Lately, Dina Butti has started to feel like her family is the odd one out.
In Dubai, where she lives with her husband Omar and their two children, most kids’ activities have reopened, and UAE parents’ social media accounts are once again flooded with images of families enjoying parks, pools, staycations and everything the city has to offer.
As an active member of the mum blogger scene herself, she says it’s been tough to see everyone enjoying themselves in the New Normal, while she and her family remain in their own self-enforced lockdown. “We often feel like we’re the only ones still staying home, and we do find ourselves questioning our decisions sometimes,” says Egyptian/Canadian Dina, who met her Emirati husband Omar while they were both TV presenters at Dubai One.
“Every night my husband and I check out local numbers and have a brief discussion as to where we’re at with our ‘family rules’,” says Dina. “We are definitely tempted to venture out, however, at the moment we are playing it quite safe still. We have both sets of grandparents living here and have to remind ourselves that every decision we make directly affects them.”
Parents struggle to draw boundaries
As the world grinds back into gear, yet the virus continues to pose a threat - and a vaccine still seems a distant dream - parents are faced with some tough decisions to make.
Having spent months in strict lockdown - during which parents repeatedly explained to their children about the seriousness of the virus and the reasons why they had to stay home – parents across the world now need to explain that it’s OK to go back outside again. And yet the virus has not gone away.
It’s little wonder if parents have some confusion, considering how conflicting the scientific research has been up until now. Although kids were originally thought to be super-spreaders of the virus, many studies from across the globe suggest that children are both less infected and less infectious than adults when it comes to COVID-19. However, a large-scale study from South Korea published on 16 July 2020 found that children 10 years and older spread Coronavirus just as much as adults. In fact the South Korean research takes us 360-degrees back to scientists’ original supposition, suggesting that tweens and teens are the most infectious demographic of all.
Erring on the side of caution
For many UAE parents this uncertainty has led to a cautious approach.
“At first we continued to stay at home even though things started to open up again, as I was quite paranoid,” says UAE mum Shilpa Gandhi, who has twin six-year-old boys. “I have started play dates for them recently, however as far as summer camps are concerned, I’m still not convinced. I’m just worried that they will be touching everything and I’m concerned how other people around will be in terms of hygiene.”
For Shilpa, even though she noticed that her boys were affected by the restrictions of staying home and distance learning – becoming more cranky and irritable from all of the excessive screen time - the prospect of her children returning to school in-person as normal in September is also a point of some anxiety. “If you ask me right now then I’m worried as there is no vaccine. However, things can change, so I’m not sure. Fear is definitely there in our minds.”
Emirati mum of two, Dunya Al Hashar, says that families differ a lot in terms of what does and does not feel safe to them: “I can’t say that I am completely confident to send my children to play areas at the moment. On the other hand, I’ve started taking my daughters to the beach, but a lot of my friends have reservations about doing so.”
Single mum Lina Matar says that, since she alone is the primary carer for her children, she cannot afford to take any risks and is only comfortable sending her eight-year-old daughter to activities when she is directly supervised by Lina herself: “My job is to try my best to make the risk factor almost zero per cent,” says Lina, who recently spoke about her challenges as a single parent for an alternative Father’s Day video. “I prefer to take my daughter to a play area myself and do anything she wants under my supervision. However, some of my friends have registered their kids in summer camps. People are different. At the end of the day, I do not have the right to impose my opinion and way of life on others.”
“We need to start living again”
Many other parents have embraced the opportunity to re-enter society, feeling confident in the precautions and safety measures that have been put into place: “Ever since Dubai started to open, we began getting out more,” says Egyptian mum-of-one Rana Behairy. “We trust in the government’s decision to re-open many facilities, and feel reassured that they have taken into consideration all the required health and safety precautions.”
“I decided we have to start living again,” agrees Katarina Ballinger, a Dubai-based mother of two from Slovakia whose husband was Covid-positive in May but made a full recovery. “For the sake of my own and my children’s mental health our kids have been out to summer camps and to play areas and they had a wonderful time, which is important to me. We still take all of the precautions but I have decided I’m not going to be paranoid any more. Sanitizer, hand washing and masks will do.”
Indeed as hotels and restaurants and play areas resume operations, many parents are adapting their summer plans to be a UAE-based one filled with chilled turquoise pool days and sunny staycations, making the most of the facilities that are on our doorstep. TV presenter and mum-of-two Dina Butti says that she doesn't rule this out in the future: “We’ve definitely been more on the conservative side and I’m pretty sure some of our friends think we are nuts. But things change every day and if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that we all have to adapt!”
Katarina adds that she thinks it’s important to keep things in perspective: “I think as long as you are not in a high-risk category and don’t have any other underlying health issues then we need to start getting back to normality. But I respect it if other parents don’t feel the same way: each to their own and what they feel comfortable with. Keeping it balanced is key”
Perhaps one of the most important lessons that COVID-19 has taught us so far is an appreciation that everyone’s circumstances are different and a tolerance for other people’s point of view. As single mum Lina Matar says: "Every family has its own way in protecting their kids and this is something very personal."