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Parenting 'As a rough guide, I would say to expect 78 new WhatsApp groups per child, per term'

Parents cannot escape the dozens of WhatsApp groups – from sports clubs to schools – that enter their lives, writes Margaret Lynch.

ONE PART OF parenting that no one prepares you for is the ungodly amount of WhatsApp groups you are going to be added to.

School classes, parties, play dates, best friend groups… everything, and I mean everything, has its own group. Every sleepover, sport, study group or night out. Each group name is a little quirkier than the last, all receiving hundreds of messages a day, with photos that automatically download to your gallery.

In preparation for this, I firmly believe midwives should start clearing your phone storage during prenatal visits. Believe me, you are going to need it.

Parenting young kids is years of sensory overwhelm. Noisy toys with flashing lights (the ones that mysteriously disappear overnight), suspicious smells and a nervous system on constant high alert. Any reprieve once they are in school is countered by a phone buzzing faster than you can hit mute.

School years

It started for us when my older daughter started school. Between the Parents’ Association, volunteer groups and the class group chats, the notifications never stop. Then she joined things like GAA (albeit very briefly), ballet, dance and drama. Again, all with new group chats.

As a rough guide, I would say to expect 78 new WhatsApp groups per child, per term. And if you plan on signing them up for any after school activities, you can go ahead and triple those numbers.

It just doesn’t stop. Neither does your phone. You might wonder why I don’t mute them, or just exit the groups altogether. I have asked myself the same thing many times. But leaving a WhatsApp group feels like walking away from a conversation while the other person is mid-sentence. And the people in these groups are parents of other kids in the class, who we desperately need to get along with our kids.

Or they are the coaches, the instructors, the teachers. These are all the people in our ‘village’, you know, the metaphorical one that raises the children. But that old pearl of wisdom missed the part where we have to hear every single thought of all the villagers, all day, every day.

The chats tip in throughout the day, peaking around homework time and then again after the kids go to bed, for obvious reasons. I try to keep an eye on them, answer what I can, or respond to things that are appropriate for me to answer. I try to not roll my eyes when someone asks what time Aldi closes, or when 17 people answer with different times. Or when yet another subgroup is set up to organise a night out that won’t make it past the group chat. Did Santa visit the school today? Cool, here are 274 photos to jam your camera roll.

Being on, all the time

If we were standing at the school gates and someone had organised the teacher present, or volunteers for an outing, it would be a bit weird if we all went around the group taking our turns to express gratitude. But once it has been announced on WhatsApp, you definitely need to send your thanks.

Or note that the person is a star/ superstar/ star bar. And you are going to need to get it in quickly, too, because no one wants to be the person sending the 68th ‘thank you’ message that we all receive.

It’s all very complicated and political. If you send a message that is ignored, you can be fairly certain your child is the class biter.

Alternatively, if your emoji responses hit double digits, it’s basically a standing ovation. At this point, I can’t leave the group chats because I rely on them so much. My second child tells me nothing. My granny would have said she’d forget her head if it wasn’t attached. What day is the sponsored walk? She has no idea. Do they need to wear their tracksuit tomorrow? She hasn’t a breeze. Is the school closed tomorrow? This is the first we have heard of it.

She never tells me anything from the school day. I don’t know if any of it goes in. Every day I get a shrug and ‘it was OK’. And then later that evening I’ll get a photo on the WhatsApp group of her holding a lizard from the local petting zoo.

Finger on the pulse

If it wasn’t for the group chats, I wouldn’t have a clue what was happening in her world.
I always have to ask what the homework is, when the project is due and what time the bus leaves. Did someone find a jumper? More than likely hers. Someone left their school bag in the classroom? I’d put money on it being ours. Birthday party invites that I’ve reminded her 100 times to bring in her bag? Still on the kitchen table. The other parents have gotten us this far through school.

Plus, these groups are usually established by some highly organised angel, who has a calling to bring structure and harmony to their communities. Embrace them. They devote hours to the WhatsApp groups and will happily answer all your questions.

They are going to organise the class gift and the volunteering schedule and also remind everyone that the Christmas play starts at 10 am.

The only problem is that each valuable text is cushioned by 87 irrelevant ones, and the only way to find it, is to sift through everything.

As always, we just need to embrace the chaos and lean into each phase we pass through. They are all so fleeting, and I am already dreading the day that the house and phone are both silent. I have no doubts we will look back on these chaotic days with fondness and enormous gratitude to the community who helped us through it all. Even if my phone storage doesn’t agree.

Margaret Lynch is a busy, working mum of two, living in Kildare and wondering if Adulthood is really for her.