“Look at this,” my friend said waving her phone at me. “This is why I am the way I am. Look at them. They’ve lost the plot,” she continued.
You’d be forgiven for presuming she was about to show me some juicy or even controversial photos or videos steeped in the dramatic type of revelations one might expect from a Christmas Day EastEnders special.
But no, this was her class WhatsApp group. “Look at them. Have they nothing else to be doing?” she hissed, through gritted teeth.
And indeed, a major incident had been declared, over a broken boiler and some portable heaters that were being used while the boiler was being repaired that day. Message after message followed with details of workplace regulations, anecdotal tales of childhood illnesses and near threats of a parental uprising.
Did I mention the boiler was being repaired that day?
“It never stops,” my friend continued. “I’m in work and the phone is pinging away. And I can’t ignore it because what if it’s something important?” she said in exasperation.
I have a love/hate relationship with WhatsApp groups. And as I write this, I’m conscious that this column may well turn up in one of them.
It’s the sheer volume of them, you see. When you have a ridiculous number of children, you’re in an obscene number of WhatsApp groups. Several class WhatsApps groups, numerous sports groups, other extracurricular activity groups, birthday party groups and play date groups. Then there’s the random groups for children’s activities you get added to because whoever set it up decided to add you on account of the fact that you’ve loads of children so it’s probably safer to presume you have someone involved in it, meaning you’re replying to John regarding your child’s availability for about a fortnight before copping you don’t actually have a kid who does that sport.
The WhatsApp groups come in handy for tracking the children down
And then there’s groups related to being a grown up – the family WhatsApp groups in their various forms, the ex-colleagues group, the neighbourhood WhatsApp group, the friends groups, the nights out groups, the work groups, and that’s without all the individual messages that basically mean your phone pings incessantly morning, noon and halfway through the night.
It’s enough to overwhelm even the most Zen of us – and I am not she to begin with. But still that fear of missing out keeps me logged on and up to date with whoever’s cat, jumper, or spelling list is missing.
I mean, it’s not like we’re immune to losing things in this house either. Mostly it’s children though. The WhatsApp groups come in handy for tracking them down, though that’s always a little bit more awkward to post. I usually start down the individual mum route with a bright and breezy “oh I don’t suppose X is at yours?” before accepting my fate and drafting the post of shame in a group admitting that my son, who I presumed was in the shower, isn’t even in the house, and his dinner is ready and has anyone seen him?
Just hand me my mother of the year trophy already.
I think the volume of them not only keeps me in a heightened state of awareness, it also makes me sceptical. And no, I’m not sure if I’m referring to the number of WhatsApp groups or children here either. But I do know when a message appears in a neighbourhood group referencing lads hanging around, I do wonder, for a brief second, if the poster is really asking: “Are these more of Jen’s kids, or have we something to worry about?”
No village lives in harmony always. But everyone recognises the benefits of belonging
And there are those lovely times when a ping brings my attention to a share of my column in a WhatsApp group with a gorgeous message of support and a conversation unfolds which lets me know I’m not alone in my ponderings of the day, or even my dishwasher loading habits.
There are helpful reminders about parties, and what to bring on school tours. Which if I’m honest, serve as actual reminders about the school tours in the first place for me. There are “asking for a friend” queries and discovering we all have friends like that, as it turns outs. There are welcomes to the class, the club, the neighbourhood and the sharing of pictures for the parents who couldn’t make shows, matches or parades.
And in ways we never quite credit, amid the relentless beeping, perhaps a virtual village even in the making. No village lives in harmony always. But everyone recognises the benefits of belonging.
My friend is not convinced. She’s considering a flounce, though is more likely to just mute instead. The quiet rage. Maybe the groups aren’t so much the problem, I suggest. Perhaps it’s that the beeps and mental load are more typically frequent on mums’ phones. Time maybe, to start adding more dads.