DUBAI UAE expatriates say they spend little quality time with their families and always struggle to make up for it on weekends and holidays.
Ahead of the World Family Day on May 15, many residents conceded that their family time has fallen among their priorities because of demanding lifestyles.
If a survey by Centrepoint is anything to go by, it’s not even 60 minutes a day for nearly half of the UAE population.
A staggering 46 per cent of the 5,034 residents polled by the fashion retailer said they spent less than one hour of quality family time together every day.
Most people blame long work hours, lengthy commutes and after school activities as the biggest hurdles to spending more time with their family.
Shyam Sunder, head of marketing, Centrepoint, said he hoped the findings of the survey will inspire residents to rework their schedules around their loved ones.
Lebanese expat Nadine Hussain told XPRESS she cannot forget the fact that she was not around to watch her daughter take her first step. “I was at work and my husband recorded it on video. When I got back home I couldn’t hold back my tears. That day I realised how our work takes away precious family moments,” said the mother of two girls ages four years and eight months.
“When I return home around 6pm, I barely have an hour with my kids because they go to sleep at 7pm. I feel guilty working and I try to make up this lost time whenever possible,” she added.
Jordanian-American Diala Zuaiter said she wished there was a pause button on the clock. “Days pass by so quickly and I feel like I am always running. I just want to stop the clock for some time and sit with my husband and play with the children,” she said.
A lawyer and mother of two children ages five and three, Diala said her husband Adeeb travels frequently for work and they are barely able to spend time together.
Indian parents Rashi and Akshay Mathur blame technology for dwindling family time. “I have kept a basket in the TV lounge where everybody drops their cellphones so that we can sit and talk with each other,” said Rashi. “Dinner is another time when we bond as a family over a meal,” said Rashi.
Indian engineer Zahid Fazal, 35, who works offshore and sees his family once in a fortnight, said the lifestyle of expat families is far removed from the traditional structure in their home countries. “Back there, they have a support system to fall back on. But here they are pretty much on their own. As a result they have no time for families.”
Rima Sabban, associate professor of sociology, Zayed University, said: “The UAE is a place where people come to work and save money. Naturally, for a lot of people work is a priority. Family members should make efforts to balance their lives and find ways to take out time for each other.”
A relationship counsellor said the demands of modern life are not alone to be blamed. “Even when familes do get together, they spend time in silence because they are either watching TV, playing games on the tablet or hooked to their smartphones.”
Abu Dhabi-based British expat Karen Alexis Kennedy said her son Gregory tends to be closer to her than to her husband as he works in Qatar and comes home only on weekends.
“We make up for the missed moments by going cycling on Fridays and playing tennis on Saturdays. Sailing and skiing are other things we like to do as a family and make sure to include these in our holidays.
“Even TV serials on DVD are watched together. My son is not allowed to watch the next episode until his dad gets back for the weekend. Lives can be hectic, but families must make that extra effort to find ways of doing things together.”
Studies have proven that the amount of time spent with friends and family goes a long way towards boosting happiness – even more so than an increased income.
Top tips to maximise family time
At meal times encourage family members to talk about how their day panned out
If you drive your spouse and children, use those times to listen and talk to them
Involve kids in household chores such as cleaning the room or moving their dirty clothes into the laundry basket
Keep a basket in which everybody can deposit their smart phones and tablets until dinner is over
Make television or movie viewing a family event and talk about what you’ve watched and how it intersects with your family values
YOUSPEAK: What prevents you from spending quality time with your family?