for getting home late and, when I jump out of the car to photograph baby camels, my daughter groans ‘Yes, Mum. Carpe diem – but put on your hazards.’

“After much soul-searching, we decided to move to Sydney to give the kids the gift of stable schooling and a calm, sensible extended family nearby to fill in the gaps in our parenting – such as baking cookies, watching television, and table etiquette after years of ethnic vegetarian food eaten with our hands.

“So we are off… On a circuitous route reminiscent of the 70s’ hippie trail, to celebrate our kids’ heritage before we settle down to make tough life choices about soft furnishings and patio settings.

“Our daughter will study Indian classical dance, while our son learns Ethiopian Amharic numbers and plays djembe drums. We will eat our way through London’s chippies, Belgium’s chocolate shops, feast on Ethiopia’s injera baskets, chow down on Kathmandu’s momos, devour Delhi’s samosas and, I guess, finish up with a (vegetarian) barbecue in Australia. School? School of life. Now there’s a provocative comment.

“I admit I have mixed feelings about leaving the UAE. Our kids have grown up here and we call it home. I am very grateful to have lived here for almost a decade as the multicultural fusion/confusion has formed open-minded, respectful little humans. Moreover, our multi-ethnic family is not so unusual here. Mixed marriage is mainstream.

“I am dreading the expat re-entry shock of blending in with Australian mainstream. The prospect of producing something for the local school bake sale is more terrifying to me than travelling to a continent plagued by Boko Haram and Ebola. I guess as parents we aspire to the Mahatma mantra: Be the change you want to see in the world. We want to see tolerance, old-fashioned peace, love and mung beans – and alternative tourism is our parenting strategy to broaden our kids’ horizons. In case this all sounds too ‘utopian twee’, I would like to clarify that this idyllic road to world peace really starts by de- escalating the latest sibling conflict about Lego in the playroom.”

Read more: '10 of the world's best baby-friendly hotels'

Conscious eaters

Wiebke Katsoudas, 43, from Germany, founder of juicing company Essentially is raising her four-year-old son Linos to be a conscious eater

“We are raising Linos with similar norms and values my husband and I have grown up with when it comes to food, and that is: pure, organic and real. What might be considered different, or unusual, in the UAE has become mainstream in recent years in Germany and most European countries. It is all about the perspective...

“Our journey to a real-food lifestyle was reinvigorated with Linos’s birth. Like many mums, I wanted to feed my son the best food I could and I wanted him to be a healthy, curious eater without allergies and dislikes. I believe simple, pesticide-free food from farmers and not from factories lays the groundwork for a lifetime of good nutrition and joyful, enthusiastic eating that nurtures a child’s body, mind and spirit.

“One of the most important things is variety. Sometimes we eat raw and other times cooked. Sometimes we go vegetarian and some days we mix it up with fish. But the base is always the same – pure, organic, simple, natural ingredients combined in recipes that don’t take much of our time.

“A key rule in our house is to stay relaxed. When Linos comes home with a bag full of sweets from a birthday party, we are not going to get hysterical and snatch his goodies away. This would have the opposite effect of what we want to achieve. It is important to develop a natural relationship to unhealthy food too.

“At the same time, other people’s opinions don’t help. I can’t count the times people have said, ‘Oh a little candy doesn’t hurt.’ Of course it doesn’t harm him instantly, but why give in? Until Linos was almost three, he didn’t know what ice cream or candy even was, so he never asked for it. People judge, but you shouldn’t feel like a party pooper because you have set principles for a healthy life for your children. Listen to your gut.

“I hate to disappoint parents who think that our son consumes a plate of kale before lunch, or guzzles Green Juice for breakfast: we simply eat as wholesomely and as healthily as we can and enjoy good food. We eat ice cream, pasta and fries, but not very often.

“We are not vegan, or vegetarian, but conscious eaters. I believe that kids don’t miss out on anything as long as you provide them with healthy options. Linos gets the occasional croissant, pretzel or ice cream, but I draw the line at McDonald’s, products with corn/high-fructose syrup, soda, chips and all that rubbish. In the end it is all about teaching kids a love and appreciation of good home-cooked food and preparing it together as a family. It’s a topic that is close to my heart.”

For details of Wiebke’s juices and health food offerings, visit www.essentially.ae

Read more: 'Should you put your chunky child on a diet?'

Energy Healers

Seda Goksel, 42, a Turk from Zimbabwe, has three kids – José, 10; Keanu, six; and Elena, two. As an energy healer herself, all of Seda’s children are being brought up with this skill and wisdom

“When José was five and Keanu was just one, I had them both attuned to reiki level 1 to raise their vibrations energetically, so they could start healing. Keanu was a little young, but I started teaching José... We began just working on plants... sending them positive energy. But we soon moved on to people.

“I use reiki healing on all my kids. If they have a headache, or a tummy ache... Or when they were babies and they had colic. So it’s completely normal for them. The other day Keanu had a tummy ache and he asked José to give him reiki healing to get rid of it. They give each other healing all the time. When they were little, the boys would do reiki on our cat. And Keanu gave reiki healing to a friend at school who was not feeling well.

“I think there is space for energy healing and conventional medicine to work alongside each other. If one of the kids has a fever, or something, I take them to the doctors – of course. But I always give them reiki too, to heal them on a spiritual level while the medicine heals them physically.

“It actually comes quite naturally to children... more than it does to adults.
They just have to be taught how to tap into it. And kids are very naturally intuitive. At age four, Keanu told me he had another family before he came to us in this life. Kids have tools instinctively... I just help them use them.

“It doesn’t seem strange to me to raise children like this. It’s a massive part of my life so why wouldn’t I share it with my kids? I think it’s great for kids to work on an energy level, because it connects them to nature and to the planet. It teaches them respect for Mother Earth.

“I tell my kids fairies exist and that they are angels of nature... they seem to understand it better when I say, ‘Don’t litter because the nature fairies will be upset’, rather than, ‘Don’t litter because it is bad.’ My kids all believe in Santa and the tooth fairy... I don’t want to take that magical side of childhood away just yet. Other kids tell them it’s all make-believe, but I’m trying to keep it going. For me it’s about protecting their innocence. Some people don’t understand this as their parents didn’t protect their innocence, so they don’t know how important it is.

“I’ve seen children of all ages respond well to energy healing and different types of alternative therapies. José loves cord-cutting sessions and, when he was nine, I used hypnotherapy on him to rid him of his fear of heights. We all do meditations together – I think it opens kids up more and enables them to connect to who they really are. It brings harmony and balance into their lives and helps them to love every living thing.

“My husband says I should remember the world that our children live in. But I say to him, ‘If I didn’t connect with them in this way, they would feel lonely – which could lead to drinking, and delinquency.’ This is just one of the ways I connect with my kids. I can’t imagine not sharing this experience with them.”

Seda is a healer who uses reiki, Theta healing, cord-cutting, hypnosis and more. She has just started offering intuitive healing sessions – Dh500 for 45 mins – which incorporates all of the modalities. She also offers workshops and courses. For details, see her website.

Read more: 'What you need to know about Mindful Parenting in the UAE'

Are you bucking parenting norms and raising your children in a way that goes against the grain? We would love to hear from you. Email babyandchild@gulfnews.com with your details.

This article was originally published in Aquarius magazine in 2015.