An app to make parenting easier

WhatsApp has become a great way to connect with other mothers, says Shelina Janmohamed (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)
WhatsApp has become a great way to connect with other mothers, says Shelina Janmohamed (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

The green notification pinged up on my smartphone screen just in time. “Early pick up today!” it reminded all of us on the social media group. I wasn’t alone to have forgotten, several other women responded with: “Thanks” and “Lifesaver!” This was my Whatsapp family, made up of all the mothers in my daughter’s school class.

The dangers of social media for children is a well-documented subject. But the quiet phenomenon of social media for parents (for which read “mothers”) has mostly bypassed our commentariat. When it comes to managing our children’s school life: the Whatsapp group is king. And the phenomenon is global.

Research by BabyCentre on the State of Modern Motherhood found that 93 per cent of UK mums regularly use a smartphone. These are used for anything from shopping to watching how-to videos. Of the mums polled, 73 per cent say that they use their phones for social media. And no wonder.

The Whatsapp group streamlines child management. With tens of mums on hand, any question is likely to receive an immediate response, fantastic if you need to know what tonight’s homework is, or what to pack for the school trip tomorrow. There’s plenty of creative bonhomie too, so if you’re stuck for ideas on a project, it’s just one broadcast message away.

The mum network used to be formal and cliquey. If you had a school related question, you needed to locate a phone number, and make the onerous and often time-consuming effort to phone several mothers to find your answer. And there were always little groups of mothers who simply wouldn’t share. Of course, those little cliques never fully go away, but at least on a Whatsapp group democracy and egalitarianism stands a chance. Of course there is still a Queen Bee: the admin for the group.

In fact, the positives are so very positive that the problems pale into insignificance. Your phone can be constantly beeping, especially if trivial matters turn into lengthy conversations. But this is easily solved by simply switching notifications off.

Sometimes I do wonder why it’s just mums on these Whatsapp groups. Aren’t dads supposed to be involved too? Of course it shouldn’t be just mothers who have the responsibility of managing children’s schooling and building their community. But despite being an advocate of fathers and mothers doing their share, this is one small niche where for now, gender equality can wait. The group makes my life easier. But it also saves me from being just a little bit lonely.

The group makes me feel like my child’s schooling is a shared community project, as I believe education should be. But what feels more important for me as a mother, is that I now have my own community too. For working mums like me, with other children and responsibilities, who can’t always stand outside the school gate for an hour to chat, feeling connected, known and cared for is invaluable. I’ve got a support group to carry me through the challenges, and mums on hand to remind me that it’s OK not to be the perfect mother.

So, three cheers for the Whatsapp group. Next year I’m going to be the parent rep for my daughter’s class. And yes, I’ve already set up a Whatsapp group to manage it.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk

Published: July 10, 2015 04:00 AM

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