Family activities in Dubai

We’ve asked five different families what makes their own family unit work

Family activities in Dubai

Families come in all shapes and sizes – from happy with one, to cool with two, to the seemingly ever-expanding brood. Throw a menagerie of pets, sleepovers, never-ending visitors and the annual plane ride back to your home country into the mix for some household chaos that furthers the fun. Here, we’ve asked five different families in Dubai what makes their own family unit work.

One is fun

About the tribe: Siobhan and Jamie Phillips live with their six-year-old boy, Lawrence, in the Sustainable city.

What were your biggest worriesabout having a child?
I'm sure, says Siobhan, like any “nearly” parent you worry about doing a good job and having a healthy baby. One of my main worries was would I still be able to have my freedom and 'me time'? (I love my 'me time'!) The answer is: you have a whole lot less of it! But now that Lawrence is nearly six I have a whole lot more of it.

How did you develop a new routine for your family?
Very slowly! I bought a book and read up online on routines, but I tossed the book away very quickly. I’m not a routine type of person, never have been. But when you have a child you have to adjust that a bit! Sleep times were important, but during the day I wouldn’t be home-bound for that. Lawrence just learned to sleep wherever we were. Most of the time it worked, other times it didn’t. You just need to go with the flow. That was when he was a baby, now he is older the routine has come naturally, I feel we have it figured out. But to have to do all of that again: No, thank you!

What would be your top organisational tips?
Lawrence is quite a slow eater (not only in the mornings) and takes his time with things. We try to get up on time and I can get quite annoyed if it’s all taking too long, especially because you know you’ll be stuck in traffic for the school run. But I try to think, 'Is it really the end of the world if he is five minutes late?’ Breathe in, breathe out! We are lucky as my husband works from home and, when he isn’t traveling, he can do the school run.

Anything you wish you’d done differently?
I wish we would have hired a daytime nurse to come in. I’m from The Netherlands and there you have a midwife that comes to the house and checks in on you. We had just moved over to Dubai so I didn’t really know what sort of things were available. I wasn’t into the whole “mummy-baby” world until after I had Lawrence. It all felt a bit alien.

What advice would you give to anyone starting a family, or adding to one?
Have help if you can afford it. Just the extra set of hands is great. Remember that your life isn’t over, it’s just being adjusted. Remember that the tiredness will pass, you will be able to fit into your favourite jeans again (at some point!) and, yes, you will still be able to go out for brunches and ladies’ nights. Find out what works for you. You will get so much advice, especially from all of the Facebook pages available now. They can be a great source of info but they can also confuse you even more. Try a few things out and see what suits you. There is no such thing as perfect. Look after yourself properly so you can look after your baby properly, too. And don’t feel guilty about it!

Have you felt the financial impact of having a child?
Yes, of course there is a financial impact, especially with the high education and housing costs in Dubai. We didn’t plan for additional costs when Lawrence was little, now we just transfer some money to a separate account for school fees. As for advice, some banks offer payment discounts when using their credit cards. Set up a savings account (offshore) for your little one early on, and add whatever amount you can monthly. Think about the fabulous things they can do with it when they are older, it will definitely help them in the future.

What are the benefits of having a smaller family?
The noise level is low, which I love! We are able to do things that are important to us that I think would be more difficult if we had two or three kids.

Double Trouble

About the tribe: Helen Farmer has two little girls, Phoebe, who is two and a half, and Tabitha, who is seven and a half months.

What were your biggest worries about having another child?
There were a lot. Jealousy from our first daughter, lack of sleep, the conviction that I’d forgotten how to parent a newborn, how I’d manage the school run and supermarket shopping, the expense, more lack of sleep…

How did you prepare your toddler for the new baby?
We bought a few picture books about her becoming a big sister, along with a (worryingly) realistic doll, to show her how to hold a baby. We also showed Phoebe photos from when she was born, and talked about where her little sister would sleep, asked her to sort and organise clothes with me, and explained what jobs she could do to help, like passing me nappies. And there was the old trick of giving her a present from the baby when she visited us in hospital.

How did you develop a new routine for your growing family?
In the first few weeks, I was very reliant on our nanny, Loreta, to do the nursery drop while I slept and fed baby Tabitha, and it all just fell into place. There have even been rare occasions when the girls nap at the same time. I don’t know what to do with myself when this happens!

What would be your top organisational tips for other families?
Get a baby carrier. You can pop the baby in when you go into school or nursery and they can be on you while the older sibling sits in the trolley at the shops. We also bought a second-hand double buggy, as Phoebe was only two when Tabitha was born, and it’s great to strap them both in. We’re now regulars at cafés with play areas, such as Bystro, so Phoebe can play while I have lunch and feed Tabitha. This is a massive help, while also being lots of fun for Phoebe.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Maybe getting a puppy a few months ago was a bit ambitious! Also, because I physically felt pretty normal early on, I definitely over-stretched myself in terms of work and being busy, and ended up getting very ill about a month after giving birth. I wish I’d taken it easier at the time.

Have you felt the financial impact of having more children?
Well, nappies aren’t cheap, but now Phoebe is potty-trained we’re only paying for one set. Phew! I’m also dreading paying two sets of nursery/school fees, even with a sibling discount, so we might keep Tabitha at home a little longer than we did Phoebe. Because I now work for myself, I can take Tabitha on playdates and go to classes, which wasn’t the case with Phoebe. On the plus side, a lot of events and attractions are free for under-twos, and we’re big fans of The Entertainer, so that helps with family days out because we can make savings almost anywhere we go.

What are the benefits of having a larger family with two or more children?
Even though Tabitha is a little young to “play” with Phoebe, to see them interacting is just amazing. Phoebe is very sweet towards her little sister, always wanting to touch and kiss her, and I’m looking forward to them being closer. And I’m looking forward to putting them both into kids’ club on holiday when they’re older so we can relax a bit while they still enjoy each other’s company.

Power of three

About the tribe: Christelle Awad is the proud mum to two girls, Lina and Nadia, aged nine and eight and three year-old little boy Adam.

What were your biggest worries about having another child?
How it would impact our other two children. Being a middle child myself, I was worried about the effect it would have on my youngest daughter having been the youngest for five years. Another concern was how it would impact my own professional development and career. I went back to work when my youngest started nursery and decided that I would take time off when the baby was born.

How did you prepare the other children for the arrival of the new baby?
We involved them in as much of the baby’s development as possible. They went to the scans with us, helped pick out names, baby clothes and accessories. This helped them share in the excitement, feel part of the process and reinforced the fact that they had a huge role to play as big sisters once Adam was born.

How did you develop a new routine for your growing family?
My husband was, and is, a tremendous help with the children. He would look after the girls while I would take care of the newborn. The girls were great at lending Mum a hand. They automatically became more responsible and took on the role of protective sisters. Our family motto is that everyone in the family is important and has a significant role to play. We support, encourage and help one another, working as a team.

What would be your top organisational tips for other people?
Planning, preparing and cultivating independence. I have a calendar up on the wall that outlines our week or month ahead. There is a column for each member of the family, and in a different colour, so that they can easily distinguish between their activities. Now that the girls are older, they contribute and review their day on our weekly calendar to ensure that they have everything packed for all their activities that day. Online shopping saves time and money and reduces unnecessary purchases when you are tired, hungry and distracted by the children while grocery shopping. I order all fruit and veg online and sometimes the protein portion and freeze for the month ahead. Keeping it local, as you could spend wasted hours in traffic. I tend to sign the children up for activities at the school or near where we live.

Anything you were not prepared for with the new arrival?
Starting over after five years. You tend to forget how hard it is to have a newborn. You forget the lack of sleep, all the nappy changes and how fragile they are during that first year of their existence.

What advice would you give to another family preparing to add to theirs?
Planning, reusing, repurposing, don’t be too critical on yourself, let go. Being a parent is not a perfect science, there will be trial and error and opportunities to learn from our mistakes and grow. What works for one family might not for another. We often neglect our partners so make time for each other, it doesn’t have to be a date night, even if you just put the kids to bed early and have a quiet meal together. Enjoy every step of the process.

Have you felt the financial impact of having more children or do you feel that it was worth every fil?
It does not impact you as much when they are little, as you can reuse and repurpose many items. Small children are generally happy with most things. We experienced the biggest financial impact when our third child started school. We benefit greatly by using as many two-for-one deals as we can, plus all the ones you can find on the Groupon app. We used the Dubai Summer Promotion at Dubai Parks and Resorts and other summer offers, too. There are many restaurants that offer a free children’s meal with an adult meal so that always helps as well.

What are the benefits of having a larger family?
Unconditional love and support. Especially with being expats, the children form amazing friendships, but often, their friends move back to their home countries or onto the next adventure. They can always rely on their siblings to support them during these troubling times. They are given the opportunity to develop teamwork and leadership skills.

Just one more

About the tribe: Sofi Chabowski and her squad of three are eagerly awaiting their fourth member, due to arrive any day now.

What are your biggest worries, if any, about having another child?
No worries, really. I’ve had a newborn with one and two other little ones before so I know what to expect. It’s always a juggle in the beginning to work out new routines or ways of doing things, but we quickly get there. I think I lower my standards and expectations slightly with each baby!

How are you preparing the other children for the arrival of the new baby?
My other kids have known about the new arrival since early on in my pregnancy. The oldest understands and remembers the others being born so she is very excited. My second is excited but also thinks he has a baby in his tummy! So, I’d say he doesn’t really get it – he was not yet two years old when his younger brother was born so probably doesn’t really remember. And the youngest (only seventeen months) has no clue whatsoever!

How do you plan to develop a new routine for your growing family?
Trial and error! From previous experience I know roughly what works and what doesn’t, but also each baby’s routine is different (and constantly changing) and my other kids' needs and routines have evolved, too. I try to keep everything as simple as possible and remember not to expect too much of them in a day as they’re only little. If things go pear-shaped, it’s usually because I’ve tried to fit in too much and expected too much of the kids. All you can do is try and do things differently the next day until you get it “right”.

What would be your top organisational tips for other families?
Keep it simple – don’t try and squeeze too much in or you’ll be constantly rushing the kids, which is stressful for all and usually ends in tears from one of them (or even you!). Take it slow and give the kids responsibility and time to achieve things themselves and be accountable for things such as putting on shoes and making their own breakfast, as once they learn those things it’s one less thing for me to do. Also, bulk-cook food. I always have home-cooked meals in the freezer for the days when I don’t have time to cook – or can’t be bothered!

Anything you wish you’d done differently?
I don’t think so. Having four kids in five years has been tough, physically. Mostly from the pregnancy point of view. I hate being pregnant and really feel depleted of energy by it. They’re very close. Yes, they fight like siblings do, but they can also be so loving and caring towards each other. I think, and hope, they’ll be a strong unit growing up and look out for each other when they can.

What advice would you give to another family preparing to add to their gang?
Go for it! Yes, it’s hard work if you have lots of little ones and change is always a bit daunting but it’s so rewarding, too. Keep things simple and don’t make things harder than they need to be. If your current routine isn’t working, change it to try something else. There’s no right and wrong, it’s whatever works best for you and your family. I think there’s a lot of pressure put on parents to “get it right” or “follow the trend” but at the end of the day, a happy mum and dad and happy kids are all that matters.

Have you felt the financial impact of having more children or do you feel that it doesn’t really matter how many you have?
To be honest, because our kids are so close in age and all still young, we haven’t felt the financial impact too much yet. The older two are now in primary school and those school fees are a stinger (although their school is very reasonably priced compared to some!) but I’m sure once all four are in school, particularly secondary school, it will be a different story. But that’s a long way off and a lot can change between now and then. As far as things they need, once you have the baby stuff it just gets recycled for each child. I’m definitely conscious of not over-indulging the kids and again, keeping it simple and not being materialistic about things. And they have to share – I’m not buying four of everything just because they all want it, they can take turns. As for play areas et cetera, I always ask about sibling discounts and loyalty cards or vouchers.

What are the benefits of having a larger family?
I enjoy the business of a big family. There’s always someone for the kids to play with and they’re a close unit, all looking out for one another. It can be difficult to divide my time to give quality time with each child, but just 10 minutes here and there with each is just as beneficial as a few hours.

The Fab Four

About the tribe: Edwina Viel, a blogger, is mum to Luca, eight, Sofia, six, Lorenzo, five, and Leonardo, three.

What were your biggest worries about having more than one child?
It is always that fear if you could love any other child more than you love the first. However, I learnt that, as mothers and fathers, it is incredible the new love that comes with each child.

How did you prepare the older siblings for the arrival of a new baby?
We talk to them, even when they are young. I didn’t realise that, even if your child isn’t speaking yet, they comprehend and absorb so much. I noticed that each of my children become very clingy as my belly grew bigger in anticipation of the new arrival. It is important to make them a part of the process, and the new baby always “buys” gifts for the older siblings. It’s a great trick.

How did you develop a new routine for your growing family?
There is always a great deal of trial and error. It is easier when the older children have routines for school and nursery because it always gave me a little bit of time with the baby. Then, often when the older children come home, I try to spend more time with them. But to all the mummies, be kind and forgive yourself when the new routine rolls quickly into chaos. Just go with the flow.

What would be your top organisational tips?
I actually stopped doing playdates often after the birth of my third child because of time constraints. I still have playdates occasionally but something in my children’s timetable had to give. In the beginning, when I had one or two, it was easy to organise but with three,
it became more complicated. For school, we always prepare everything the night before. The bags and snack boxes are packed the night before, and the uniform is laid out. This way the mornings are less chaotic and we only have to organise breakfast and getting changed.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Actually, no. I won’t deny it is hard work to have four children but I love the chaos, and accept it as it is. There is no control over most situations, but that’s the joy.

Have you felt the financial impact of having more children or do you feel that it doesn’t really matter how many you have?
Of course, I do feel the increased cost of having four children. Most play areas for four children for two hours adds up to Dhs400 or Dhs500 an excursion, so we try to be cautious about doing it too often. We have ski lessons for four children and that also adds up. Finally, school fees are our largest expense but we are happy our school takes into account sibling discount policy because every little bit helps. It is worth looking for two-for-one deals, and to organise children’s birthday parties on weekdays rather than the weekend.

What are the benefits of having a larger family?
The benefits would be the joy, interaction and laughter. The kids are such a fabulous unit together that they don’t need anyone. Often when we travel, the kids’ clubs are empty and my children essentially are their own kids’ club. They laugh, they fight, they cry, but it is the total sheer joy of being the six of us.

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