It’s easy to pinpoint the moment I realised I had to leave the school WhatsApp group. I was away for the weekend and should’ve been feeling relaxed – after all, someone else was looking after my children and for the first time in months I didn’t have to get up at 6am to watch ‘Peppa Pig’.
But rather than whiling away the hours reading a book, or going for a walk, or enjoying a pub lunch, I found myself typing furiously on my phone to another parent about why she shouldn’t post scaremongering hoax videos to the Year Two parents’ thread.
It was interesting to notice just how wound up it made me, arguing with a virtual stranger. My heart started racing, my hands were shaking, my temper grew short – and I couldn’t seem to stop butting in. I was so sure I was right.
And it helped to have support as other parents started piling in: taking sides, weighing in with their opinions. I started getting secret, separate, “hell yeah!” messages from buddies who agreed with me, but were too afraid to say it out loud.
My children’s school is fairly big – there are three classes and 90 pupils in a year. If every parent got involved with WhatsApp, it could be as many as 180 names on the notification list. Not everyone joins in, of course, but those who do tend to be the ones who’ll do anything to make their voices heard.
Confession time: that used to be me.
That is, until I realised allowing myself to get drawn in to an argument didn’t actually make me feel good. In fact, it had the opposite effect: it totally stressed me out. Something had to change and so I decided to follow in the footsteps of the greatest flouncers: “Victoria has left the group”.
My involvement didn’t quite end there, however. Leaving simply led to a new onslaught of messages from people genuinely concerned I’d been pushed to my limits. And in a way, they were right to think that. I was.
It’s clear that parents need a lot of support. This week, Kate Middleton helped launch a helpline for overwhelmed parents with the charity Family Action, saying: “Everybody experiences the same struggle.” And in 2018, the UK ranked as fifth worst in the world for “unmanageable stress”, according to the 2018 Cigna 360 Wellbeing Survey.
My decision to leave the school WhatsApp group (I even – shock – left the PTA) was a conscious move to reduce my own stress levels. And you know what? It’s worked. I feel calmer. My weekends aren’t spent scrolling through hundreds of notifications about homework, because nobody can be bothered to check for the assignments online. I’m not drawn into spurious debates about whether ‘slime’ stains your clothes and should be banned from school, and I don’t have to hear people arguing about their dogs barking at the school gates.
The downsides? I have to rely on my own organisational skills – which isn’t exactly my forte. I must stay on top of the school newsletter and website, and actively note down non-uniform day and school trips. But it’s taught me a lesson, because those are things I should’ve been doing before anyway, rather than lazily expecting someone else to remind me.
And while I might occasionally get FOMO – or actually miss out on the occasional party invitation – I definitely feel less wound up and anxious. So if you’re feeling like I was, give it a try. Taking a step back on social media might be all you need to take a giant leap forwards for your own wellbeing.