12 Surprising Things About Parenting in Abu Dhabi

kera-thompsonabu-dhabiScreen Shot 2013-08-20 at 3.16.07 PMOur sixth Motherhood Around the World interview features Kera Thompson, who lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband, McSean, and three kids, Owen, 6, Asher, 4, and Elena, 1. Here are 12 things that have surprised her about being a mom in Abu Dhabi…

Kera’s background:

At 18 years old, Kera was living in Utah when she met a cute guy at a party. “We got engaged within ten days and got married within six months,” Kera says. Over the next six years, they had two kids, and although they were happy in Utah, they were both interested in living abroad. So, when McSean found out about a job doing data analysis for the Abu Dhabi government, they jumped at the chance. At the time, Kera had never been out of the country. “The international terminal at the airport was enough to freak me out,” she laughs. “When we arrived in Abu Dhabi at 9:30pm, I walked out of the airport, and my glasses immediately steamed up. It was over 100 degrees. The smells, the air, the landscape…I was totally overwhelmed by how different it was.”

But after four years in Abu Dhabi, Kera says, unequivocally, “I love it here.” The family lives in a large, three-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city, overlooking the ocean and the corniche, the bustling ocean-side promenade. “I love the city lifestyle, the travel opportunities, the international culture. I love feeling so close to the other side of the world.” This year, Kera founded Interwoven, an online shop featuring pillows, rugs and throws made by local artisans. “Abu Dhabi is all about opportunity. The city is developing at a crazy rate. It has inspired me.”

McSean’s job contract ends this winter, so the family will likely return to the States. “I’m scared to go back to Utah and feel like this was my fifteen minutes of world experience,” Kera says. “I love Utah—it’s a great place to raise kids—but it will be hard to return once we’re experienced something so different. It will be a big transition.”


On the city’s big changes: Abu Dhabi’s history is fascinating. Forty years ago, the place was a desert. Nothing but sand and Bedouins—tribal clans that had been living in tents and herding camel for thousands of years. Then they find oil, and all of a sudden the locals are wearing couture clothes, driving Lamborghinis and living in glamorous villas. Abu Dhabi suddenly became one of the richest cities in the world, and if you’re a native Emirati, the government will give you land and money to start a business…


…Still, if you drive a couple miles out of the city, there’s sand as far as the eye can see and people living traditionally, as if the city doesn’t even exist.


On the desert: We’ll sometimes drive an hour outside the city to camp in the desert. We stay at a site called “Two Trees,”since it has the only two trees for miles and miles. We get there at sundown, otherwise it’s unbearably hot. We cook outside and sleep in tents. Last time we went, we woke up in the morning and panicked at the sight of 40 camels galloping towards us. Luckily, they stopped running just before they trampled us, but my kids were literally nose-to-nose with the herd.


On dealing with the heat: It gets unbelievably hot here. Today it’s 122 degrees outside with 100 percent humidity. How did people manage before A/C?! Historically, people here just turned their clocks around—sleeping during the day and working and socializing at night. Emirati culture still comes alive at night. It’s very typical to see whole families—infants and toddlers included—strolling the corniche after midnight. Kids ride their bikes in the dark. My local friend regularly texts me at 2am, when her whole family is up. The tricky part is that they’ve also had to conform to the Western clock because of business. It causes a lot of problems. You can’t stay up all day and all night. My sons’ teachers say that kids will fall asleep in class, and I’ve seen local children acting very unruly because they’re so overtired. I think people will figure out how to make it work with time. My kids still go to bed at 7:30pm.

On (super) malls: In Abu Dhabi, the mall is the place to be. When we first arrived here from Utah, it was 10pm and we were jetlagged, so my husband, who had already been here for a few months, was like, “Let’s go to the mall.” When we got there, it was absolutely enormous and packed with people. There are at least six giant malls within a five-mile radius of our home and more being built every day. They’re all trying to be The Biggest, and they’re all designed to be a one-stop for everything. They have skating rinks, bowling alleys, supermarkets, amusement rides…and they’re open late into the night, since that’s when most locals do their shopping.


On hiring help: I’d never hired a nanny before moving to Abu Dhabi, but now we have full-time help. Our nanny, Tsega, is Ethiopian, and she helps cook, clean and take care of the kids six days a week.

Most domestic help comes from outside the country—Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines or Bangladesh—and it’s extremely affordable. People here say “nanny” or “housemaid.” Everyone—both locals and expats—has a housemaid, and often a driver. I’ve seen everyday Emiratis with a maid for each child!

I realize this is a controversial subject for some American women. Among the women I knew in Utah, it was common to have five or six kids and take care of them full-time, with no help. I felt real pressure to have a beautiful meal prepared every night, vacuum lines on the carpet, kids looking like they stepped out of Crewcuts—all while having perky breasts and wearing size 6 skinny jeans. For me, that was impossible. I felt like I was constantly failing. Soon after we moved to Abu Dhabi, our middle child, Asher, was diagnosed with autism, and we hired Tsega because I just couldn’t keep up. She swept in, with her soft gentle voice and impeccable cooking and cleaning skills, and saved us. She gave me TIME! Time to focus on my kids individually; time to actually have date nights with my husband; time to start my own business. Having full-time help has been a huge benefit to living in this city, and it’s something I’ll be sad to give up.

It’s worth mentioning that there has been some local controversy here about housemaids being worked too hard. For example, the Ethiopian government recently stopped allowing the UAE to recruit Ethiopian maids because of reports that they’re literally being asked to work day and night, seven days a week, by local families. I can only speak to my own experience, but we talk often to Tsega about her hours and pay and are very careful to make sure feels she is being treated fairly. I truly feel like she is part of our family and I adore her. Right now we’re paying for her to take computer and English classes so that when we leave, she’ll be in a position to move forward with her career and send more money to her family back home.


On befriending local moms: Most of the “mom friends” I’ve made are expats from around the world. I don’t have as many Emirati mom friends—maybe three. When I have gotten the chance to speak with Emirati women, they have been very friendly. But Emirati moms are rarely out alone with their kids during the day. Local moms usually only bring their kids to parks at night, along with the whole extended family. Typically 15 to 20 people will gather with a grill and meat and make coffee and smoke shisha (a water pipe filled with flavored tobacco) while the children play. It’s wonderful and warm and very family focused…but my kids are already asleep when it’s happening. Recently I met a young, single Emirati woman who owned her own business; at first glance she was totally intimidating, but once we started chatting she was so cool.

On being a woman in Abu Dhabi: It’s definitely different to be a woman here. There are lots of rules, which, from a Western perspective, can be frustrating. For example, while I was pregnant with Elena and went to the local hospital for routine visits, my husband would have to sit in a separate male waiting room. It bugged me, and I would end up waiting in there with him, and the other men would look at me strangely. There are also special grocery lines and buses designated for “women and people with disabilities.”


On Emirati fashion: Emirati women look and smell amazing. I cannot stress this enough. A typical Emirati woman wears an abaya, a gown that covers her entire body, and a shayla, a long scarf that covers her hair and sometimes face. A progressive woman might have her bangs peeking out, but that would be frowned upon by more conservative families. Most women use oud—Arab incense—in their closets to scent their abayas, so you can literally smell them coming from ten feet away. It smells so good. Bags, shoes and watches are big status symbols here since the rest of a woman’s clothes are covered up. You’ll see women in abayas carrying huge Louis Vuitton bags and wearing six-inch Louboutin heels. The abayas are generally tailored to each woman and sometimes a woman will purposely have hers tailored to swing open a bit so you can see her gorgeous designer clothing underneath. Their makeup and eyebrows are perfect. Having hair on your body is completely unacceptable. There is a laser hair removal place on every block, and everyone, even men, gets waxed.

From a Western perspective, I have complicated feelings about the fact that some women are so covered, since I wonder if it takes away their identities. But I know that many women are proud to wear the traditional dress. It’s a status symbol, and usually, the more beautiful you are, the more covered you are supposed to be. It’s supposed to preserve the purity and honor of the wearer.

Although Emirati women dress traditionally, the United Arab Emirates is a progressive, modern, Western-influenced country, with people from all over the world. So you see people dressed in all different ways. You’re expected to dress modestly in public areas, especially during Ramadan, but Westerners don’t always heed that rule.


On food: My favorite local snack is shawarma, which is chicken or beef from a spit, mixed with pickles and garlic mayonnaise and wrapped in a warm pita. I also love cheese maneesh—warm Arabic bread with melted cheese. They’re sold at restaurants every 500 feet.

Like in the U.S., however, obesity is a growing problem here. Kids eat lots of packaged, sugary snacks, which are available at every corner store. One of Owen’s friends opened his lunch box at school, and it was just filled with Ding Dongs!

American fast food is very popular. There’s McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s…even a Shake Shack! But there are some subtle differences. None of the chains serve pork; Subway has a Chicken Tikka Masala sub and McDonalds has a McArabia, which is a chicken patty in a pita.

On school: There are public schools here, but only Emirati children are allowed to attend. All expat kids—and some Emirati children, including the royal family—go to private schools. My oldest son Owen attends GEMS, which is part of an international chain of schools. We’re lucky that my husband’s job pays for the school, which is about $11,000 per year, per child. It’s more as they get older. Owen’s friends are mostly Arab, Sri Lankan and Indian. I love that the emphasis of the school is on “world citizenship.” By the time they reach middle school, students are taking school trips to Tanzania and Kenya. They go to India for basketball tournaments. By the time a student graduates from GEMS High School, he’ll be fluent in Arabic, he’ll have traveled to at least five countries and he’ll have friends from all over the world.

The school is great, but there is little system in place for kids with special needs. Talking openly about children with disabilities is considered taboo. It’s taken me four years to find the right programs for Asher. Autism rates are on the rise here, just like they are in the U.S., but there’s still little movement to help kids on the spectrum.

On driving “safety”: There are no car seat or seatbelt laws here. You will regularly see toddlers with their heads peeking out of sunroofs or moms holding their infants in the front seat. The government and the car companies are trying to educate people about the dangers, but the most locals (Emiratis as well as people from countries like India and Egypt) believe that a mother’s arms are the safest place for her child.


On parenting style: The Emirati parenting style seems more laid back than the American parenting style. Parents here are more willing to let children be children—to let them run around and be a little wild. You see kids on their own more often here—going to corner stores or out playing soccer. At the mall, young children are running around, often without a parent in sight. Here, I don’t worry that I’ll be judged if my kids misbehave. For example, I wouldn’t think twice about taking my kids out to a fancy restaurant. Even at the nicest places there are always little kids running around and lots of babies in strollers. Sometimes they’re screaming and loud! It’s taught me to let go a bit with my boys—to trust them more and allow them to make mistakes so they can grow.


P.S. Motherhood in Norway, Japan, Central Africa, Northern Ireland and Mexico. Plus, why French kids eat everything and babies sleeping outside in Denmark.

(Thank you to my friend and writer Lina Perl for help reporting and interviewing. Skyline photos at top by Dave Yoder for National Geographic)

  1. Laurianne says...

    As a Mama to eight and Grandma to twelve, including our newest granddaughter, one month old Adeline, I avidly read every article in this series. FASCINATING and instructive. I shared the series with our daughter, Adeline’s Mommy!

  2. Jenny says...

    I’d love to hear (read) an update on her transition back to the US (or wherever they settled after his contract was up)!

  3. Hey Joanna,

    I absolutely adore this series!
    It’s so nice to hear and see first hand what it’s like to be a mum in different areas of the world.

  4. This is such a great read and came at perfect timing. With the possibility of moving to Abu Dhabi it is wonderful to be able to get a glimpse into the life of an expat living there. Thank you!

  5. Tuga says...

    This is amazing, lovely article.

  6. DT says...

    I am older (60+) & never had children but I am fascinated by this series & eagerly read about raising children in different parts of the world. thx!

  7. Hello,
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  8. This was so interesting!

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  10. Amazing story! I want your life lol. I so want to live in Abu Dhabi when I graduate college. Thanks for sharing :)

  11. I don’t have kids yet, but I’ve lived in a few countries now. This series is fascinating. It could be a book!

  12. My wife and I thought we saw you post something on Motherhood in Italy, but we can’t find it. Can you help us locate it? We love this series! Thanks!

  13. I was just wondering what happened to the article on parenting in Italy? I was just telling my daughter about it and we went to look for it on your blog and couldn’t find it. I love this series!!!

  14. Thank you so much Joanna for this series! It is so inspiring readning this as a mom of 13-months old boy Staś. I really enjoy following these stories and – mentally:)- sharing my parenting experience with mothers you have interviewed:) Would love to read more…Keep us updated with it:)

    Greetings from Poland Warsaw

  15. Massively enjoyed reading this! I live in Dubai, and thought Kera gave such a wonderful, down to earth despription to many aspects of life in the UAE. THANK YOU :)

  16. An actually breath-takingly good-looking couple.

  17. I LOVE this series! One of the most interesting things I read on the internet. Thank you!


  18. educates people on healing without medicine.

  19. I love pics! Kisses from France

  20. This is the best series ever. We are totally obsessed :) Thank you for featuring these fascinating and educating posts on your blog.
    Xx from dusty

  21. I love love love this series!! I definitely look forward to reading it and love sharing the stories with my husband. We’re about to be second time parents and we’ve adopted some of the ideas in the series. Thank you thank you!! And she is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen!

  22. I agree with everyone else that I never want this series to end! Let’s do every country in the world!

  23. gosh, this series is just wonderful! I look forward to it every week. what a great testament to the fact that there is no “right” way or one way to parent. beautiful.

  24. Love this series!!! :)

  25. Wonderful to read what you’ve been up to Kera. I used to read your blog when you were the running mommy! Congrats on Elena! Living in Dubai we have had similar experiences as well and its been an amazing experience. Living abroad certainly opens ones eyes to do many new things.

  26. Wonderful series on motherhood and I love your blog so much! So interesting to hear about other mamas around the world and to see the similarities and differences in our experiences. Also nice to see an interracial marriage featured. Thanks for sharing and congrats on the new baby.

  27. what a beautiful woman

  28. Thank you for this Joanna! I have missed Kera since her blog went dark years ago! I am glad to see she is doing well – and had a little girl! How great!

  29. Joanna,

    Can you continue this series indefinitely? I am a 27 year old high school teacher, no kids yet, but I love hearing about all the different cultural practices. I find it informative to see how children are raised and what the emphasis is in education, family, and social practices. Thanks so much!

  30. I love that this series has opened the eyes to so many who wouldn’t have thought of living in another country before. I think not only will it enrich your life, it will most certainly enrich and educate your children’s lives. I personally love living overseas and hope I get to for many years in the future.

  31. I am head-over-heels in love with this series!

  32. Jo says...

    I am really loving this series. I’ll need to share it with my sister in law who has been living in Luxembourg with her family for the last year. I’m sure she’ll get a kick out of this.

  33. I love this series, absolutely fascinating. Side note, this family is out of a magazine, the mom looks like a model, and those babies! Adorable

  34. Thanks for posting these! This has been very favorite series of yours thus far! I’m an American living in South Africa, with my South African husband – no kids yet though. I think hearing about families, parenting, etc in other countries is fascinating!

  35. I just adore this series! Thanks for such an interesting read :)

  36. I just adore this series! Thanks for such an interesting read :)

  37. It is common in Sweden as well to allow children to be children, that is, a bit wild and rambunctious. We don’t have children ourselves but my husband says it allows kids to “sow their wild oats” as kids and then they (hopefully) grow up and have gotten it out of their systems. He went to school with a kid that he said was a holy terror and that boy grew up to be a lovely young man. :-) It is interesting to read about all of the different places to raise children. I love this series as well! Good work!

  38. Joanna this series is genius, I’m truly loving it. I’m a new mom, living in Abu Dhabi for the past 5 years now, and I’ve been a fan of Kera’s blog for a while so imagine my surprise to see her featured on one of my favourite blogs ever! Love this. It’s such a gift to be able to hear about parenting from such interesting women from all over the world, and figure out how to incorporate some of the things they have learnt raising their own children with my own baby girl. Can’t wait to see next week’s!

  39. I love this, I am also an American living in Abu Dhabi with my family :)

  40. This series is amazing. Thank you, to you and Kera and all of the women who have participated! I am completely riveted by each new story. Keep ’em coming!

  41. Amazing! And I love the pictures too! I’m in Singapore, and can relate to some of the things Kera says. Singapore is multicultural, with strong Asian and Western influences; many of the Muslim ladies here are similar to the ones Kera describes. It’s fascinating how some aspects of culture and parenting just transcend geographical boundaries.

  42. I find it interesting that the Ethiopian and other foreign maids have been mentioned. I lived in Ethiopia for two years and every day that you went to the airport there was a line of young poorer women at the airport flying out to Saudia Arabia and other middle eastern countries for housekeeper jobs. Unfortunately, it is well known that once they arrive many of their employers take away their passports, don’t pay them, or if they do send it only to their family in Ethiopia, and are rarely ever seen by their families again. The Ethiopian government has been urged by the community and outside countries to regulate this issue more and I am glad to hear that they have had some improvement, though when I left in June this year I had not heard anything successful. The night I left Ethiopia there was a long line of women at the airport waiting to fly out to their new employment in the middle east.

  43. Joanna, I–and it sounds like a million others–would love it if you made this project even bigger. I know I’d buy a book with these kinds of stories!

  44. wow I want to live there. Awesome interview series Jo. that was the most interesting so far, I wanna live there!

  45. Lovely family. I wouldn’t want to live or mother there personally but I really enjoyed reading about their experience. I love this series!

  46. Love love love this series! Favorite stop each Monday.

  47. HY says...

    Joanna, this has to be my favorite series that you’ve featured! I’d love to see this expand into other topic areas and how they’re different around the world. Truly fascinating!

  48. Really enjoyed reading this article. I’m from the islands but I don’t think that I would be able to live in such a hot climate. Sandra

  49. So fascinating! Thank you for sharing :) My brother’s family lives in Kenya and it is similar with having a Nanny. I personally think the US emphasizes too much on “do it yourself”. I have a child on the spectrum too, and its pretty much my husband and I relying on one another to help with the kids.

  50. What a beautiful family. Sounds like a very interesting and cool (not literally!) place to live. This series is excellent!

  51. Say Hi to Nermal for me!

    (sorry couldn’t help myself)

    It’s nice to get a more down to earth glimpse in to these places instead of just relying on television. How refreshing.

  52. they are such a beautiful family. thanks for sharing this – i’m learning so much from this series!

  53. I cannot believe you posted this today. Just last night my husband talked about a job offer here. I was a little nerves as I have not heard or read anything about living as a woman in Dhabi. This post has made me excited for this new adventure.

  54. Please, please, PLEASE, never let this series stop. It’s my favorite blog read.

  55. I like this series too but this is the first one where I thought: there’s so much I expected to read & it’s not here. I wonder if it’s because her husband works for the government. The problems of “guest” workers is HUGE & not a local controversy. Also, what goes on re: the status of women. You simply cannot live there & leave it at a few sentences. Nope.

    So this one felt “canned” to me….I’m sorry as it looks like a lovely family. I also enjoyed the part about the camping & camels.

    • This comment has been removed by the author.

    • It’s a lifestyle blog. If a few people learn something new and go educate themselves and/or get involved, I feel like it will have done it’s job.

      No number of sentences would ever do topics like these “justice”. I turn to other sources for in-depth researched and fact-checked information. If Jo started running long, hard-hitting articles on tough subjects she’d lose her readership – it’s not what she does, or what we’re generally here for. I’m just pleased such topics are getting any air time at all – and that she has readers so willing to engage/comment. Introducing topics in an accessible way to a readership that’s not here for that is a brave and great and small step of outreach. It’s a beginning – and getting folks to begin engaging is one of the hardest parts.

  56. I love this series as I learn so many new things. I think it’s fascinating how the families in Abu Dhabi stay up late at night to hang out.

  57. The new ones are always more interesting than the last!!

  58. I LOVE this. I grew up in Dearborn, MI, which has a very prominent Middle Eastern culture, and have since moved from the state. I grew up eating at Mid Eastern restaurants, learning arabic words on the bus, playing with friends whose mothers wore abayas.

    Anytime my husband and I mention that we would love to live somewhere in this area (Abu Dhabi is always at the top of my list) we get the worst comments. I find it to be so upsetting – it’s a beautifully rich culture, very different from our own, but I would love to immerse myself in it for a few years.

    This is GREAT for raising awareness. Joanna, I can’t tell you how much I love this series. I think I say it every Monday. Thank you!

  59. I love this series—so interesting to hear the stories of different families and showing other countries from such a real perspective.

    On a random note, those camels are adorable.

  60. I just moved to Qatar with my 15 month old and this article rings so true about everything I have experienced here so far. Thank you!

  61. What a gorgeous mom. Wow. And I appreciate her honesty and perspective. I love this series so much!

  62. I absolutely love this series! Please keep it up!!!

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  64. This article was amazing! Loved reading about Abu Dhabi. There are definitely many pros to raising children in a developing city.

  65. I just can’t get enough of this series! The more I read it, the more it has helped me to relax and not over think every little thing as a new mom. So inspiring. THANK YOU.

  66. This is wonderful! Thanks a lot for sharing this searies. You give us an additional reason to love Mondays. I do love them- they are like a new beginning , a new chance to make things better.
    I look forward to this each Monday.

    Thanks a lot,
    Aura/Appreciative Joy curator

  67. Loved reading this! Seems like a very interesting place to raise children. I love that they have the chance to travel to so many countries and meet friends all over the world while they are in school!

  68. Its awesome to hear how Kera has not only adapted but also loves the lifestyle in Abudhabi! You go girl!

  69. jm says...

    What a lovely family and an interesting post. Love this series so much. ps ! I hope Kera will keep her business and have a babysitter for date nights+ when she gets back home.

  70. I look forward to this series every Monday and have linked the Motherhood Around the World page to no less than five people. Every compliment that you have received for this series is truly deserved and I’m with the few others who have mentioned a book- imagine the photography!
    As a 24 year old, single woman with no children I enjoy this series for the encouragement of what could be in the future. At the end of this week I move to Spain to teach for a year (or more) and one of the saddest comments I have constantly received leading up to my departure has been, ” travel now, once you have kids and a family it’s not possible”. These women prove daily that it is possible without losing yourself and I’m so thankful for their inspiration to me and I’m sure others.

  71. Amazing article! & their children are absolutely stunning…

  72. I am loving this series and I’m not even a mom! It’s just interesting to hear about how other people do what they do all over the world-

  73. what a beautiful family!

  74. Lovely insights snapshop of life as an expat overseas; thanks and gratitude to all(most beautiful family:-)!

  75. Truly eye opening! As a Canadian raising my first baby in Australia I am loving this series.

  76. What a beautiful, beautiful post! Kera is amazing! It makes me want to move my kids to a different country too!

  77. This is too cool! Thanks so much for doing this series- I am LOVING reading all about different cultures!

  78. I have to say…I LOVE this series!! It is *fascinating* to me to hear about parenting in different countries. My husband is Air Force and we’re hoping to live OCONUS sometime soon and I can’t wait!

    It may sound silly, but this series has given me confidence to live in other countries with children. For some reason, moving abroad as a single person or even as a couple sounded cool and pretty easy. But moving with children (trying to find good schools, etc) sounded a bit intimidating. Now, however, I’m looking forward to it again! Thanks for the series, Joanna, and for sharing your experience, Kera!

  79. This was an amazing read- what an interesting life to lead! It inspires me to travel and just live life with full trust in the art of adventure.

    Simply Akshara

  80. Amazing. I want to move there now lol.

  81. Is Kera Mormon? (Utah, multiple kids, pressure to be a good housewife…)

    If so, I’m wondering how she thinks that may influence her perception of the locals and living in an Arab country.

    • Multiple kids – 3 kids is now not a normal family but something that must have been decided for people by a religion???

      And there is no pressure from media,
      blogs, other churches to be a good housewife? When my mother was parenting us she never even heard the term “good mother” – there were just mothers and that term didn’t reach Ireland from the Mormon religion!

    • L says...

      Whoa, Grace, it’s kind of a fair assumption (and she wasn’t in any way disparaging the family…), not to mention an accurate one. Why the emphatic reply?

    • I am not suggesting that she is disparaging the family but if you look at her comment – the only thing implying that she is a Mormon is that she is from Utah – multiple kids and pressure to be a good housewife are not exclusive to the Mormon religion.

  82. Such an interesting perspective, especially since she’s a mom to a child with autism. It must be frustrating to not find the programs he needs, but great that she can get a full-time nanny for support. Also awesome that they’re paying for the nanny to takes classes.

  83. I’m sorry, you couldn’t pay me enough to live there. Read this account of the slave labor being held against their will to build buildings in that intense heat. This couple sounds like they’re treating their nanny more than fairly but there are many other expats who are taking advantage. I have friends from India and the Phillipines who have met or known folks enslaved there. This article is super interesting and disturbing.

    • I agree. One has to be VERY careful in labeling the UAE “progressive”.

    • I’m with you. Progressive is not the word I would use.

    • Wow, I had never heard of this. This was really a terrifying and heartbreaking read. The slavery described in this piece sickens me. My mother moved to the U.S. in the 80s to make more money and have a family. I shudder to think that if she were to move to a place like Abu Dhabi she would be enslaved. I am thankful she came to the U.S.
      Thank you for posting this.

    • Wow, I had never heard of this. This was really a terrifying and heartbreaking read. The slavery described in this piece sickens me. My mother moved to the U.S. in the 80s to make more money and have a family. I shudder to think that if she were to move to a place like Abu Dhabi she would be enslaved. I am thankful she came to the U.S.
      Thank you for posting this.

    • And has anyone already mentioned that both homosexuality and heterosexual sex outside marriage are considered crimes punishable by law? This is now what it means to be a “progressive” and “modern” country?

    • Wow, it is so interesting to read these comments. We (I myself am American, living in Abu Dhabi) can seem so sheltered and ignorant in our thinking because of what we read in the US media. Before you really bash a place and say, “You would have to pay me to live there” you should really walk a mile in someone else’s shoes who actually does live there. We Americans get such a bad rap all over the world and it for comments like the ones I am reading. It makes me embarrassed.

    • White Ink – totally agree. I’m a dual American/UK citizen (born in UK, raised in the US, now back in the UK) and travel frequently to the UAE for work. The comments I get from my American friends when I tell them that a female friend and I went out for dinner (without a man! oh my!) in Dubai are unbelievable, bordering on depressing. Hopefully the introduction of non-mainstream media like Al Jazeera will help some Americans realise that the Middle East is made up of a range of countries, some more progressive than others (within the context of the M.E.)Obviously yes, there are big, unacceptable issues with human rights violations towards migrant labour in the UAE… just as there are in the US (hellooo, migrant farm workers in CA?). The dramatic black and white generalizations of what is and isn’t oppressive/progressive are not only embarrassing, but unhelpful and dangerous.

    • Gigi, thanks so much for that update about the author.

      For the folks who live there, I’m sure you’re aware of the recent story of the Norwegian woman who was in Dubai and reported to police that she’d been raped by a coworker and they then arrested her for drinking and sex outside marriage? Unfortunately, her story is not unique. That difference in value systems is the reason I would not travel or work there. For those who aren’t familiar with this story, it’s here:

    • I’ve always thought of UAE as being much more progressive than many Middle Eastern countries, and I have female friends who live there, but this story of a woman being sentenced to jail for reporting her rape was so disgusting and upsetting that I can’t see myself ever visiting, let alone living in, a country that upholds sharia law. The rape victim has since been pardoned, thank god, but honestly.

    • These are horrible stories. But you should also take a look at some horrible treatment of rape victims in America, its history and perpetuation of slavery, and the difference in punishment between rape versus property crime(the all important right in America). Not to mention its rampant racism. NO country or culture is perfect. This series is showing a certain perspective. There are plenty of people around the world who have just as negative a view or worse of America because of looking at one particular aspect.

    • I live in Florida which has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation. There are plenty of sex slaves and others here. Perhaps you should read a bit about your own country before you criticize another.

  84. It’s so interesting how parenting differs from one culture to the next. I love that children are allowed to be children there, running around and such which sort of surprised me. I would’ve thought they were kept a lot more restrained than in America. What an adventure and how interesting to get this different perspective on parenting in another country.

  85. Loved this too – what a beautiful mum! Is this series going on indefinitely? Please? I’m sure it’s a lot of work but it’s wonderful.

  86. Outstanding and fascinating series

  87. So eye-opening. What beautiful children!

  88. I am enthralled with this series. I wish it would never end!

  89. What an amazing experience for this family and their children. Absolutely gorgeous family too!

    I was impressed that they are paying for their nanny to take classes. Abuse of foreigners, particularly women who do domestic work is a sad practice that happens everywhere. To leave a place better than you find it is the best anyone can do.

    You never know, now that you have the travel bug your work or your husbands work may take you guys to another country one day!

  90. Thank you for this series!

  91. I’m not even close to being a parent and i LOVE this series!!

  92. This is such an amazing series! I don’t think I would ever have the nerve to make such a huge lifestyle change like so many of these women, but it sure is fun reading about their experiences. Who knows, maybe one day!

  93. What a beautiful family! Can’t stress enough how wonderful this series is! Please make it a book!

  94. I love this series. It’s so great to hear how other people do it all over the place.

  95. H says...

    Well done, I can so relate to this entire post. I lived in the UAE (and I’ve also lived in Utah, actually!) and I totally understand and love this culture. I woukd pay big money for a schawarma and fattoush from the eat&drink. One thing I experienced that isn’t totally the same as described here is my Arabic language abilities… my school professed to churn out Arabic speakers, but in reality none of the bratty western kids took it seriously and when it came to exam time the teacher walked around the room filling in the answers for us so we would all pass… shhh!

  96. I continue to learn so much with each post. Loved this one too! They seem like such a sweet family!

  97. I adore this series! Such a great idea!

    I too am parenting abroad. My children were raised in the US as small children, but we’ve been in the UK for the past five years when my youngest was 8 and my oldest was 14. Because of their ages, the move has had a huge impact on their social perspectives. My oldest is now turning 20 and she plans on staying in the UK or Europe indefinitely. My youngest will soon be 14 and he gets a bit too nostalgic about the materialism that is rampant in the plush Chicago suburbs where he was raised and talks frequently about going back when he’s older.

    I just took on British citizenship making me a dual citizen. It is my hope that we will experience living somewhere else in Europe for a few years since having British citizenship affords me to live and work anywhere in the European Union. My husband and I are also hoping to retire in France.

  98. What a wonderful article! I LOVED to read all about a place so far away and so amazing. To bad you can’t stay…bring that nanny home with you! :) I grew up overseas and it has made me such a better person, more accepting and understanding of other cultures. Thanks for sharing xoxo

  99. We also are really enjoying this series. What a wonderful opportunity this couple has had to live here with their children!

  100. What a beautiful family, inside and out! I love how happy they seem!

  101. This is incredible! As a person who is hoping to live abroad for a bit (perhaps with children), I look forward to reading and really get a lot out of each post.

  102. So, so, so interesting. An old boss of mine lives in Abu Dhabi and had a baby last year. I’ve been wondering about her experience!

  103. Fascinating window into their lives and such beautiful pictures! I used to live in Dubai when I was younger and have many friends living there now with children, it sounds like a wonderful lifestyle and very different to parenting in Sweden.

  104. I’m so glad you covered my ‘home’ as part of this series – shukran! As a non-Mom, it was great to see the Gulf featured. Living first in Dubai, now Qatar and maybe Abu Dhabi in the future, Hubs and I are about to go into our 7th year and love it here.

    What wonderful photography and such a gorgeous family!

    • Me too! It’s the first thing I check every Monday! I love this series.

  105. Wow, this post was very interesting! You hear only certain things about Abu Dhabi but nothing like this. Thanks for the post. By the way, the woman in the picture talking about fashion was gorgeous!

  106. Loved this one – it sounds so much like Hong Kong!

    • YES! It does sound a little like Hong Kong – or Singapore (where they LOVE malls). In those cultures having help in common. I met a ex pat in Singapore who had 3 nannies – one per child and a maid!

  107. I love this fascinating series!