x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Being a parent in this transitory world is not easy

I am no good as a mom to Baby A if I don’t have an equally exhausted mom-friend to complain to.

When you’re a newly joined couple, you start looking for other couples to hang out with – for the ease of mind provided by an even number, for the aesthetic symmetry of a dinner table, for the ebb and flow of balanced conversation. When you’re pregnant, you want to connect with anyone else with an occupant in their womb, eager to compare nausea levels and discuss the merits of a foot massage.

And then, when you’re a brand-new mum and dad trying to navigate the war zone that is parenting, you will be desperate to befriend any other parent out there, regardless of their child’s age, in the hopes that that parent has figured out this whole parenting thing and can let you in on a survival tactic or two. (Misery, I hear, loves company.)

Soon after Baby A’s arrival, Mr T and I found ourselves frantic for contact with other parents. We needed help in navigation, badly, and for so many reasons: for us, for her, for our peace of mind, for a reliable source of information from people who have been there and done that, for the understanding that comes with being a fellow parent and for the pleasure of engaging in conversation with a 3- or 4-year-old and knowing that one day, we’ll be doing that with Baby A.

When we’re out for dinner with other parents, it doesn’t matter if Baby A is being a holy terror in her high chair or refusing to eat a single bite or cranky for want of sleep. They’ve been through it and are compassionate; we don’t have to apologise for our daughter.

When we’re out with friends who don’t have children, it is inevitable that either I or Mr T will pick up Her Dictatorship pre-meltdown and step away from the table. Is it because we don’t want to disrupt an “adult” meal, or hear anyone ask us if she’s always like this (she’s not), or deflect a comment about how they don’t know how we do it (we don’t know either), or have them feel sorry for us? Maybe it’s because we’ve vowed never to be the parents with a whiny child disturbing other diners. Whatever the reason, the bottom line remains: it’s stressful.

Life in the UAE is transitory. A couple we’ve met in our building, with a daughter close in age to Baby A, will be moving to Qatar this month, because that is the curse of the expatriate lifestyle. Friends you make here may one day have to leave.

Our devastation at their impending departure is palpable. We’ve connected with them on a level I’ve not found with anyone else in my five years in the UAE. Our families mesh perfectly. Our daughters hug and kiss each other every time they reunite, and instead of playing in parallel, as is expected for their age, they actually interact and play with one another, which is always a source of amazement for us parents.

Once I’m over the mourning period, I’m going to have to go back to my original tactics to find potential friends with kids. Joining Abu Dhabi Mums is high on the agenda. Trolling Facebook groups of parents in different residences in Abu Dhabi is not above me. Engaging in seemingly innocent conversations with other mums and dads at My First Gym (corner of Muroor and Delma streets) while our babies tumble and giggle, and arranging random play dates, must be done. I am no good as a mum to Baby A if I don’t have an equally exhausted mum-friend to complain to.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer living in Abu Dhabi