Back in 2015 I was the first to feature Tanai Benard, a mother of 3 who was living an amazing life in Abu Dhabi. We were both member of Nomadness Travel Tribe which is an amazing travel group on Facebook (started by Evita Turquiose Robinson. See her interview here).
I was in awe of the pictures she shared of her traveling with her children, and asked her if I could interview her. This post went viral, and since her debut on this platform, she was featured in national and international publications.
Tanai Benard-Mom Extraordinaire
1.You have 3 children under the age of 11 and you moved to Abu Dhabi. How did you decide to make such a big move?
In 2013, moving to Abu Dhabi was a mere thought.I was married at the time and was introduced to the opportunities available in the UAE. My marriage was on its last leg. We were in a state of emergency and needed an intervention. I figured moving to another country and starting brand new would save our marriage and family. My then husband agreed that we were in need for a change and Abu Dhabi would be the best place to start fresh. Long story short, we boarded the airplanes 4 Deep (3 kids and 1 parent) instead of a family of 5.
2. Was getting an offer in Abu Dhabi/ Dubai difficult? What was the interview process like?
Getting an offer was a breeze. I heard about the position on a whim in March 2013. I applied online to Teachaway and Footprints Recruiting. A few days after applying I had phone interviews for both positions. Before I knew it, I had advanced to the face-to-face interview phase for both positions. By the end of April/beginning of May I had 2 teaching offers. I had no clue where my journey was taking me but by the end of August I had sold and “sowed” our belongings, rented out my home and the kids and I uprooted our lives and was on a plane to the Arabian Gulf.
3. How did your kids react when you told them they were moving to Abu Dhabi?
They didn’t have too much of a reaction! At the time, they were only 5,6 and 8 and I don’t think they really got the gist of what was about to occur. I don’t believe they really grasped that they would be starting a new life in a foreign country and that this was not the norm.
It doesn’t seem as if it dawned on them that Daddy wouldn’t be joining us on this leg of the journey either. They have been true troopers.
4. How is daily life in Abu Dhabi similar and different than being in the states?
Daily life is very similar during the weekday. The kids go to school and I go to work Sunday – Thursday (Fri and Sat are weekends). After work and school, depending on the time of year, either my daughter has gymnastic practice 4 hours a week or/and the boys have American football practice 4 hours a week or Mommy has kickball or volleyball (3C Sports) practice.
It’s very similar to our routine back in the states except Mommy didn’t have time for sports because my time was devoted to the American hustle outside of being a mommy and wife. You know the American hustle; where you have a full time job plus 3 other side gigs just to keep your head above water, which leaves little room for “Me” time or a social life.
Now I must say I LLLLIIIIVVVEEEE for the weekends here as most other Western expats do. We are not limited by any means. We can shop at one of the bazillion malls located on every corner, partake in some of the fanciest brunches in the world, float down the Marina in a private yacht with friends as the DJ spins your requests or take your passport and fly out to the nearest international city or country of your choosing for the weekend.
I feel so truly blessed that all of these are things my family have been able to do with out it being a financial burden.
What do Tanai Benard and her kids do in Abu Dhabi?
5. How are your kids adjusting to living in Abu Dhabi? Have they had any experiences with racism?
OMG, I am so amazed and awed at how well they have adjusted here. We are speaking of children who were uprooted from their home life in the states while having to face the reality of their parents getting a divorce dealt with simultaneously. They attend an American curriculum private school where they are taught Arabic and French. They all maintain an A or A/B average.
I get the opportunity to watch them interact with children from around the world. I literally have local children knock on my door and request the children to play football (soccer) with them in the neighborhood street. Many times I have stood and watched in awe as my children played with kids in kanduras (traditional dress).
Fortunately, they have not experienced any racism here. I hope I can continue to protect them from ugly world but I know I can’t. I know eventually I will have to prepare them for it before we return to the States. Sad fact!
6. Have you been able to travel much since moving to Abu Dhabi?
HA! 4 Deep is getting our (passport) stamps up! Traveling has become our new family hobby. I have made it my personal goal to ensure they get to experience a new adventure (country) at least every 100 to 130 days. We (I) have a new found love for travel. Never could I have imagined that we would have access to the world as we do now.
Before making this move to Abu Dhabi, I was not an owner of a passport. The closest I had ever come to international travel is taking a cruise to Mexico from Texas. I always thought international travel was for the rich and retired and not for “us”. Growing up, our family vacations were to the nearest state beach or amusement park. That was the norm for us.
I feel extremely blessed that as a single parent I can afford the opportunity to take my children to different exotic places. We have visited Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia in the last 6 months. Before the end of this year, we will have visited the United States and Philippines and I am planning a Christmas trip to Zanzibar and Nairobi. I have “mommy” trips planned for Italy and Cancun this summer as well.
7. What did your family say/how did they react when you told them you were moving to Abu Dhabi?
Their first response was always “Where is that?” I don’t think anyone in my family new exactly where Abu Dhabi was on the map. For the most part, my family has been very supportive from the very beginning. Most of my other family knew before I told my mom, and I made them swear to secrecy. I wanted to complete the interview process and actually have an offer before I freaked my mom out with the big news.
Thankfully, my family didn’t say a word (that I know of). Once my decision was final and I knew we were leaving I let her know of the big move in a matter of fact way. Like, “Hey mah, by the way we are moving to the Middle East, how about them Cowboys!” I was prepared to try to sell her on the move and get her on board since I was taking her only grandchildren. I had a speech prepared with factual evidence on why this was a good move.
None of my preparation was necessary because she gave me her blessing with ease. Now my dad on the other hand, well that’s another story. His response was “Why are you taking my babies over there to them terrorist?” Lets just say that if you knew him you would understand his response. He is a true character!
8. Have you been back to the states since moving? If yes, how has your view of America changed?
I have been back to the states one time since moving and I can say I now view America differently. My next statements I say with the upmost respect for my country. Many refer to America as “America the Great”. A place where many migrate to so they can obtain the American Dream. Once you get the chance to be on the outside looking in you wonder how can it be described as so great.
I watch generations of my family work hard to try an obtain this so called dream. A dream that at a minimal included financial freedom. After years and years of working and many paychecks later they are in the same position that they started in. Not because they don’t work hard or they are financially irresponsible but because they can’t catch a break in this land of greatness. For them it’s just another day, another dollar. A dollar that is gone before they ever make it.
Now here is a country, the UAE, that is willing to give my family a better life and all I have to do is teach. So you mean to tell me that another country finds value in me as an educator and will compensate me generously. It makes me wonder why America can’t value their educators on the same level. I digress….
9. What would you say to a single mother who wants to try something different but is afraid to move?
You have to take that leap of faith. Don’t allow your current situation dictate your future. I must say that everyone’s journey may not be as mine and consist of a bold move across the world. But many of us have something in life that we hesitate to “move” on. We allow society and our self doubt to dictate what single moms should and shouldn’t be able to do. You have to release yourself from that mindset. We always tell our children, you can do anything you put your mind to but yet we fail to take heed to our own parental advice.
For me moving to the UAE was never ever on my radar. I am so happy I pushed through my fears and doubts. Only a few years prior to my move, I was an engineering student with a full course load, working full time with three children. I was also a recipient of every governmental assistance program that was offered to the working class using each as a stepping stone to eventually have better.
I was struggling living paycheck to paycheck, robbing Peter to pay Paul as my elders would say. If I hadn’t took a chance I would still be in the rat race. Boy am I glad I did. Doing so has allowed me and my children to see the world, meet great FRamily (Friends who are now family forever), and live in a place of peace and happiness.
I will never forget the day I realized I found a place of peace. About 3 months into our move, I stood on the balcony of our 21st floor condo overlooking the beautiful blue sea. At that moment, I felt such a weight immediately remove itself from me. In that time I knew I had found peace.
Most would have saw my situation at that moment as a recipe for an extreme mental breakdown; a single mother of 3 elementary age children, a survivor of domestic violence, a recent divorcee and a new expat living in a foreign country with no local support system in place. In the midst of the storm,I refused to let any of that detour me.
I realized that in order for my grass to get greener, I had to endure a storm. Yes, I miss my family and yes there are times I get homesick and I wonder when my Boaz will arrive to continue on this journey with me as a dynamic parenting duo. I guarantee you that I wouldn’t change any part of this journey for the world. From me to you, I say JUMP! You may just spread wings you never knew you had and SOAR!
10. How do you think this experience has been on your children?
It almost brings me to tears to see how much they have matured during this journey. I feel like this experience has brought us closer. They have become my strength and I have watched them blossom into loving and caring individuals. I have truly been blessed with wonderful self-sufficient children.
Believe it or not, before leaving I had one child who seemed so angry and would have outburst in school. He would literally have to be carried out of the classroom by 2 adults. I’m more then certain this was a by product of his unstable home life,Albeit, at the time I self diagnosed him with the middle child syndrome. I didn’t want to take responsibility for how as parents our actions effected him . Fast forward 2 years later and he is the sweetest most thoughtful kid you will ever meet. Not one single outburst.
He is an A honor roll 3rd grader who opens my car door (with no prior training) and tells me “Mommy I Love You” every night with a hug and kiss. I’ve also watched my daughter blossom and come out of her shell and my baby boy is no longer a baby. This experience has caused us to become a very close-knit family. Any and everywhere we go I am constantly getting compliments about how well behave they are from people we know and strangers alike.After being uprooted from what they know I can only be grateful of how truly resilient children can be.
Tanai continues to show us how it’s possible to live your dreams no matter what your circumstances are. Her life has completely changed for the better, and you can follow her on her website, Tanai Benard.