Have you read a story on the internet that totally moves you? Well, that was my reaction when I read about Tanai Benard who was featured in a post by Tenille Livingston on the Huffington Post. Please check out her story here. Tanai Benard is an African-American mom of three children (2 sons and 1 daughter), ages 8, 9, and 10 living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
After I started doing my blog series, Diary of a Divorced CocoaMommy I thought to do a Q&A with Tanai Benard. My search began on Twitter, I first searched her name with no luck for a Twitter account. From my search, I noticed Tanai’s name was tagged with another Twitter account, Veronique Links. I reached out to Veronique on Twitter to see she held a Twitter chat on single moms and Tanai was a part of this discussion. From that point, I explained to Veronique I was trying to reach Tanai to do a guest blog post. Veronique tagged me on her tweet with Tanai and the rest, as they say, is history. Tanai tweeted me back with her website and email address. Well, of course, I emailed her immediately to see if we could schedule a time to Skype for a Q&A. I was floored when she responded to set up a time. Thanks, Veronique for making this possible!
photo credit: by permission from TanaiBenard
Tanai Benard,Single Mom Living in Abu Dhabi
I LOVE the power of SOCIAL MEDIA and TECHNOLOGY, here’s our Q&A. It took me less than a few hours to come up with relevant questions from one single mom to another. I hope you enjoy!!!
Q: Why Dubai? (She’s actually living in Abu Dhabi)
A: After a visitor from Abu Dhabi visited Tanai’s school she learned about the opportunities available and it peaked her interest in starting a new life in a foreign country. This was an opportunity for her and her then husband to have a fresh start and provide financial gain.
Q:What was the true defining moment that pushed you to take a leap of faith to move to a foreign country?
A: My back was against a wall. The divorce was filed, I was homeless and jobless (I had resigned from my job in preparation for moving). When I saw it was starting to affect my children, my son was having difficulty in school. I already knew what was here in the US and the struggle is real. As the product of a single parent home, I didn’t want to live with the what if.
Q:How do you find balance in terms of a support network and finding ME time living in a foreign country?
A: I am really blessed to have kids who are self-sufficient. Our week to week schedule is pretty hectic my boys are in football 4 hours of football. My daughter is in gymnastics 4 hours a week. I have joined an adult sports league for kickball and volleyball for my me time. My support network is aunts and uncles for the kids. They have a bigger family here than in the US. My sons have male role models who will pick them up to take them to a football game to give me a break. Another friend will pick-up my daughter to take her for to get her nails done. My daughter had a gymnastics meet and friends showed up with signs to support my daughter. Some of these friends do not have children of their own and they do it because I am a single mom. For my birthday friends gave me free mommy time tickets so I can have time for myself. Now I’m in a financial place to afford a nanny so I no longer have to worry about the cooking and cleaning. This allows me to focus on the day-to-day with the kids and time for myself.
Q:How do you handle the challenges of instilling values and expectation as a single mom? What are some things you do with your kids?
A: My kids were born in the projects so they have seen gold teeth and the images. They are not going to walk outside here and see pants sagging. If they can’t find it on YouTube but it is something they have to search for it if it’s not right there. I have really good role models here for my sons. Most of the men are college educated, educators or ex-military, upstanding men. 1)We do daily morning prayer because the kids need it, 2)family talks that are open and honest so I can gauge where they are as far as this journey is concerned, at the end of each school year we vote to see if we stay or move back majority vote rules. It can’t just come down to I want to move back without a valid reason why. 3)I ask them what can I do to make the experience better, the kids wanted a better school and bigger home so I made that happen 4)travel is a must do, since we’re in a situation that affords us the opportunity to see the world. We visit temples, neighborhoods and talk to the locals. It’s about exposing them to things. I always said I wanted to give my kids the world, not the next Jordans or Polo.
Q:It is phenomenal you have a mission of exposing your children to culture around the globe, How has this helped to shape who you are and the children?
A: We tell our children you can do anything you put your mind to. In the back of our minds, we kind of know we’re limited as we don’t have all access to everything but mommy is still going to tell you, you can do anything. By us traveling they get to see I can come from the projects. My kids were born into the welfare system and are well aware we were on food stamps and we lived in the projects. They know the lifestyle we started from. It shows them anything is possible no matter what downfalls you may have you can still come out of it. At the end of the day I need my daughter to see as a woman you’re not limited and if things don’t pan out the way you expect them to pan out, you don’t stop and let life overtake you. I’m hoping they are learning not only about the world but about life and trying to overcome difficulties at the same time.
Q: How do you think this has shaped your perspective on having the ability to be exposed to all of these different cultures and experiences.
A: I use to be so limited, in terms of my thought process. I was an in-the-box thinker. I feel like I can do anything any door can open and I can just take it. Traveling has opened my eyes expounded my vision of what is possible for me, what is possible for my children. I have become a global thinker versus a domestic thinker.
Q: As an African-American Ex-Pat living in Abu Dhabi, what has been the best part of your experience? What would you say is the biggest myth you read or heard about living in the Middle East?
A: The best experience is knowing my children are safe knowing my black sons are safe. I can allow them to play outside and not worry about any violence. Safety is the biggest thing. A lot of people think when you live in the Middle East you lose your rights as a woman. People told me that I would be able to drive or whatever I wanted to wear. A big misconception based on what the media allows us to see. When you say Middle East Americans think of war-ridden, terrorists it’s the total opposite of that. I feel very safe living here.
Q:Your story is so inspiring to other women. What advice would you give to other single moms who are contemplating taking a leap of faith to live a more fulfilled life and they need a nudge?
A: I would say do not allow the fear of failure to consume you, a lot of the time it’s the reason we don’t do something. We’re scared to fail, to fall but if you hit rock bottom there is nowhere to fall, there’s nowhere to go but up. We allow fear to consume us sometimes we’re missing our escape to our breakthrough. Our breakthrough is on the other side but we’re too scared to find out. We’re missing out, asking why can’t I make, why can’t I survive, why am I living paycheck to paycheck. Well, your answer may be on the other side of what you’re scared to do. When you’re scared to step out on faith you may be missing out. We tell our children you can do anything you want to do and we tell our children as mothers you can be what you want to be and you can do what you want to do. We don’t take our own advice. We try to build our children up to not have fear to do something but what about ourselves. Do we build ourselves up? To say I’m going to be whatever I want to be and I’m going to do whatever I want to do. We ask the questions What if I fail? What if I don’t make it? -What if you do? actually, make it, what if this does work out to be what you needed. I say just jump and take that leap of faith. What can go wrong? If you’re already in a bad situation it can’t get any worse. If you were to look at my life I was thirty years old, a mother of three a former welfare recipient, a hurricane evacuee. I had everything against me. If you look at all the statistics, all the surveys and all the research basically I should be failing right now. You can’t listen to the world! You can’t allow the world to tell you what you shouldn’t be able to do or what you can’t do. Anything is possible for anybody. Now I went from the projects, welfare, government assisted programs to have birthday parties on yachts and traveling to Paris. All because I decided to take a LEAP OF FAITH!!!
In my blogging experience, this Q&A was a PHENOMENAL opportunity. I always say there are lessons to be learned in every experience. What I learned from Tanai is despite your circumstances anything is possible as long as you are willing to take LEAP OF FAITH. In terms of parenting I have learned having a spiritual foundation is important as well as allowing our children to be an integral part of all decisions as it relates to their well-being. Our conversation has enlightened my desire to seek to provide a more enriched cultural experience for my children. Also, what resonates is the importance of having a support network and not being too PROUD!
Thanks so much Tanai for sharing your journey with me! I wish you and your children the absolute BEST! You can follow Tanai and her children on their journey through her website, TanaiBenard. Also Tanai is on Instagram @4DeepAroundtheWorld , Twitter: @whoamitosay2011, and Facebook: 4DeepAroundtheWorld .