AJMAN // Emirati parents have a duty to pass on strong "virtues", customs and traditions to their children, says Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid, the Ruler of Ajman.
Sheikh Humaid, a member of the Supreme Council, told The National: "Our aim is to transfer our virtues to the new generation. We like our children to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. We don't want to lose our identity." He raised the issue in a recent speech at a conference organised by the Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi Foundation for Human Development. Then, Sheikh Humaid said children raised by maids were being neglected by their parents and missing out on valuable life lessons.
He urged parents to instil "good moral and ethical conduct" in their children and maintain a strong family structure. With many Emiratis living busy lives, some parents had handed over the responsibility for raising their children to foreign domestic workers, he said. Sheikh Humaid said in the past, children learnt key moral and ethical lessons, as well as local customs and traditions, not only from their parents, but also their extended family and members of the wider community.
Traditionally, young children would often be taken to the local majlis, where they would listen to their elders discuss issues important to the community, which contributed to their upbringing. Sheikh Humaid also stressed the importance of the teachers instructing children, from kindergarten through to the final years of school, about Emirati culture and moral values. During his recent speech, he spoke of the need for young couples to begin their married lives with the right skills and expectations in order to reduce the high number of young marriages ending in divorce.
Dr Khalifa al Shaali, an Ajman-based academic and one of Sheikh Humaid's advisers, said: "Many divorce cases are happening because of lack of experience, and they are not prepared. "Traditionally, the extended family, the grandparents and the parents, would prepare their children for such things. The extended family used to always help in looking after the children." Over the past generation, the influence of the extended family had waned, Dr al Shaali said, with "the load" now falling squarely on the parents' shoulders.
However, this is a trend his own family had tried to resist. The al Shaali house in Ajman is home to four generations, from Dr al Shaali's mother to her great-grandchildren. "The idea is to educate the children and guide them on the correct path and in our customs and traditions," he said. "I want children to be proud to be Emirati." As a frequent speaker at women's groups, Umm Raed, Dr al Shaali's wife, said she tried to convey the need for mothers to retain control of their children's upbringing.
"In some families, the maids have to do everything," she said. "Before, it was the mothers doing everything for the children." Nehal Badri, 27, from Dubai, was living in the US when she had her first child, now aged six. With no full-time domestic help available and no immediate family around, she became used to being her son's primary caregiver. "Some girls here are not used to that," she said. "But, I just don't like the idea of my children always being cared for by a nanny."
Mrs Badri has since had another son, now two, and returned to Dubai where she works for a government agency. She has continued working with the help of her extended family, who take care of her youngest son with the assistance of a maid. "I make the personal effort of doing things like reading to the children and bathing them. This is done only by me," she said. "When I come home from work, I continue the job. I'm their mum."
Amira al Mutawa, a mother of three children aged between nine and one, said she relied on her maid only for "assistance". However, this is not the case in all families, with harried maids often seen struggling as they look after children by themselves. "I try to tell mothers about the importance of being with your children," said Mrs al Mutawa, 36, from Abu Dhabi. "I inherited this from my family. My parents raised us and we were with them. Now, I'm trying to do the same and I value this."
Fatima al Sayegh, a professor of UAE history and society at UAE University, said she was alarmed by a lack of core social values in some young people. "This can endanger our identity, which, in some cases, has been lost," she said. "We can't turn back the clock, but we can lessen the impact by taking control of children's upbringing." It is up to the parents, not a foreign maid from a "different culture with different morals", to help shape a child's identity, according to Dr Azhar Abuali, a clinical psychologist and director of care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.
"The first thing to remember is that maids offer great help," she said. "But they are not professional childcare providers. Nothing can take the role of the mother and father." While it is a reality of modern Emirati society that some mothers will continue to work after having children, often necessitating help from maids and day care centres, Dr Abuali said it was imperative for parents to set aside time for their children.
"We don't want to see the maids taking the kids out to play. We want to see the parents there," she said. "Ultimately, the responsibility for the child is with the parents." firstname.lastname@example.org