From my experience, Russians love children and are very caring to children, they may not be so nice to each other but they are usually good to children.
Children's outdoor play areas, equipment & winter clothing
Many flats in Moscow, have some form of play area. These play areas have a variety of play activities, ranging from modern plastic climbing frames, to Soviet style metal games and climbing frames that have been painted over in different colours by so much paint over the years, that you can almost count how old they are by their layers of paint as you would count the rings on a tree stump. These play areas are often badly fenced or not fenced at all. If you take your child or if your nanny takes your child to a play area, be very careful your kids don't run too far away and be careful of the bigger kids. It seems to be a tradition for big kids and adults to use play areas for physical fitness exercise and they can be annoying and dangerous for very small children. Some play areas have sandpits but not all are maintained and the sandpits can be empty of sand, this may seem unimportant to you but is earth shattering and the end of the world to a small child who wants to build a sand castle. The play areas are very usually clean and usually free from dog shit but not always free from park drunks, some of these drunks are the parents. Some play grounds have wild dogs in them and they own the play area, not you so watch your kids. Visit many play areas until you find one you like. I can recommend Neskuchny sad by the river, it is excellent in the summer months but very damp and cold in the winter, the statue park by the river is fun but has many small ponds so be careful. There are play areas all over Moscow and many hidden behind blocks of flats and up small streets, most of them unfenced.
Use a heavy solid pram (stroller/buggy/pushchair) in Russia, as you will need a strong one for the big pavements and for the hard Russian winters. A fragile, trendy pram that looks cool and retro, will not usually last a season here. Follow the current female trend and preference for men hunting and go for solid strength rather than intelligence and good looks but apply this preference when choosing your babies pram, a pram must be tough and solid to last the Russian winters. Phil and Ted prams are an excellent choice for Russia as they have big wheels and are very solid, perfect for off road use. I recommend buying a pump and spare tyre when you buy your pram, in case off an any off road flat tyres. Moscow, is child play area friendly, although not so baby friendly and does not always have good baby changing facilities (or any) at hotels and at restaurants.The floor or sink area, may be your only area for changing a full nappy when eating out.
Try and buy most of your babies clothes, including baby bottles, plastic nipples, prams, toddlers clothes etc, outside of Russia, you will save at least 30% - 40% on the price. You can get cheap nappies in any Auchan supermarket. Make your own baby food rather than buy ready made stuff as its a rip off.
Be ready to be told off by Russian mothers or by stern Russian nannies when outside with your baby or toddler. Russian women, wrap up their babies and kids for the arctic, regardless of the temperature outside. They go by traditional seasons and months, with an inbuilt wardrobe calendar that sends them an electric nipple shock at a set time of the year, warning them to wrap up their kids. You can be outside in September or October when it's sunny and + 6 and be told off for not putting your kid in a hat or gloves. At first it can be very annoying but in time you will get used to their comments, they mean well and only care so please don't get offended. It is the same issue with flat heating, most flats don't have an off valve and the heating is put on at full blast, from September or October and remains on till March or April. The only solution, is to open the windows but don't put your kids bed near an open window or near a radiator, they will freeze like an ice lolly or cook like a sausage.
In the winter, when it's below zero, you must dress your baby or kid in warm clothing. You can put your toddler in a ski outfit from Armani or take the cheaper option and buy one from Decathlon, which will be just as good but not as trendy. Babies should be put in their prams in a wool warmer. This is like a small woolen bag that the baby sits in to keep warm. All babies and toddlers, should be dressed in tights, warm water proof boots, hats, scarves and coats and protected in their prams from cold winter winds.
Children's kindergartens & schools
A search on Google, under schools or kindergartens in Moscow, will produce many results and I won't give them free any advertizing here. Prices vary but are mostly high. You can put your darling into a private school or kindergarten, if your expat package allows it or you can choose a Russian public state one. There is a waiting list for public kindergartens, see my article on this issue under Best Posts. Private schools here, are like private medical centres and are big money making machines, that make a few men very rich. I have very little respect for these establishments.
Children's health issues
I have noticed two main problems here for kids. One is breathing infections and lung viruses and the other problem is dry skin and/or Eczema. The first condition may be linked to Moscow pollution or it may just be just linked to kids mixing with other kids and may be nothing more unusual in Moscow than it is in any city, anywhere else in the world. I have not found any real evidence to point to Moscow's pollution as damaging to peoples health although it is not at all healthy. The second condition is most defiantly linked to Moscow. The Russian's put vast qualities of chlorine into the main water supply. They put enough chlorine in the water, to strip the paint off a battle ships hull. The water is very chemical and very hard on the skin. Many kids and babies get dry skin and Eczema. Your feet may also get very hard and may resemble an old, hard French cheese once you have lived in Moscow for a few weeks or months. There are simple solutions to both these problems. A nebulizer machine will cure most breathing conditions and the doctor will give you a medicines to put into the nebulizer. Your kid will have to use it about three times a day for a week or two to cure many lung viruses. Baby oil and creams will prevent dry skin after washing. Always put baby oil in the bath water and use only very mild soaps and shampoos here. You can put foot cream on your feet at night, to stop them becoming like concrete. Cream up and oil up, to protect your family. Vitamin F or 'Scholl' cream is the best solution for hard foot skin. You can get a variety of powders to put into the bath water to protect your babies skin, ask a doctor's advice.
As I have mentioned before on here, the heating gets put on by the city authorities at set time of year and gets turned off at a set time of year. Many flats do not have an off switch or valve to turn the heating off, as a result, Moscow flats get very hot and very dry. You can open the window but you will also need to make the air moist to stop you and your kids from drying out and from getting over thirsty at night. Many people buy one or two dehumidifiers. These are electric machines that you fill with water and turn on at night, they gently release steam to make the room less dry. Many of these machines are crap and leak water like the Titanic , so look careful when buying one and choose a solid one and one that is digital. Place the machine on a towel, in your kids room and set it on about 40% to 50% humidity to work for 4 to 5 hours at night. A humidifier won't cure the dry air but it well help.
Moscow is a dirty city, due to the volume of heavy traffic, your flat window ledges will get black, you will have to clean them every few months to prevent black soot from going into your flat. Unfortunately you cannot stop the soot but you can clean it. Two machines are vital in Moscow, a dehumidifier and a nebulizer, these machines will make life easier for you and your family and most expatriate families have them.
Nannies & domestic help
I have written about this before and you can search under Best Posts but I thought it an idea to mention it here again. There are many Filipino girls working here illegally in Moscow. These girls are not proper 'nannies'. Some people have tried many different Filipino girls and have been disappointed by their childcare abilities, while some people have been lucky and had some excellent Filipino girls as nannies, although I prefer to use the term 'childminders'. You can always hire a Russian nanny. These women are often mothers and can be excellent nannies, however they can have strong opinions, often don't speak much or any English and can be very bossy. Many have Soviet style attitudes to childcare and want to do things their own way. Finding a good nanny is down to luck or by good recommendation. You may have to try many before you find one that you like and that you can trust with your child. A Filipino girl will cost from 250 to 300 Rubles per hour and an experienced Russian nanny will cost from 300 to 600 Rubles per hour (these prices may have gone up since dated). Negotiate your price and pay them half pay when you are away on holiday as they depend on your pay to live.
Always take a photocopy of a nannies passport before you hire them. Most expats hire a Filipino girl to clean their flat. These girls prefer full time cleaning to part time cleaning. Explain to your nanny or cleaner, exactly what you expect and exactly how you want to them look after your child or clean your flat. Never assume they know what to do or that they will do as you would do. Different cultures, different methods. This would apply to any county, not just to Russia.
Child safety in the home, is really common sense, although I have been surprised at the lack of safety awareness by some parents at some flats in Moscow. As a parent, I look for dangers at every turn, from playgrounds, shopping centres, lifts, stairs, windows, tables, chairs, dogs, drunks, cars to the entire home environment. I am sure child safety is a billion pound industry and some people have got very rich from the fear factor, I admit have been partly sucked into this fear vacuum. Many people these days live in high rise flats, these flats are often full of dangers. Some common dangers are unsecured widow handles on widows that open in and that don't have twist and turn handles, open-plan kitchens, table corners, electricity sockets and too many other dangers to list here. If you have a large plasma TV, sitting on top of some furniture, make sure you either secure it to the table or secure it to the wall. Many kids have been hurt or killed by falling televisions.
Simple plastic stick-on window locks can be put onto doors and windows, to stop little kids from opening them. Most modern windows now are plastic and you can put window handles that have locks on them. Before you move into your new Moscow flat, ask the flat owner to change the window handles and put lockable handles onto the dangerous, easy to reach windows. You can buy plastic widow locks and plastic socket covers from most branded kids shops and from IKEA. Most cookers, have a yellow or red gas valve on the wall, make sure you turn it it off after all cooking, electric ones usually have a switch on the wall. If you have a kitchen without a door on it, put a kids gate in the door frame to stop the kids from going into the kitchen. You can also buy door stops and draw stops to stop small fingers getting squashed. Table corners are also very dangerous but you can easily put rubber or plastic protectors onto the corner of all tables. Large book cases should be placed on a level floor and/or secured to the wall. Kitchen knives should be kept out of reach in cupboards. The same applies to food mixers and hair dryers should be left high up and always unplugged. Keep all cleaning products and drugs high up on shelves. Keep the iron stored out of reach of small hands. Small hands can pull an iron by its cable off the shelf. Think like a child and your flat will be safe!
Before you move into your new Moscow flat, do a child safety scan and if the flat owner will not pay for reasonable changes don't rent the flat and walk away. Simple cheap and easy changes can save accidents and save lives. I am sorry if I sound like a public safety service but this advice is free and fits into the theme of this page.
Common child safety issues: Indoors: Windows, balconies, table corners, doors, door frames, electricity sockets, hot taps on drinking water machines, plugged in electrical devices (see below), cookers, televisions and CD players, computers, household cleaning products, medical drugs, shelves, book cases, kitchen, bathroom, baths (tubs), knives, razor blades, door locks, sliding cupboard doors, unsecured irons, folding ironing boards, vacuum cleaners, washing machine doors, glass tables, heavy ashtrays, pens, pencils, scissors, needles, glue, hard floors near beds, old hanging electrical cables, wooden floor splinters, matches, hard chlorinated water. Outdoors: Ice, falling ice, smoke pollution, mobile phone masts, matches, zebra crossings, cars, parked cars, cars parking, escalators, shutting train doors, unfenced play areas, dangerous swings and climbing frames, broken glass, drunks, dogs, insects, bikes, roller bladers, joggers, skate borders, fairground rides, lakes, ponds... irresponsible teachers, other kids, bullying and of course pedophiles.
Useful links: Healthy eating, Take 25, Stopitnow, CAPA
Entertaining the kids
According to various sources, there are lots of activities for kids in Moscow, although I don't totally buy into this belief with regards to entertaining little kids. As I said above, there are certainly many parks and many good outdoor play areas for kids of all ages, however, you cannot realistically compare indoor kids activity places to what you are used to back home and these are needed in the cold winter months. There are many indoor play areas but by my experience, are often staffed by people who do not proactively look after your kids, so you will spend most of your time running around after them to keep them safe as they play. Many good health clubs have child minding areas and your child will usually be totally safe in such places. Kids are often not accepted to to enter a creche before the age of two or three and you pay by the hour.
Good child friendly swimming pools are also hard to find and I have spent several years looking for one in Moscow. Prices range from about 10,000 Rubles for ten lessons and not all teachers get in the water with your kids, check first before paying, pools are heavily chlorinated (see children's health issues). Surprisingly, kids are allowed into gyms and into steam rooms and don't be surprised if you are having a steam and a little six year old kid sits next to you and don't be surprised to see a healthy ten year old running on a running machine next to you at your local gym. Health and safety laws are different or non existent in Russia. This is very refreshing, compared to the United Kingdom but takes time to get used to in Russia, so pay your money and take your chance. For me, the best activities for kids are in the summer months and outside, if you can get to a park or forest and don't mind battling the traffic or take a metro there, enjoy green spaces and breath clean air. I recommend taking your kids out at the weekends in the summer, when there is less city traffic. You can always visit museums with your darlings but small kids are scrutinized by the old women in galleries, so make sure they are on a short chain and silent or you will get the stern eye and sharp tongue of a babushka. If you have expat friend, that is lucky enough to have a large flat, club together and use their flat in the cold winter months for indoor kids activities, like dancing or music lessons to burn their energy. You could hire a teacher and split the cost between two or three mother hens (see below).
Useful links: Circuses and Children's Theaters
Mother hen expatriate parents
There is a vast and expanding community of mother hens here. I call them this, as many are like clucking chickens, who very much dominate the hen house here. Expat women are a special breed, some can be very friendly and genuine, while others can be snobby and cold. They are all nationalities but mostly British and American, they tend to live in a bubble. These women, don't usually work or if they do work, its part time or for a local charity. They see themselves 'domestic goddesses' and as part of a special elite club and can be cautious of new comers and especially cautious of men doing a 'woman's job'. A man doing a woman's job, goes against all that is holy and is viewed with great suspicion by some of these expat women. There are a few clubs for women but none for SAHD's (stay at home dads). You can join the Face Book page 'Children In Moscow' or a few other dedicated women's clubs here in Moscow. If you are a female 'trailing spouse', here in Moscow, you will be fine and not alone, you will have a good time and have good access to a big network of other hens to peck the seed with. If you have not been a full time mother, stuck at home before and you have not lived abroad before, you may find it hard to adjust to life here as a mother hen and newly anointed domestic goddess. If you are a SAHD and if you don't have a thick skin, life will be hard for you as the main caring parent stuck at home and at times, you will feel very isolated and very lonely here. If you last a year here, the rest of your stay here will be fairly easy.
Related stories: My mother-in- law has moved in, Raising kids abroad and the issues, Being a stay at home dad or mum, Men, women & children, Stay at home dads abroad, a survival guide, Caring for a baby abroad, Kindergarten time