Although it wasn’t quite love at first sight, after four years of living in Dubai I have a lot of praise for this extravagant city in the sand. Not only have I warmed up to it (or rather, totally heated up to it, if I think of the soaring summer temperatures), but I also feel very lucky to live here and know that I shouldn’t take any of it for granted.
From decadent family brunches, to quirky cafes with kids’ corners and innovative play areas, as well as an abundance of fabulous free events for mums-to-be and new parents, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to filling our social diaries (If only time wasn’t an issue and the entertainment fund was limitless!).
However, despite gushing over the cleanliness, luxury, permanent sunshine, convenience and easy access to five-star services, there’s always been one missing piece of the puzzle for me.
It’s to do with the frailty of the relationships we end up building over here, especially as full-time mums.
There are indeed plenty of opportunities to socialize, but the city is fast-paced and the dynamics change so rapidly that I find we’re always saying goodbye to people and trying to invest in new friendships. And not everyone is willing to do the emotional investment part, which at times gives the impression of a lack of community.
As mums, we yearn to surround ourselves with like-minded people who actually get what we’re going through. The more ears to listen to our daily struggles (or should I say heroic actions) the better!
Not all of the people we strike up conversations with at the playground or coffee mornings become our best friends though.
So, while we may give the impression of having a large support network or that our lives are buzzing socially and evolve around coffee mornings and playdates (my own Instagram page can be deceiving like that), the reality is we have plenty of lonely days too. Most of us don’t have any family support nearby, and the people we get to call our close friends move away all too quickly.
Right now, for me, even the news of a good friend moving house to be a whole ten minutes further away is somewhat upsetting...
This got me thinking about the types of friendships I have made since calling Dubai my home, and especially since becoming a mum. And, while it may not be the same for everyone, if you are an expectant mum or a mother who’s new to Dubai, these are the types of friends you will likely be making in the city too:
The bump friend
Pregnant at the same time? We may not have had a lot to do with each other beforehand, but once the pregnancies got announced there was lots to talk about. Who else was going to get my despair at looking at swollen ankles, or the agony of doing a glucose test? We’ve been in the same boat from the start, we’ve seen each other with no make up on and covered in baby vomit numerous times and we’re still there for each other every week to moan about and praise the achievements of our sprogs. This one is truly not allowed to leave Dubai before me!
The antenatal-group friends
Going to antenatal classes was one of the best things I did before having my daughter. I absolutely loved those classes (and obviously felt terrified as we learnt more and more about how our lives would change with a newborn, not to mention the heart palpitations as we delved into details of delivering the baby). Not only did my husband and I learn so much and felt a lot more prepared but the group and classes were a lot of fun and I cannot imagine not having had that support in those early days. The support is ongoing, as we’re still in touch a couple of years later and, although we don’t see each other as often any more (blame the naps and busy schedules of our toddlers), our phones are always buzzing with messages and questions. These mums are my go-to source of knowledge for all panic-stricken moments. We currently have ‘sleep issues’ on the agenda to discuss. (Eyes rolling: when have we not had them?).
Read more: '6 of the best antenatal classes in Dubai'
The baby-classes friend
There’s always one person you click with instantly when you start socializing your newborn (yes, we start them young over here in Dubai, the social scene is fierce!). Whether it’s baby sensory, baby yoga, baby splash, let’s be honest our little ones have no idea why they’re there, let alone grasp the concept of socialising with other baby buddies! But we mums know why we’re there - it’s our social time and a chance to chat to other mums and remind ourselves that we’re not alone in this. And there’s almost always someone who’s very easy to chat to and parents in a similar way to you and before you know it, you feel like you’ve been friends for years. For me, this friend has also become a constant in my life and a weekly playdate for my little one (and the husbands get dragged into the socialising a bit too.)
The cross-checking friend
This is the one that keeps me on my toes as a mum. They follow the books, so we end up having lengthy detailed conversations and quizzes on each of our children’s developmental stages and on our plans to tackle any deviation from the books. While they’re still focused on making plans for the next stages, I personally have reached the point when I’m done with planning because it’s never really worked out for us. (Sleep training? What’s that?). Still, nice to see successful parenting-by-the-book in real life though and I can always count on this one for getting my questions answered, it’s like a free parenting workshop.
The ‘bad mom’ friend
This might be a shocker but on some days it’s the ideal I aspire to. I would love to be as nonchalant about daily dramas, nap schedules, meal times, and chocolate-covered little faces at 6 am. This is the mum who trusts her kids to look after themselves and if something bad happens it’s totally their fault. Lessons learnt the tough way but they’re learnt!
The non-mum friend
As much as we get absorbed into motherhood to the point where we live it and breathe it and struggle to remember our lives prior to becoming mums, how lovely is it to step out of it from time to time and just be yourself? This is where the non-mum friend comes in with news and tips on anything else but baby-related stuff. Talk about a breath of fresh air! I need more please!
There may be little more than a handful of them, but these friends have made everything more bearable, more fun, and they’re one of the reasons Dubai feels like home.
As expats we get used to that looming state of impermanence, it’s what we sign up for when we decide to embrace the ‘nomad’ ways.
We know change might be the only constant, increasingly so in a place like Dubai where the urban landscape transforms almost overnight and people come and go at a very rapid pace - whether it’s our neighbours, people you work with or people we’ve come to call our friends.
But despite knowing what to expect, we still feel unsettled when we have to say goodbye to friends who’ve become like family, and sadly our little people feel it too.
My little piece of advice to newcomers is to always be open and make time to chat to others. You’ll find plenty of people to socialize with, but you’ll also need a handful of those you can count on no matter what, so show them that although you may be calling this city your home for a short period of time, you’re willing to make real friends for life.
As the mother to a spirited two-year-old girl, Alina loves to write about the funny side of motherhood - even if there aren’t enough funny moments in her day - on her blog Her Babyness.
Read more: '12 signs you have a toddler in Dubai'