Home Truths: let’s get honest about family

Why every family needs a WhatsApp group

No matter what family means to you, keep in touch with emojis and in-jokes, urges Lynn Enright 

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By Lynn Enright on

“Do you think that Britain should bomb Syria?!” 

“Don’t think government has made the case for it. BTW, what’s a good dessert for six people, something you can prepare day before?” 

“Lemon posset? Reggie got a haircut!” 

“Just in from the funeral. V sad.” 

“Sitting down to an episode of Tony Soprano here.” 

Then a flurry of Xs. Then silence from all parties for another day. 

I live hundreds of miles from my family, in a different country, and yet every day, I am kept up-to-date with my sister’s dog’s grooming situation, any deaths that may have occurred in the town my parents live in, and my dad’s TV-viewing habits.

The family WhatsApp group – initiated by my younger sister a couple of years ago – keeps the five of us connected, in touch via hurried gossipy messages, kissy-face emojis, photos of dogs and links to silly articles featuring in-jokes. 

It’s far more convenient than any group email could ever be, and requires far less effort than a phone call (my sisters and I are millennials, meaning we basically never call each other). 

The immediacy of WhatsApp’s mobile messaging allows for a randomness that feels authentic, with all the non-sequiturs and interruptions that would be rude in any company besides family. And there’s a real sense that you’re all in this together, sharing a specific moment, LOLing at the exact same time. I don’t see my two sisters and my mum and dad for months at a time, and yet, I never feel like I’ve missed out on any developments, no matter how tiny, because I’ve had one eye on the family WhatsApp group all along.

The WhatsApp group can reflect family in all its messy, moving glory – a tight unit of two or a sprawl of 20


Of course, sometimes, there’s a Sunday afternoon when each message feels like a teensy little stab. 

“We’re going to be 20 mins late.”

“No problem. We’ll just see you at the cinema.”

I’ll notice the white writing appear against the black of my smashed iPhone screen and realise it’s completely irrelevant to me. My parents and my two sisters are planning a jaunt that I wasn’t invited to, arranging a date I could never make.  

The tiny stinging wounds of the emigrant quickly heal though (aided by a brief film review from my mother; “just three stars,” she’ll message as though she’s Peter Bradshaw), and anyway, it wouldn’t be family if you didn’t feel desperately left out sometimes.  

I know there are some who deeply distrust the notion of a family group message, writing the whole thing off as Waltons-esque but it doesn’t have to be a sickly sweet sanitised version of family; rather the WhatsApp group can reflect family in all its messy, moving glory – a tight unit of two or a sprawl of 20. Several friends who have divorced parents have groups that contain both mother and father; they’re just a little careful not to say anything that will upset either party, just like in real life. And just like in real life, family WhatsApp groups shrink with deaths and swell again with love. 

Besides the five members of my immediate family, my sister’s fiancé is also involved, privy to all our chats, often contributing himself. (Personally, I haven’t added my own boyfriend as that seems like a commitment greater than even marriage, but I’m sure we’ll get there one day.) So when my mum tells the group that she’s off to visit “Nana”, we all know that she means my sister’s fiancé’s grandmother, rather than our own, who passed away before WhatsApp was even invented. 

Those who doubt the efficiency or loveliness of a family WhatsApp group will often insinuate that the app is somehow beyond the technical capabilities of older people, but it’s a ridiculously simple way to communicate, far easier to prioritise than letters or even emails or Facebook.   

And yes, OK, the family WhatsApp group can be annoying – the flurry of messages cluttering up your phone’s screen; the glut of baby (or baby dog) pictures – but families are annoying. And you still love yours, don’t you? 


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