IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

WhatsApp, mum? Way too much

This story was first published in The Sunday Times on Jan 26, 2014

My refusal to own a smartphone is causing me to miss out on a parenting rite-of-passage: the Mummies' WhatsApp group.

As a result, my husband is the only father in a group on the ubiquitous phone messaging system, comprising mums of our son's Primary 2 classmates, receiving messages 24/7 about all sorts of school and homework matters.

I don't envy him. Sometimes, when his phone vibrates for the nth time in an hour, he will let out a soft sigh over the inane nature of some messages ("My son always forgets to bring things home from school!" "Yeah? Mine too!"; "I'm the first one to arrive for parents-teachers day!" *picture of empty school hall* "Reserve a seat for me!").

I inwardly cheer at my decision to stay out of the fray.

At this point, some of you may have a burning question: "Why in @%^$ #~+=!& do you not have a smartphone?"

The answer: I want to spend minimal time staring at my phone and more time staring at my kids. I've seen parents in public places who appear hypnotised by their smartphones while their kids fidget next to them. And I know that if I get an iPhone or equivalent, I'll be just like them - unable to resist the temptation of sneaking peeks at my shiny, entertaining device that beeps, when I should be watching and entertaining my beeping children.

But back to my lack of membership in a WhatsApp motherhood group.

I first noticed this parenting deficiency last year, when I received an SMS from the mum of a boy who sat next to my son in P1. After thanking us for a birthday gift we had given her child, she asked if I had WhatsApp.

"What's that?" I texted enthusiastically back, "I think my husband has it. You want to send things to him and I'll check?"

"Oh, never mind," she quickly replied, never to text again. Looking back, she probably thought I lived under a rock.

As parenting escalates into a competitive sport in today's hot-housing, home-schooling, organic- food-only families, the need for clear and open channels of communication to ensure maximum efficiency and best practices has become more and more imperative.

Parents want to know from other parents if they are doing things right. Once upon a time, the only way to do so was to hang out with other parents at the playground and talk shop (or talk home). Now, we can carry on this conversation wherever we are.

By we, I mean you.

When I told my friend R, who has three primary school-going daughters, that I don't belong to any Mummies' WhatsApp group, she gasped and said: "How can?!"

She went on to say that she has started and manages three WhatsApp groups: one for each daughter's class. It's a handy way of double-checking the information that your kid comes home from school with, she tells me.

Group members also share photos from school events, call for volunteers or send SOS when their kid forgets to bring home their tingxie, or Chinese spelling, list. (This personal dedication to the dissemination of accurate information is right up R's alley; she used to be a police spokesman.)

Another friend J said that she recently traded in her beloved Nokia for a smartphone just so she could "do the WhatsApp thing with other mums". Among other reasons, she was feeling very embarrassed that other mums had to SMS only her especially, to keep her in the loop about gatherings. As with much of social networking, with critical mass, peer pressure for non-users to "get with" these platforms swells accordingly.

If WhatsApp had been around about seven years ago, when I was a full-time stay-at-home mother with a toddler, I would have embraced it in a heartbeat. After all, mothering an only child can be an isolating experience. I would very much have appreciated a circle of mothers to talk to or ask questions of when I felt my way around in those early days of motherhood.

That moment, however, has passed.

Now that I work part-time and my two boys are older, I crave being alone rather than connected. The idea of a wider, virtual motherhood circle seems a little exhausting.

This feeling intensifies when I hear from a colleague about her son's pre-school WhatsApp group which degenerated into a witch-hunt during an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease: Parents tried to find out which kid started the epidemic and fingered anybody who did not reply or deny fast enough via WhatsApp.

Besides, there's merit to being a deliberately out-of-the-loop parent. My eight-year-old son will simply have to learn to keep his ears open in school - to develop the skill of listening well - without relying on his Luddite mum to be his personal assistant by proxy.

That will make me truly App-y.

clarac@sph.com.sg

How necessary is it to be a clued-in, WhatsApp- able parent? E-mail suntimes@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Sunday Times on Jan 26, 2014

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