I am a WhatsApp mother. I have been one from the day my daughter turned one and I had to put her in daycare. My prime responsibility was to constantly check my phone for updates on what my little one was up to.
Did she eat her lunch on time? Her vitamins? Did someone change her nappy? I got detailed messages about how much water she had had through the day, how many times she had burped and if she was listening to her rhymes.
This went on till the pandemic struck. The creche closed indefinitely and my household had to adjust to a new arrangement overnight.
Suddenly me and her, mother and daughter, were thrown into each other’s company every hour of every day. Every day I discovered new things about her — her tantrums, her food habits, how much sugar she wanted in her suji halwa and whether she liked the taste of curd. Some days she would eat nothing but fruits because she did not like my seasoning. It was excruciating, it was also fun — in retrospect — and I think it was in that period that I was reborn a mother. Most importantly, the WhatsApp didn’t ping quite so much.
The crèche reopened after three months. She went back to it, but this time her playschool also went online. So I was back to checking messages, only more messages.
There was a school group, another for her drawing classes, another for story-telling classes and yet another for yoga — I had no idea that she could do the padmasana. There were at least three to five messages in each of these groups throughout the day. And I couldn’t afford to miss any of them.
One day I did not see a message and later I came to know that she had hit the wall while playing and got a lump on her forehead. Another time she came back with a deep gash behind her ear. I posted a picture of the wound on the group — I had got the hang of WhatsApp parenting — only to find out that another toddler had bitten her.
Three years after the pandemic, my daughter joined a formal school. On the day of the parents’ orientation programme, many demanded that it was not a good idea to rely on school diaries to know about the lessons being taught in school. A WhatsApp group would be more interactive, apparently.
My childhood was simpler. I would go to school and I would completely escape my mother’s anxious watch for a good eight hours. Unless I created a mess at school that would cause other children to raise an alarm, my parents did not know who pushed whom, who hit whom, who tore my notebook. It was my world, my very own.
There was also ample opportunity to surprise my parents. I would come home skipping and merry, and break the news about some function or surprise chocolates on someone’s birthday. Here, I know everything before the brat has even got off the bus. Parents are more inclined to check their WhatsApp groups for information instead of hearing it being lisped by their children. Would you even believe it if I tell you that when I do otherwise my daughter tells me: “Why are you asking me what happened in school? Check your phone.”
One day when the app to track her school bus malfunctioned, almost every other parent got on to WhatsApp. Which bus was where etc. etc. I misread a message and reached the wrong bus stop at the right time. That day, I told my daughter about all those times when my school bus in Dhanbad would break down. The conductor had to go back to the main office of the mining project and inform the manager who would then proceed to arrange for another bus.
We would sit inside the bus until help arrived, playing antakshari or dumb charades. The older kids sometimes walked to the nearby roadside eatery asking for food and promising to pay the next day. Sometimes, our parents would come looking for us following the usual route of the bus, and pick us up, but that was rare.
Life for my daughter has become simpler but uneventful and unadventurous. I cannot say that I do not want to be a WhatsApp Mom but I really do not want my daughter to be a WhatsApp child.