Sunday 13 October 2019

Comment: 'Whatsapp groups with other parents make me feel alienated and just not good enough as a mum'

The Whatsapp app.
The Whatsapp app.
Fiona Ness

Fiona Ness

Ping! Ping! Ping! Whatsapp is working overtime. The phone might be on the desk beside me but Whatsapp is sitting like a demon on my shoulder, each ping an insouciant splash of vinegar into a wound of guilt. What guilt? The type of unassuaged guilt that was hammered home by this newspaper earlier this week, when it proclaimed: 'Working parents are damaging child health due to absence.'

I had joined the Whatsapp groups at back-to-school time. Being in contact with the mummy Whatsapp groups of my children's classroom peers - I reasoned - would be a great way to keep in touch with my children's school lives.

I am (my daughter tells me, pointedly) the only mother who isn't at the school gate to collect their child. Whatsapp would be just like being at the school gates, while actually being at work.

As every parent who has ever turned up in the schoolyard at bell time knows, it is the place where all the essential information is gleaned about your child's school life.

And that journey from the school yard to the front door? That's not just walking home, it's a time for bonding, and offers a crucial window into the highs and lows of your child's life. They will natter on about their day, you will listen, comment and read between the lines. In contrast, by the time working parents walk in the door at 6pm and beyond, the child's day is aeons ago, and any problems that haven't already been shared and halved by a parent, have sunk deep into their psyche. The mothers at the school gates know this. That's why they're there. And now, with Whatsapp, I could be there too.

Only I'm not there. I'm up to ninety in work - enjoying being here and delighted to be here, contributing to the economy, society and my family's security - but distracted by the irritating ping!

First Communions. Ping!

GAA. Ping!

Swimming pools and school socks. Ping! Ping!

Instead of drawing me closer into the fold, all this Whatsapping is making me feel more and more alienated, and just not good enough as a mum. It's making me realise that all the things I want to be privy to - for my child's wellbeing and probably, if I'm honest, for my own 'can do it all' ego, too - I'm simply not.

Working mums feel like Sisyphus; Whatsapp mums think Sisyphus is for sissies.

Thanks to Whatsapp I now know how much I've missed in my kids' lives by not helping out on the library visits and class nature trips to the park and the afterschool sports club - as if my children's disappointment that I couldn't join in wasn't enough.

I also - and let's be fair here - know the ideal size of schoolbag to buy and what the Irish homework means and what GAA group the kids should join. One lovely mum even sent me a map of the muddy pitch where I dashed to after work this week to cheer on my kids until dark - me unfed and still in stilettos. Afterwards they drank hot chocolate through straws on the couch while I checked homework and disinfected someone's newly pierced ears. And then there was an hour of stories and struggling them into bed with hugs, where I heard, "I never want to let you go, mummy".

And then it was downstairs to wash up the pots their minder had left at tea time, prepare the clothes and lunchboxes for the morning, clean the poo off the school shoes and do two loads of washing, tidy the entire house and fold the ironing. And then there's the laptop winking a reminder that I'm not quite finished with work yet either. And all the time I'm waiting, waiting, waiting to have five minutes with the other guilty, not-good-enough parent, when he arrives in world-weary, off the back-shift.

And then we'll stay up talking lovingly about those pesky kids beyond a time that's rational for our 6am rise the next day. Waiting for the dawn to break.

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