Do You Need a Digital Detox?


"When I work from home, I struggle with "online" mommy guilt. What can I do about it?"

- Melissa Gardner, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Thank you for writing in, Melissa. This is a great question and a very timely topic. Whether you refer to it as “online” mommy guilt or “digital device dependency” this is something that affects moms everywhere. The Ask Mom Online RI translation for the term “online” mommy guilt: Texting, tweeting, emailing, face-booking or working on your computer when your kids are around.

The good news is you are not alone. Unfortunately, 50 percent of Americans prefer to communicate digitally rather than having face-to-face communication. (Source: Economy Watch). Another interesting stat: More than 225,000 text messages are sent every second throughout the world. Every second!

If you work from home or in an office, it doesn’t take long before you become addicted to using digital devices. I have to be honest. I’m guilty of being digitally dependent at times. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the technology that’s out there to help make your job and your life easier. But, as it is with most things in life, over-doing it can cause problems. When it starts affecting your kids, it’s time to put your iPhone down and smell the coffee.

How do you know if you’re getting carried away?

Some sure-fire signs that you need a “digital detox”:

  • You rattle off generic, “uh, huh,” “that’s great, honey” and “good job, sweetie” responses to your kids while buried in your laptop or hand-held device.
  • Your child pleads with you to get off your iPhone so you can play together.
  • You bring your iPhone into the bathroom so you can tweet and text in peace.
  • You interact with friends online more often than in person.
  • You text during a phone conversation and lose your train of thought. (And the person on the other line notices.)
  • You weave Twitter #hashtags into everyday conversation.
  • You excuse yourself from family activities to sneak off and tweet, e-mail or text in the other room.
  • You text your husband when it’s time for dinner. And he’s already home.
  • Your spouse pleads with you to put your iPhone away after the kids go to bed.
  • You bring your iPhone with you on vacation, meaning you never really go on vacation.

You may not consider yourself a digital device addict, but when this behavior starts becoming the norm and your kids start to notice, you know you need to take a good look in the mirror.

I received a new iPhone for Christmas and have had a love-hate relationship with it ever since. Thanks to my iPhone, I can work anywhere, any time, no matter what I’m doing. (Except driving of course. Although I’m an expert at pulling over and texting, which infuriates my 11-year-old son.) This means I have a lot more freedom with my business. I was able to get away with working on my laptop in front of my kids a lot more when they were a lot younger. They didn’t “catch on” as quickly that mom was “online”. Through the years, they have become more “in tune” to their mom tuning them out. Now that my kids that are 8 and 11, they catch me in my auto-while-on-line-mommy-responses, which means I have to try to be more present when they are in my presence.

Ten tips to help reduce “online” mommy guilt:

  1. Go on a digital diet. Take a break from your digital devices at least once a week.
  2. Make mini-goals. If your job depends on you to be “tuned-in” around the clock, dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to be completely, whole-heartedly off-line. Gradually increase it by an additional five minutes every day. Make it a goal to go two hours every day without being online.
  3. Use an oven timer. Time yourself while you’re online. Find out how many hours you spend online and see how it makes you feel.
  4. Nap-time ritual. Try to work online when your kids nap.
  5. Block of time. Try to dedicate “off-line” time with your kids. Set a block of time every day to turn off your iPhone and step away from your laptop. Even shooting hoops for 15 minutes with your son accounts for something!
  6. Enjoy it. Go bike-riding as a family, walk the dog, go to the park. Take a Yoga with baby class. Meditate. Read. Do something off-line that’s enjoyable.
  7. Mother’s Helper. If you are too stressed to break from your digitally-oriented job, hire a baby sitter or a mother’s helper to help watch your kids while you meet your deadlines.
  8. Dinner time tune-out. Turn off your devices between set blocks of time such as 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. This will allow you to accomplish your online duties (or have fun catching up with friends online) during specific hours so you can spend quality “off-line” time with your family.
  9. The same rules apply. As a general rule, you know it’s rude to text or tweet during a meeting. Apply these same rules of thumb when working from home. Don’t text during “tea time” with your daughter or “train time” with your little boy.
  10. Leave it. The next time you’re out with the kids, try leaving your phone in the car. You might be pleasantly surprised. You can always answer a text or voicemail when you get back!

Jackie is a local writer and pr professional who blogs about her take on motherhood at and writes about it in her book, How to Spread Sanity on a Cracker.