Mamas At Work: Lesa Milan Of ‘Real Housewives Of Dubai’ On Putting Her Sons First And Her ‘Breakup’ With Chanel Ayan

Sharone Zobali

For many working moms I speak to, those doing their best to juggle a professional life with the demands of family life and fit in a little time for themselves, their form of self-care is catching up on Real Housewives. But what does an actual Real Housewives cast member, mother of three, wife, and businesswoman turn to in order to decompress? For Lesa Milan, the answer might surprise you.

“Paddle,” she tells ESSENCE. “That, for me, is my escape. That’s my thing. And I really love it.”

“Most people want to go get their nails done. I just want to go play paddle,” she adds. “I can’t answer my phone. I can’t be anywhere else. I just have to be present then and there. And it helps me to clear my head.”

And clearing her mind is essential for Milan, star of Real Housewives of Dubai, whose show is a blend of opulence with a side of conflict every time the women step in front of Bravo’s cameras. And this second season of the hit show will be especially hostile for Milan, who in addition to dealing with some tension at home over her busy schedule as a fashion designer with her successful maternity line Mina Roe, will have a complete fallout with one of her best friends and co-stars, the always colorful Chanel Ayan. Season 2 is a doozy, indeed.

“I think a lot of dynamic shifts take place this season,” she says. “A lot of people who were friends in Season 1 fell out, or something happened in Season 2. But I think overall, though, this season we had a lot more fun. I think we were a lot more confident and more relaxed, and I think people are going to really enjoy seeing this side of us. We’re always going to show the glitz and glam that’s expected with Dubai, but I think you see some really genuine interactions, too. And then you also see some fake, phony ones. You’re going to get a little bit of everything.”

In addition to knocking around the old paddle ball, Milan has found peace of mind in spending time with her boys, leaning on her cozily compartmentalized friend groups, and focusing on integrating, as opposed to trying to force balance, as a busy mom. We talked to her about all of that, including this season’s friendship breakup, and she had plenty of quotable to share.

ESSENCE: So Season 2. I gotta say, it’s giving drama! And granted, Real Housewives in general always has drama, but this season it seems like you are in the center of it when it comes to the breakdown of your friendship with Chanel Ayan. What was it like filming this season with that going on?

Lesa Milan: It was difficult when it happened, but it didn’t really happen immediately. So I think we have a lot of fun, a lot of kikis and girl talk, and typical Lesa and Ayan moments throughout the season. And then, out of nowhere, a big bang. And I feel like the bang took me by surprise. I felt a little bit blindsided, I’m not going to lie. And it was really hurtful. She’s one of my best friends. So I feel, just in general, it was kind of like a breakup with a boyfriend, but you know how we do; we bounce back, as we would in any situation. And so that’s just been the case. I have not bounced back with her though, but on my own.

How do you balance this work of being a TV personality with your work with Mina Roe? I heard this season that wearing so many hats creates some conflict in your home life. So how are you balancing everything?

You know what I always say? I don’t balance. I integrate. So balancing suggests that I give multiple or more than one thing the same and equal amount of energy. And my children are my number one priority. And I think because of that, because I’m so hands-on with my kids, I struggle in other areas. So I feel like with Mina Roe, I’m not as present as I should be and as I would be if I didn’t have kids, but my kids are going to grow up. I can grow and build Mina Roe over the years. And so I don’t want to miss out on this time. So you get to see me kind of navigating, not balancing, but integrating all these different aspects of my life. And sometimes I don’t do it well. Sometimes I’m burning the dinner because I’m doing so many other things.

On social media, everything just looks so perfect, but I think on the show, you kind of get to see the real side of everything, which is that it is a struggle. Moms every day have to make these tough decisions that dads don’t have to make. And so I think with my husband and I, for him, he’s like, we’re fortunate that I don’t have to work. I choose to work. And so for him, he sees it as, well, you’ve given yourself all of these different things to juggle, so don’t come complaining now, kind of vibe. But he gets to show up and go to work and still come home and be super dad. Why can’t I kind of do the same? So women and men, unfortunately, don’t really have the same advantages. We’re not dealt the same cards. And so you get to see us navigate that and me kind of checking him like, no, you’re going to have to pick up something. So you’re going to see us navigate that.

But with me, I’m very authentic. What you see is what you get. So you’re going to see me at my high highs, and you’re going to sometimes see me at my lows, but overall, you’re getting me. And I think a lot of women will be able to relate to that because we don’t always have our sh-t together. Sometimes we’re struggling, and it’s okay to struggle. It’s ok to not have it all together. We’re human at the end of the day.

So true. That said, why is it so important for you to push forward with Mina Roe?

When I started Mina Roe, it was a passion project. Now, it’s a big business that I can’t just walk away from. And when I started it, I really genuinely couldn’t find maternity wear that fit my body and my style and made me feel confident. So it started off as something for me, and then other people liked it. And then it grew into Beyoncé wearing it, and so many celebrities, and then it just grew from there. And I was the packaging person, the customer service person, all of these things.

Now I have a really good, solid team of people working for me, who also rely on me, and I am paying their salary, so therefore, their families also depend on me. I cannot drop the ball now. It is too far gone. So this is why my husband, he feels like I treat Mina Roe like my child. We have a team, we have people that can do things. I hire them to do all of these things that I still feel like I need to micromanage. So I think to his point, I do need to find a way to let go and not be so much of a control freak, but I almost feel like nobody can do it as good as me.

I feel like sometimes the minute that I’m like, okay, let me take a step back, then I go into a group meeting and I see everything that they’re projecting, and I see the new collections, and it’s not really giving the Lesa Milan touch. Now I have to go back in and start all over, and then that sets us back a few months. So I’d rather just be there when my kids are at school and get things done and then cry about it later.

How do you pour into yourself, and in what ways do you practice self-care?

I feel like for me, I’m very organized. And I think by being organized, it helps me to be present. And it kind of helps me to shift a lot of the mom guilt. So when I’m with my kids, I try not to be on my phone, for example. I’m giving them my undivided attention, even though sometimes I just want to be on my phone and alone.

I really am very, very good at trying. I’m not always successful, but trying to be present when I’m working, I try not to be scrolling on Instagram at the same time. I try to just get that work done so that way, when I do decide to take time for myself, I can do it guilt-free, free of kids, and free of all of that. I feel like, you know what? I’ve given you your time. I’ve given you your time. Now it’s my time. And for me, a good wind down is playing paddle. It’s kind of like tennis, and I think a little bit like pickleball. But I play paddle, which is a really fun sport, and it’s two hours in the morning twice a week.

Mamas At Work: Lesa Milan Of ‘Real Housewives Of Dubai’ On Putting Her Sons First And Her ‘Breakup’ With Chanel Ayan
Sharone Zobali

What role do your friendships play in your self-care rituals, if they do at all?

I think so many people feel like I need to just be friends with this person, and just that one person. I feel like I have different friendship groups. I have my mommy friends that I met through my kids because we go on play dates together, and I just end up liking them. And then I have my paddle friends that I play paddle with that I get different things from. And then I have my close home girls that we’ve been friends since high school that they trickle in and out of Dubai sometimes to see me or we go meet somewhere else. And then I have my fun group of friends that I know if I want to just go have a good time, those are the girls I call. And each of these friend groups, they give me something different and I feel like they add value in different ways. And then I have, for example, my girlfriends on the show, but I feel like each group, they give me something different and I give them back something different in return. So I’m not really putting a lot of pressure on one specific person when I need to lean on them.

My mom is my best friend, so anything that’s deep dark, that Unsolved Mysteries type sh-t, I go to her because I don’t trust anybody. But as far as girlfriends and friendships go, I have different friend groups. And honestly, I love navigating that space.

If you don’t mind me asking, what is the something different that you received from your relationship with Chanel Ayan that you might be mourning presently?

You know what? To be honest, it really was like a breakup. It really was like a breakup. And I do miss her. There are so many things. We used to talk on the phone all the time. So there are still moments when I’m like, oh my God, Ayan would’ve loved this. And she would’ve told me to do it this way, or she would’ve been the perfect person to go to this event with. But at the same time, I’m so big on loyalty that I feel until we have some real serious conversations, I can find somebody else to turn up with.

Lastly, I wanted to ask you, what’s next for you?

An epic, epic, epic Season 2 of The Real Housewives of Dubai. Otherwise, I’m just living my best life. I’m really just trying to be present. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself or add too much else to the basket, but I’m so open. This year, my resolution was to be open and embody everything that I feel will elevate me in any way, whether it’s spiritually, whether it’s physically, I’m just about that this year. And so for me, I’m open to trying new things. I’m open to stepping outside of my comfort zone, and we’ll see.

I love that you said that because I think we do always feel the pressure to be like, yeah, so what’s next? It’s really commendable to be like, well, actually, I’m just chilling. I’m living in the present.

I lost my brother a few years ago, and I remember one of the things that he always said to me was to live in the moment. I think I’m just finally getting over that grief and finally listening to him and tapping into that as much as possible.

The Real Housewives of Dubai, starting Tuesday, June 11, will move to its regular timeslot of Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

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