One of the first ports of call for any expat new to a city these days is the Facebook group. Enter Real Mums of Dubai: co-founded by Megan Al Marzooqi and Holly Bennie (both mums of four children living in UAE), it was started up with the aim of creating a safe space where mums can be honest without the fear of mummy shaming or judgement.
Here, our readers turn to these virtual agony aunts for their advice on navigating some of the tricky waters of parenting in Dubai…
I’ve just moved here from the UK and, is it just me, or are all mums in Dubai former models?! I feel like a gorgon by comparison to all the glam yummy mummies here!
Megan: Oh please don’t be fooled, we all have our good and our bad days. Since having my last child I have decided that it is either a full face of make up or breakfast. Needless to say breakfast wins 99% of the time. Love yourself, you grew a baby!
Holly: Who cares? The only person who can make you feel like a gorgon is your own inner monologue so you can put a stop to that right now. Dubai is a wonderful mix of people from all walks of life and with all different aspirations. Take full advantage of having the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Otherwise I personally rock dry shampoo, leggings that are way too see through and I haven’t seen a high heel in years so if it will make you feel a little better, you can come stand next to me.
Kids’ birthday parties – help!!! All my little ones’ friends seem to go all out for their birthday parties, but I am frankly intimidated by it all. What’s your advice for throwing a child’s birthday party in Dubai?
Megan: Don’t be intimidated and don’t do anything you don’t want to, or can’t afford to. Let’s face it, in years to come will your child remember their 2nd birthday? Probably not. Having said that, you CAN also do a fun party on a budget in the UAE. Think party at home, in the park, or even at the fire station – all free venues and you just supply the food and games.
Holly: Don’t throw a party just for the sake of trying to keep up with the Jones's. Remember that it’s not your party, it’s your children’s. Go with what they want to do and don’t be afraid to keep it intimate. They’ll have just as good a time and have just as much fun.
Do I have to invite my 4-year-old son’s whole class to his birthday party?
Megan: You don't have to do anything you don't want to, but I would say that if it's most of the class going it's only fair to invite them all. If it is just five of your son's best friends then so be it!
Holly: Not unless you want to. My daughter only ever mentions three to four friends repeatedly when she comes home. If I was throwing a birthday party I would invite those individuals, knowing they're her close friends, and maybe send a treat in for the class to enjoy instead of inviting them all.
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Baby showers for your third child – yay or nay?
Megan: Yay!! I am all for a reason to celebrate and have fun with my mummy friends. You are growing a human, if that isn't reason enough to celebrate what is?! Plus.. Cake...
Holly: My first ever baby shower was for my fourth baby and I still don’t really get the whole “shower” thing so it’s a ‘nay’ from me.
We have been in Dubai a while now, but I feel like my 4-year-old barely knows anything about the culture of the country he lives in. Do you have any tips for teaching very young children about the Emirati culture?
Megan: Four is still very young to be culturally aware in my opinion but there are lots of things you can start introducing to him.
Why not start by taking him to a camel race on a Friday morning - it's an early start but very worth it and definitely something every expat must do once in their time here. How about a lovely dhow trip too? There are some great deals available for dhow trips that include a BBQ and snorkelling, you may even get luck and see some turtles and dolphins!
Also, visit the Heritage Village, it is a great little gem. You will see the different ways of living, from coastal people to desert dwellers and even those who live in the mountains. Buy some traditional food, browse the arts and crafts that are hand made the old fashioned way, staying true to the UAE's roots. If you time your trip to Heritage Village right you may even get to enjoy a folk song and dance, or could even be treated by the traditional medicine clinic.
Do weekend trips around the UAE. There is nothing better than a mini staycation and there is so much to see all around this country, from the laid back setting in Fujairah to the hustle and bustle in Abu Dhabi. There is culture everywhere you look, you just need to get out and explore.
Visit the Sheikh Mohamed Centre For Cultural Understanding; the staff there are great at explaining things to little ones. Try the traditional food (amazing for Iftar in Ramadan), join a cultural tour, or go with them to Jumeirah Mosque to explore and get your questions answered.
There are also some beautiful story books for children that introduce pearl diving and the folk stories of old UAE that every child here should own.
Holly: I’ve been here 14 years and I’m still learning! The UAE does an incredible job of blending its history and culture into the modern day world. Just a quick look around some of the new developments offers a great insight into what the UAE was. Al Seef is a great place to visit to get a sense of “old Dubai” while whizzing up and down on an abra. Younger children can try out pearl diving at Kidzania and why not take older children for a trip to the Al Hamra ‘ghost town’ in RAK where you can see how a pearl diving village really was and how the houses were built?
Try to blend teaching into every day activities. Visit the camel farms and watch a camel race, what about a trip up to the Al Ain zoo? Their new heritage centre shows off the local wildlife and what we can do to help protect them. You can visit bedouin-style camps in the desert and learn about the stars, falconry and the desert way of life.
What about starting with something easy and tangible like food? Visit the Al Fanar restaurant in Festival City and try out traditional Emirati food from the 196's and ask your little ones to think about why this is considered local food. Where does the fish come from? Then visit the creek to show them. Where do the dates come from? Visit the date farms in Al Ain. It is easier for children to link back to something that they can relate to.
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