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Dealing with teenage daughters is difficult. Raising mine in the Middle East made it even harder.

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey   

Dealing with teenage daughters is difficult. Raising mine in the Middle East made it even harder.
  • Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey and her husband were living as expats and raising their kid in the Middle East.
  • When her daughter became a teen and started drinking, she got nervous about getting into trouble in Dubai.

My husband and I were sitting outside our house in Dubai, ignoring the noise coming from partying teenagers inside. They were shaking up cocktails with stealthily smuggled-in alcohol. We were making sure that none of them left our place in anything but a safe ride.

By that point, I had heard too many stories of teenagers in Dubai getting ratted out to the police and their parents getting into serious trouble. According to the United Arab Emirates government, the penalty for providing alcohol to anyone under 21 can include fines of up to 100,000 United Arab Emirates dirham, or $27,000, jail time, and deportation.

But teenagers will be teenagers.

It's in their nature to push the limits of what's possible and allowed — be it by parents or the law.

An international upbringing

We moved to the Middle East when our daughter Christina was four years old. We started in Doha, Qatar, then Muscat, Oman, and finally settled in Dubai, UAE. It was a charmed life, full of sunshine, daily pool sessions, a safe upbringing, and, as part of an international expat community, friends from all around the globe.

She learned about many cultural variations, religions, and global traditions, all of which, I am pleased to report, turned her into the open-minded young woman she is today.

But as with all expat life, you have to take the good with the somewhat challenging. Especially in Dubai, where we spent most of her teenage years. There, life was far from normal.

Daily life, but not as we know it

Dubai is known for its bling, its extravagance, and its riches. And should also be known for its utterly spoiled expat brats. Kids allowance is often the size of other people's salary back home. There, it's common for families to have drivers and maids. Weekend brunches in five-star hotels with free-flowing champagne are also attended regularly. It's not the kids' fault when they grow up thinking this sort of life is normal.

My husband and I indulged as well, this was, after all, why we moved abroad in the first place: Tax-free pay and a better lifestyle. But as Christina grew up, we became more aware that when she headed off to university, away from the Middle East, she would come down to earth with an enormous bump and few useful life skills.

With little viable local transport and a climate that made walking impossible for several months of the year, my daughter had never even taken a bus by herself. Instead, she was used to being brought back by car to our house after a sleepover at a friend's house. The mother would park her personalized Rolls Royce with its Burberry seat covers next to my dusty little Jeep. Another friend lived on the man-made Palm Island with her own private beach, while yet another regularly enjoyed weekends away in the family's private jet.

Reality check Down Under

After six years we decided that Dubai had too many potential, and life-changing consequences for raising a teenager. We packed up and moved to Australia, in order to allow our daughter a sample of "normal life" as a teenager.

The normal life we envisioned included taking the tramway to school, and realizing that not every family can spend the equivalent of the GDP of a small country every weekend.

She hated us for taking her away from her friends, from the only life she had known, and would simply not appreciate that it was for her own good. But that's normal teenage behavior too.

It wasn't easy, but we weathered the storm, Dubai friends came to visit, we met koalas and kangaroos, she partied without consequences, got her learner driver's license, and finished high school in Melbourne, before heading to university in the UK. She even forgave us for the move. Eventually.

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