Meet Deepika Gupta, a.k.a. Dee, founder and sole administrator of one the UAE's most popular Facebook mums support groups, Dubai Marina Mums.
Photography by Jules Seddon, of Jewel Seddon Lifestyle Photography.
I first came across the Dubai Marina Mums group some 5 years ago when I was a real rookie at this business of mummyhood and everything appeared so complex and daunting. So through playdates, mum events and lots of conversations on the page about the baby’s feeding and sleeping issues, solutions to nappy rashes, recommendations for best nurseries, birthday party venues and organisers, family friendly brunches, etc my first mummyhood friendships were formed in this lovely, supportive and caring community.
Dee has not only been the founder of the group, but also a true pillar in the community of mums in the Dubai Marina, as well as inspiration to others to create similar support groups. Being an expat comes with a lot of benefits but by the same token, also with the challenge of being away from home and our families, circle of lifetime friends, neighbours and so on that are so important when bringing up children - it takes a village and all that. And Dee has created the village in the Marina and by now, beyond the Marina as well!
Prior to being 'Dee of Marina Mums', she and her siblings grew up as expat children in Australia and London, before moving back to India once their dad retired. Being no stranger to expat life, after marriage she followed her husband to Dubai and ended up making a community of her own! When she became a mum she had to give up her full-time job realising that without family or full-time child care she would have to own motherhood. Starting Dubai Marina Mums was a seed she found missing as a new mum in a new city without a group of women supporting each other. So creating the group helped her bring the cool back to being a SAHM and removing the guilt from it.
Dee welcomed us to her beautiful home where we had a few giggles while she played tea party with her girls, Saira who is 9, and Annika, 7. Oh ... and we also got to have some delicious Indian Chai!
Her gorgeous duplex in JBR is oh-so airy and almost has a villa feel to it with the large spaces providing plenty of different areas for family rooms and for entertaining, and ... a bar that if my husband knew existed, would not stop nagging until he had a copy of in our house (pictures of the said bar were not taken on purpose, as I know he does read my posts). Their lovely terrace wraps around the apartment and has views of both the marina and the sea. Dee's home is a beautiful and rather eclectic blend of urban modern, Art Deco and shabby chic, with Indian accents and Zen elements like the numerous Buddhas that bring a sense of peace and calm to every space. When her girls host play dates they tend to end up in big dance-up sessions in front of the oversize mirror in the reception, perfect to burn off all their excess energy!
Her house is also dotted with amazing family heirlooms: the most beautiful pieces of pure Indian silver in the dining room display cabinet, which include her grandmother's tea set and the most intricate bowls and jugs gifted to get by her in-laws (who obviously know how to make a girl happy!); and in the guest room, in a beautifully framed setting that is worthy of a museum, her great grandmother's nose ring.
So I spent an afternoon d-r-o-o-l-i-n-g ...
DEE OF DUBAI MARINA MUMS - because it takes a village
How did it all start?
Completely out of desperation to reach out and make some mummy friends! I saw the potential JBR had in the communal Plaza Level when we moved in. JBR experienced a baby boom back in 2006-2007 with new mums hanging out in the little gardens hidden behind the buildings, juggling conversation along with pushchairs and baby food. All of us, lost expats, converged on the JBR Plaza searching for a way to connect! Marina Mums started as a way to make my own little virtual village, the idea grew and numbers increased through word-of-mouth from 5 mums to 4,000 in 7 years!
Your biggest challenge?
I don’t see it as a challenge now but in the early stages, when Marina Mums had just started, I used to host Thursday playdates at a little garden just by our apartment. The word started spreading and soon I ended up organising story-telling, music, and arts and crafts sessions for 50 kids each week! The mums would pitch in by bringing juice and snacks, helping with arts and crafts, and handling registrations. It became a home-grown play group with mums volunteering their time and talent to get the community together.
Your biggest success?
Dubai Marina Mums has been my baby. I love setting up my laptop, with a big cup of coffee in hand, and give my time and energy to all the posts and queries I receive. I get more than 200 posts a day on the closed group. A mum has a query, we suggest, it then leads to a discussion and onto a solution… love the whole journey! It gives me a real buzz, especially when we help out mums who aren’t a part of the Marina, or may not even be in Dubai and are seeking info on moving to the city.
Marina Mums as a forum has also demonstrated its power to make a social difference. In the past, we have successfully managed many grass-roots community initiatives, from helping Pakistani flood victims, to collecting and distributing 450 dental kits for children from the lower economical background with zero dental health in Delhi, to helping a fellow mum whose son had been diagnosed with cancer - all of these initiatives have led me to believe in ‘being the change you want to see’. Small baby steps that go a long way! For me personally it has meant getting away a little from the life of privilege in which we tend to lose ourselves in Dubai and reaching out and helping out!
Your biggest dream?
I would love to start a blog soon to store all the wealth of information shared on the group in a more structured fashion: blog posts about living in the amazing area of the Dubai Marina, featuring all the great services at our disposal. I would then like to keep the Facebook group mainly for support!
'The fact that a stranger would take the time to help another stranger, type words of encouragement, lend a hand, refer a doctor or share their experience always amazes me - all offering help just because they have been in the same boat. It's simply fascinating!'
What do you love the most about the Marina Mums group?
The Mums!! It has been so successful mainly because of the involvement of the mums in the community – the ever active group members. The fact that a stranger would take the time to help another stranger, type words of encouragement, lend a hand, refer a doctor or share their experience always amazes me - all offering help because they have been in the same boat. It's simply fascinating! After so many years it runs like a well-oiled machine where I do not need to micro-manage the forum anymore.
Some of my happiest memories, again, are of the playdates at the little garden behind my home - lots of ‘messy gooey play’, storytime with Dee and finger painting with 50 mums and kids. It was the base that led the community group to building a reputation beyond the Marina, everyone in ‘New Dubai’ was talking about it and pretty soon Time Out Dubai, Khaleej Times and Gulf News all wanted to feature us in their articles! It was one of the first times a community came together on such a large yet informal scale with social media as its foundation, and created such an active virtual support group.
DEE THE MUM
How do you balance your family time vs your time on Marina Mums?
Multi-tasking and periodic ‘Phone Bans’. Mornings after school drop-off is my MM time, where I try to save the world (pun intended) with support!
I have been able to give more of my time to the forum since both the girls are in full time school. Their pet peeve is seeing mummy on her phone so I try to keep the phone away on charge when it’s home time.
I do sneak in a few peeks when I am on soccer mum duty, swimming lessons, drama classes and lots of waiting outside the classes. Glad it keeps me mentally busy!
I have also been blessed with amazing house help, without whose support I would be drowning, plus amazing grandparents who are ready to fly to Dubai whenever I feel the kids and I need some TLC!
How did your life change after having children?
Tremendously! From giving presentations to corporate clients in my business suits and stilettos ... bang!, within 6 months I was a breast-feeding machine. It took me a year to get my head around raising a child. Prior, I had thought it would be very easy … take a few months off work … pop the baby out … baby goes to nursery, and off I go back to work - super easy! But my bubble popped when my first-born was one of those ultra fussy, colicky, cluster-feeding babies, and hours felt like days. She was an exclusively breast-fed baby and I was one of those ‘I don’t need to hire help’ kinda mums, sticking to my ‘I can do this’ mantra. I burnt out, yes I did! I missed having my sisters and my mum around, and I just buckled up till I really had to give myself a pep talk to get a grip and ‘use your professionalism in raising a baby’:
- Step 1: You need a team - we hired a wonderful lady when the baby was 12 months old
- Step 2: Move to a community - JBR it was!
- Step 3: Make some Mummy friends - MM happened
- Step 4: Schedule, schedule, schedule! Everything was in a schedule: naptime, bath time, walk time, playdate time, you name it ...
This newfound motivation resulted in me having baby number 2 within 18 months of first becoming a mum. And I have been on a ‘Career Break’ ever since!
'It took me a year to get my head around raising a child.'
What have you learnt from motherhood?
Patience, patience and more patience - from raising babies to going past the terrible twos, settling them in school, now raising little pre-teens. But I am enjoying every bit of it, each with a new set of challenges!
Did you take any parenting advice from your mum or have developed your own style?
I tend to keep repeating the stuff my mum used to tell me while I was growing up. It felt very annoying then, but I’ve got my head around it now! My mum is known for her particular style of “Mummism”. A classic quote was “First Deserve, then Desire” any time I asked her to buy me something. LOL … I hear myself saying the exact thing to the girls now. I remember her being so relaxed and positive, whilst reining in three young independent girls in a society where the girl child was not (and still isn’t) celebrated. I respect her so much more now … more than ever!
What do you wish for your girls?
For them to grow into content, compassionate young women and always remind themselves of their self-worth! Raised in this beautiful community with such a mix of cultures and values, I wish for them to always remember where they come from and to be open to the world!
And yes, as a mum I want to help shape their personalities - guide them towards an alternate way of thinking (away from stereotypes) with young impressionable minds especially in an age of sexually stereotyping young girls, I like steering them towards a more gender neutral path!
'Raised in this beautiful community with such a mix of cultures and values, I wish for my daughters to always remember where they come from and to be open to the world.'
How do you get your girls to stay in touch with reality whilst they grow up as Dubai expat kids?
Frequent visits to the homeland (India) sort them out for a few months. We support a few charities back home; also the first hand experience of giving and sharing is something the girls are blessed to be doing whenever we visit!
Oh yes, and lots of house work; they are in the phase where they love helping mummy out. I do hope that stays on till they are teenagers!
What is your favourite activity with your girls?
Going to the beach! I feel blessed to be living 60 seconds away from one of Dubai’s most fabulous beaches. We just stroll down, hire one of the day beds and camp there for the afternoon. Option 2 is Marina Mall. My children love visiting the bookstore or getting a sparkly treat from one of the fashion stores!
When at home, we love lots and lots of cuddles, Tickle-monster and story time!! We behave like a bunch of cubs when it’s tickle time!!
Favourite child-friendly brunch?
Hmmm … we are not much of a brunchy family but the weekends generally do involve eating out. We have tick-marked and family-reviewed most of the restaurants on JBR The Walk, and Eggspectation seems to be a firm favourite so far!
What advice would you give to Dubai newcomers or new mums who would like to make mum friends?
Reach out! Don’t hesitate to reach out and get yourself out there!
Dubai, contrary to what people believe, is one of the friendliest places to reach out and make connections, unlike being back home where people stay within their cliques. Expats here are open about making new friends and have time for different sets of friends: mummy friends, baby group friends, school mum friends, couple friends and the list goes on. You have to open your heart out without the fear of being rejected! Making friends as a grown adult isn’t very easy, but do it for your child they do need their little ‘baby posse’ while growing up …
DEE THE WOMAN
What fashion style best describes you?
Casual chic - ripped jeans and white tee! For school runs, active wear.
Your 3 essentials in life?
Right now, in this phase of life: COFFEE - lots of it! WiFi and Yoga (I practise 4 times a week). Oh, and also reading - I love my books! A good book can give me the biggest high!
Your 3 little luxuries?
Hmmm ... without sounding pretentious or too materialistic: my diamonds, my Rolex and Chanel!
Favourite breakfast spot?
Going to Le Pain Quotidien at the Dubai Marina Mall is a weekly family affair on Saturdays.
Favourite date night restaurant?
Anywhere down by the beach!! Our favourites come in phases. We have a fave for a few weeks and then we move on! Right now it’s The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill at the Double Tree by Hilton on Jumeirah Beach; love the vibe in that place and another reason we love going back is because everyone there knows us by now!
Favourite spot for a girlies night out?
We are spoilt for choice, living in the Marina! I am loving the new places on offer at JBR, although I might be a bit of a rebel sometimes and will meet my girlie friends half-way across Sheikh Zayed Road!!
Favourite holiday destination?
England. Both my sisters live there and I love spending our summers with the whole family gathered together there. Destination number two would be Kenya with its safari around the Masai Mara. We went once and haven’t been able to get that holiday out of our heads, so we’re planning to go back in summer 2017!
Favourite short getaway in the UAE?
Eventhough living by the beach feels like being on holiday already, we do love our sporadic weekend breaks at the Banyan Tree in Ras Al Khaimah where we have been 3 times in the last 5 years. We also went recently to The Cove Rotana Resort RAK and were pleasantly surprised!
Favourite short getaway from the UAE?
India. So much to do there for the Easter break: we have booked a white water rafting tour by the foothills of the Himalayas, we have been to the back waters in the South of India, skiing up North in Kashmir, chilling on the beaches of Goa and taking it all in at the palaces of Rajasthan. It’s a world in itself!
Are you reading a particular book at the moment that you would like to recommend?
I recently finished 'All the Light We Cannot See' by Anthony Doerr and couldn’t stop thinking about the story for 2 weeks! Right now I am reading ‘Americanah’ by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which is a very powerful story about race and identity.
What do you love the most about living in the Marina?
The outdoor living, proximity to everything, the festivals on our doorstep, and the pedestrian lifestyle. All the traffic we have to face on a daily basis is absolutely worth it! And at weekend, we just have a strict 'no car' policy in our family!
Photography by Jules Seddon, of Jewel Seddon Lifestyle Photography.
Jules is a family, maternity, newborn and event photographer currently based in Dubai. She specialises in lifestyle photography which mainly aims to capture portraits and people in situations, real-life events or milestones in a photojournalistic style. Her style is natural and relaxed; she likes to capture those candid moments so that you can look back and treasure those memories forever. She makes use of natural light in order to achieve soft, gorgeous portraits that feel genuine.