The new house rule: No work at home
Only recently did Parrish and Tom Chilcoat realize just how bad the habit had become. As soon as they would get home in the evening and reconnect with the kids, they also would go back to monitoring work. “I'd be trying to check work emails while making spaghetti in between,” Parrish said. “Tom would be in the living room ‘playing' with the kids, but I knew he was checking emails, work projects, not to mention Facebook! It all felt wrong.”
The result, Tom said, was that “after long days at work we'd come home to this chaotic and unorganized time at home.” So a few months ago the couple agreed to ban all electronics in their Los Angeles home between 5 and 8 p.m. Now that time is devoted to board games, reading and making dinner with their kids, ages 3 and 6.
“No more checking email or Facebooking during that time,” Parrish said. “It's a work in progress, but I'd say we are more focused, unified and happy as a family.”
Families who declare laptop-free zones or phone-free periods have company. House rules may vary — no iPad at the breakfast table, no laptops during prime time in the living room, no BlackBerries in bed — but the goal is the same. Stop work life from seeping into family life and be fully present for one another.
“Now instead of slinking off into our own email and Internet worlds after the kids are down, we're making a point of enjoying TV shows together,” Parrish said. “We're in the same room, sitting close together. Yes, TV is still an electronic activity, but we're not in separate worlds.”
Angela Nichol's Culver City home presents a challenge — two dozen of them, actually: four iPads, five iPods, four cellphones, five computers and six televisions in the house. And that's not counting the land lines, the PlayStations or the Wii.
Angela and her husband, Marten, have tried to develop some method to the media madness. “We have a one-digital-device-at-a-time rule,” Angela said. “And we're strict about it. For example, if we're watching a movie in the family room, then my kids can't be on their laptops or their cellphones, even if they're not in the same room.”
All devices are banned during mealtimes. The only exception: the parental BlackBerry, which is on only because Angela and Marten work for the same New York-based clothing manufacturer and are required to be on-call 24/7. (“If the BlackBerry goes off, we have to answer it,” Angela said, but because the couple are on the same email account, only one person has to deal with any incoming messages.)
Kersten Wehde, a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood in San Diego, and her fiancé, Christian Deck, a scientist at General Atomics, found that work flooded their lives the moment they woke up.
“My alarm clock is on my iPhone, and it's the first thing I see in the morning,” Wehde said. “So before I'd even gotten out of bed, I was responding to work emails and texts. The whole experience just wired me for stress for the whole day.”
Wehde said she forces herself not to check any messages until she's at the office, a switch that has greatly improved her mood.
“I now wake up gradually, not with a jolt of terror,” she said.
Nighttime is another matter. Wehde said that previous attempts to ban laptops in bed failed — so much so that the couple has agreed to minimize how much time is spent on computers at night. Ironically, now the two limit in-bed computer use to work only.
“No Autoblog, no Hairpin, no ‘Daily Show,'” she said of the car and women's websites and Jon Stewart's half-hour politicomedy. “Just work, and then we put them away.”
But it's not always easy to stick to the rules, Wehde said. “Sometimes I think an occasional blackout would be great.”
-- Alexandria Abramian-Mott
Illustrations: Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times