12 Tips for Work at Home Moms of Babies and Toddlers

Working from home is both amazing and amazingly stressful. You get to be home with your kids while contributing to the family income, but you also have to do the work of contributing to the family income while taking care of your kids. It’s awesome and hard all at the same time.

Woman sitting on couch with laptop on her lap and feet on ottoman.

I’ve been there and done that through all three of my kids – two essentially regular kids and one kid with complex medical needs – and I’m here to share my wisdom! Take what you can use, leave the rest.

Establish a predictable rhythm

Notice I didn’t say “schedule.” I think every other “how to be a work at home mom” article I’ve ever read tells you to get that baby on a schedule. But I am one of those moms who doesn’t believe babies operate on a schedule, and I don’t operate on one, either. But you’ll both do better with a predictable rhythm to your day.

How do you establish this? Start with any hard and fast regular time commitments. Need to start dinner around 4:30? Like to get out of bed at 6 am? Whatever your established times are, build your day’s natural flow into that. First breakfast, then personal care, then play time with the baby, then a short work period, then lunch, then more work time with breaks as needed, then start dinner at 4:30. You don’t need a schedule with set times, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed and behind, but having a predictable rhythm has several benefits. First, it helps your child(ren) know what to expect from the day. Second, it helps ensure you do the things you need to do. If you always do work after lunch, it just becomes a habit and you’re less likely to put it off and get backed up in your work. Third, it gives you a general sense of how your day will go. If your child is generally quiet and content in the afternoons, for example, you know this is the best time to work, and this is NOT a good time to schedule a pediatrician appointment.

Plan to be interrupted

I mean, it’s just going to happen. When kids are young (babies, young toddlers), they literally cannot wait patiently. In my experience, when I was working while caring for babies and young toddlers, things seemed to go easier, better, and faster if I just accepted the interruption immediately and handled whatever it was. A feed, or a diaper change, or some interaction. Feed the baby while they’re still relatively happy, and all you have to do is feed them. Wait until they’re really unhappy about it, and now you have to calm them down AND feed them – your interruption is twice as long. (Yes, I’m kind of referring to your kid as an interruption.)

Plan for uninterrupted times

As your baby gets older, naptimes will start to become less frequent but longer. Have a plan so you don’t waste this precious time! Plan in advance what you’re going to do at naptime. Then as soon as you can sneak away from them, run – don’t walk – and get ‘er done.

If you need longer stretches of uninterrupted time, you’ll have to make it happen with the help of someone else. Grandma, a friend, another work at home mom with whom you trade childcare, your spouse, a paid sitter. Personally, I found that it worked best for me to get the kiddo to sleep at night then sneak away and work until he/she woke up for his/her first night feed. It was usually several hours. We coslept so my husband was right there with them and could take care of any non-breast needs if they should arise. Working in the middle of the night may not be ideal, but it worked well for us.

Woman working on a laptop in bed.

Get and stay organized

Keep a good to-do list. Keep your supplies well-organized. Keep your workspace organized. Keep a good, current calendar, and use email folders and labels, and all of those time management and organization tips. I know this doesn’t come naturally to some people, but let’s look at two people I know well. (OK, it’s me and my husband.)

One of us maintains a to do list. Several, actually. When I get up in the morning, I know exactly how I’m going to spend my work time that day. I also know what non-work tasks I need to accomplish. I mentally budget my time so I know, for example, that if I want to shower before dinner, I need to wrap up my work by 5:30. And I know that means I need to plan to wrap up by 5. When I’m working, I start at the top of my list and work my way down. While I’m finishing up one task, I look at what’s next and start mentally planning what I need for that. I move from one thing to the next thing to the next thing. And when I need tools, they’re right where I expect them to be, because I put them away when I was done using them.

The other of us does not use a to do list. Well, sometimes he does. In his head. He gets up and thinks about what he’s going to do for a while. Then he goes to see if he can find the things he needs to do whichever thing sounds best to him. That usually takes a while, and half the day’s usually gone by the time he’s gotten started. Once he’s finished one task, he sits down somewhere to decide what to do next. An hour later, he starts the next thing. He has no plan, so he doesn’t get as much done because he spends so much time trying to plan in the moment.

I’m not saying one way is better than the other… but one way is definitely more productive.

Make your workspace safe

Make your workspace safe for your baby or toddler and establish a special spot for them. Before my babies were able to crawl, I had a soft pad on the floor of my office and I dangled toys for them to play with from various office equipment. As they started rolling and scooting, we moved more toys down to my office, and as they became toddlers, they each had their own special spot in my office with crayons and a chalkboard, dolls and cars, whatever they were into.

I also caged them in, but not in a tiny playpen, which gets boring fast and isn’t quite what toddlers need developmentally. When my office was a more or less open space, I bought one of those long plastic modular baby fences and strung it up all around my area. When I moved my office into a room with a better doorway, we used a regular baby gate. I knew my office area was 100% safe for them, and I knew they couldn’t get out, so I could work in peace knowing they were safe and nearby.

Having them in your workspace also allows you to maintain verbal contact if you’re doing something that allows for that, which is a nice way to stay involved and interactive with your kids while still getting your work done. I primarily sew, so I can carry on a conversation with my kids while still working.

Breastfeeding

Nursing time is a great time to catch up on social media (if you do that as part of your work), to read relevant articles, or even to do desk work like accounting or blogging. It all depends on your breasts and your baby, though. I was always able to work with at least one hand while nursing (after that floppy head newborn stage), but some moms are not able to make this work. Try using a My Breast Friend pillow if you find you need more hands.

Yes, ideally, breastfeeding is a time of bonding and eye contact. Until your baby hits that stage where they’re distracted by everything. During that stage, I found that I basically had to ignore them if I wanted them to eat at all, otherwise it was an hour of smiles and spraying breastmilk around the room, but no actual eating took place.

Babywearing

I know moms who work from home and don’t babywear, but it’s so much easier with a carrier or two. I’ve used my carriers to enable me to:

  • wear and bounce an unhappy teething or sick baby while typing by elevating my laptop so I could easily reach it while standing, or by sitting and bouncing on an exercise ball.
  • Hold a child through his nap so he’ll stay asleep longer while I continue to work at my desk or my sewing machine.
  • Comfort a toddler who’s having one of those days when they just want to be held, but I have a hard deadline and can’t devote a day to JUST snuggles.
  • And of course all of the NOT work related uses.

Exercise

Regular exercise helps you work better. Be mindful about giving your body attention – stretch, do some squats, take 3 minutes and jog in place. If you have toddlers, have a dance party with them, or run around the couch a few times. Babies and toddlers are pretty easy to exercise with!

A baby plays on the floor

Playtime

Do NOT get so focused on your work that you neglect the children that you’re staying home for. It’s so easy to get into this “ok, I’ll read to you after I do this. And this. And this.” But, much like with feeding and diaper changes, I found it worked better to stop what I was doing as soon as practical and take care of the need for attention right away. Not only did this reinforce to my kids that they are more important than work, but it also helped me be more productive when I was working. We kept a small stack of favorite books in my office, and the kids would grab one and climb up in my lap for a quick read a few times a day, which was enjoyable for us both. (And I can still recite my 15 year old’s favorite book from this time, lol. It was called A Little Spot of Color.)

Help your older toddlers learn about waiting

There are plenty of resources out there that can help you with this, but I started by simply teaching my children the ASL sign for “wait.” I started by choosing times when I was available immediately, and consciously chose to ask them (nonverbally) to wait, then waiting about 5 seconds before looking at them and addressing their need. I gradually lengthened this, and when that was going well, I added “can you wait five minutes?” to our repertoire. I tried not to push them beyond their capabilities, while stretching them JUST enough.

Using a visual timer can help a lot, too. I have a whole blog post about visual timers you might want to check out. Toddlers struggle with time concepts, and waiting even one minute can feel like forever, but if you use a visual timer, it helps them see the time passing.

Help your older toddlers play alone

Again, lots of parenting resources out there, but what worked for me was sitting down with my toddler to play, but letting them know that I’d need to stop after a little bit so I could do some more work while they kept playing. We’d play for a bit, then I’d stop playing but stay with them, then I’d get up and go back to work and let them play for a bit.

Stop Working

You can’t always be working. You have to not be working sometimes. Establish hard and fast rules for this for yourself. Do you have a morning playtime with your kids? No working during this time, not even if your phone chimes that you have a new message.

Are you enjoying dinner with your family? Again, no working during this time.

You cannot be available to your clients/customers/bosses 24 hours a day. Establish rules for when you are unavailable and stick to them. Reassess how you’re doing with this regularly.

Pinnable image for this blog post

Exercising in the hospital

We just passed 1 year since Teddy’s last inpatient stay in September! Whoohoo!

So, fortunately, I haven’t had to exercise in a hospital in over a year. But I’ve certainly had plenty of times when I needed to.

Exercising while you’re in the hospital with your child has so many benefits. It actually does help keep your spirits and your energy up. Sitting around a boring hospital room all day does nothing good for your mental health, especially if you’re there for weeks or months at a time. I also find that doing healthy things for me while we’re inpatient is also a huge mental boost – I am Doing Something Healthy For Me, Yay Me!

Plus, the obvious physical benefits of getting regular movement and exercise. Many people stress eat in the hospital; exercise will help counteract that. (I stress eat veggies in the hospital, which I know is really weird, but I also tend to hit the sugary beverages and carb-loaded snacks a little heavy, as well.) Plus, unless you specifically make an effort to move around during the day, it’s way too easy to spend the entire day just sitting.

But HOW can you exercise in the hospital?

This is NOT SILLY

I would suggest that first you need to get over the idea of looking silly. This is NOT the weirdest thing your child’s providers have ever seen. Also, I’m not suggesting here that you exercise to the point that you are a sweaty, red-faced mess. Feel free if you like. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Walking

If you can leave your child’s room, go for a walk. If they can leave with you, plop them in a wheelchair, carrier, or stroller and bring them along. Walk as briskly as you can without being rude to others in the hallway. Your individual hospital policies will vary, and your individual hospital will vary. We’ve had times we’ve only been able to pace up and down a rather short hallway. We’ve also had times we were able to slip away from the unit and walk outside. Walk as much as you can. We usually go for 2-3 walks a day when we’re inpatient if we’re able to leave the room. It kills time, it gives us something else to look at, and it feels good. (Let’s not talk about how many times I use those walks to buy a scotcharoo.)

Stretching and Yoga

If you do yoga, it’s pretty easy to adapt to a hospital room. If you don’t do yoga, you could start! There are YouTube channels with beginner yoga routines – pop one on and give it a try! If you’re not into yoga (I’m not), just a plain ol’ stretching routine can feel really good on a body that’s stressed. Don’t push anything, just gently stretch out your muscles. I try to make it a point to do this at least once a day while inpatient.

Resistance Exercise

I find muscle-building exercises to be easier to do inpatient than aerobic exercise. I try to keep an exercise band in my hospital suitcase for resistance, but even without that, there’s pushups, situps/crunches, leg raises, squats, etc. (I’m typing this post in the outpatient infusion clinic and I’ve just done a set of squats and lunges to wake myself up a little!) I’ve been adding quite a few ideas to my Hospital Life board on Pinterest if you need help getting started.

Keeping it Private

If you want to minimize the chances of being “caught” exercising, consider these strategies.

  • Post a note outside your child’s room to please knock, mom is exercising inside. (This is far less embarrassing than the note I used to put out, which was “please come back later, mom is showering inside with the bathroom door open.” Teddy would freak out if I shut the bathroom door.)
  • Find a private parent room. Most hospitals have family break rooms, but some hospitals have little private rooms just for you. Sometimes these rooms are intended for sleeping, but as long as you’re being quiet, there’s no reason not to use this room for exercising.
  • Hit the gym. Some hospitals have on-site gyms for family use. Our primary hospital has a gym in the next building that parents can use for free. I’ve never taken advantage of this, but I know parents who have and they’ve enjoyed the break from the hospital as much as the exercise itself.

Ummm…People are Staring…

Have you ever been out with your special needs or medically complex child and noticed someone staring? Or felt like someone was staring?

OF COURSE you have.

We all have.

But what should you do about it?

My take on this issue might be different from many, but I say let ’em stare.

“But it makes my kid feel bad!!”

But it doesn’t need to.

I personally make a conscious choice to assume that people are staring because they’re completely blown away by our awesomeness. And I teach my children this attitude both with my words and with my actions.

Whatever the situation. This is not limited to special needs or medical issues, lol.

We live our lives and if people want to look, well, it must be because we’re so amazing they can’t help themselves.

The truth is probably that they’re just curious. As common as public meltdowns, tube feeding, and suction machines might seem to those of us living this life, most people have never actually seen a feeding pump, or a trach, or a child who is so anxious about some tiny thing that they cannot possibly move on from it in that moment. And, like every single one of us, they look.

And be honest. You stare, too. “oh, I would never!” eh. Most of us stare. Not meanly. But we do. I catch myself watching children struggling in public – or, actually, watching their parents. I try to give a wink or a nod of solidarity, but there’s not always the chance. But the truth is, I’m taking mental notes. “oh, that’s a good thing to say. I should try that next time.” I stare at people with fancy accessories for their equipment. “ooo, look at how they have that attached to her backpack. That’s a good idea.”  I stare at little kids wearing mini backpacks – and, as it turns out, 95% of them are just backpacks and not feeding pump backpacks, lol. Sometimes I’m looking at people simply in an effort to give a nonverbal “hey, us, too” but we don’t ever make eye contact. They probably walk away thinking “man, that lady was so rude!”

It’s NORMAL to look at things that stand out. And it’s actually a good thing, in the big picture. We WANT people to look at things that are out of the norm. A kid screaming at the park brings unwanted stares if your kid is screaming because of a meltdown, but so, so wanted if they’re screaming because a stranger is trying to drag them into their car. I WANT adults around us to look if my kid starts throwing a fit – I want them to look at least enough to determine that the situation is safe and under control.

Taking a second look at things that seem out of the norm is a self-protective feature of humans – and it’s actually something I actively teach my children to do. If something looks out of place, look at again, and look until you’ve either categorized it as unconcerning, or you’ve determined that it is concerning and you’ve implemented a plan to deal with it.

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I grew up with a mom who was a Type 1 diabetic, diagnosed in the late 1950s. She got her first insulin pump back when insulin pumps first became available (one of the first in the country to get one). Back then, they were huge, ugly things. It came in a giant black case that looked like a weird, hard-sided gun holster. And my mom loved it. It was such an improvement over self-injecting. She loved it so much that if she caught people looking at it, she’d tell them what it was and what it was doing for her and she’d take off the cover and she’d show it to them. She’d give them a whole education about diabetes and insulin. People were staring? GREAT! Because this insulin pump is amazing and they should learn all about it!! They SHOULD stare at this marvel of technology that is letting me live so I can see my children grow up.

People would regret being caught staring sometimes – not because she had crafted the perfect verbal zinger to hurl at them, but because her enthusiasm about her insulin pumps far outweighed their interest. (She was a teacher not just by vocation but by calling.)

I credit that attitude on her part for helping me, all these years later, deal with staring with my child in such a positive way. I’m not into talking to strangers like she was. I’m not even that into talking to people I know. I’ll answer questions if people ask them, but I’m not going to approach people and start gushing about my kid’s feeding pump, for example. But I carry her enthusiastic attitude about medical equipment that improves lives with me, and I carry her “staring? of course they’re staring, this is awesome!!” attitude with me, too.

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(I would be remiss if I didn’t note that often, we FEEL like people are staring, but nobody is, in fact, staring. I have had so many times when whatever I’m doing FEELS so weird and unusual that I’m certain people must be staring. Whether I was breastfeeding in public, dealing with vomit in public, or handling a beeping feeding pump, it felt like people surely MUST be staring. But if I took a moment to pause what I was doing and glance around, I was reassured to find that, in fact, nobody was paying us any attention. So if you feel like you’re sticking out like a sore thumb, and everyone must surely be staring, sometimes it’s good to take a moment and look around – perhaps you’ll find that nobody around you really cares, after all!)

Tips for Surviving a Long Clinic Day with your Child

We drive a fair distance to see specialists (depending on which specialists, 2 hours or 10 hours) and appreciate it when they coordinate schedules to see us on the same day to cut down on driving time, gas, etc. But that can result in some LONG days hanging around a hospital. Here are our top tips for surviving those long days.

1. Pack Wisely

I prefer a medium sized backpack because that’s what I find the most comfortable, but you do what works best for you. Whatever type of bag you choose, keep your things easy to find. I use my small and medium wet bags to keep things organized in my backpack, so when I need to grab, for example, supplies to start a meal with the feeding pump, they’re all in one place together. Any children who come with you who are old enough to carry their own things should carry their own things, as well.

It also bears considering the weather and any other extenuating circumstances. During sketchy weather, I tend to bring the whole medication box and a few days of tube feeding supplies as well as a complete change of clothes and a toothbrush – if a snowstorm blows through sooner than expected, or what was supposed to be rain turns to ice or a tornado, we will have the supplies we need to hunker down overnight, rather than having to push through.

2. Make a list, check it twice

Obviously, you need to bring all of the things you need for the day, plus all of the things you MIGHT need for the day. And though you’ve maybe packed for a day away from home a billion times, if your clinic day involves leaving the house at the crack of dawn or earlier like ours do, you might want to make a list instead of relying on your memory. I pack up as much as I can the night before, then make a list of the things that aren’t packable – meds that need to go in the cooler, for example, or some hot coffee for me.

3. Different bags for different jobs

I like to pack a clinic bag (that I take in with me), a car bag (which holds supplies for use in the car or for keeping in the car as backup), and an emergency bag (this bag actually lives in the car and has supplies we’d need if we have car trouble or unexpected weather delays our return home). We also usually take a cooler, not only for the meds that need to stay cool, but so that we have nice cool drinks when we get back to the car, and to hold snacks that are better cool. And for many years, every clinic day I also loaded up our hospital suitcase, which had supplies to last a week inpatient.

It bears mentioning that in the winter, we also bring a bag that has a complete set of extra winter supplies for everyone, and I also usually throw our coveralls into the car. Again in case of unexpected weather or car trouble.

Two bags on an asphalt roadPhoto by Dids from Pexels

4. Snacks, Lunch, and Water

Pack snacks. Lots of snacks. If you’re leaving early, pack breakfast. If at all possible, make something like a breakfast sandwich for every oral eater and heat it up as you walk out the door for some nice protein to start your day. Make sure your snacks have protein, as well. Have a solid plan for lunch – either pack it or plan to buy it there. And bring drinks – preferably water, but I know I sometimes need either the sugar or the flavor of non-water drinks to make it through clinic days. I try to stick with herbal iced teas, but won’t lie that I sometimes pack myself a root beer for the drive home. In the winter, I sometimes pack myself a hot tea bag and get myself a cup of hot water from the coffee machines for a nice hot tea treat between appointments. When I was bringing the older kids, I’d often pack a hot chocolate mix packet and let them split it between appointments. A little treat tends to go a long way when you’ve got a long boring day.

5. The Car bag

My car bag has a handful of snacks for all the oral eaters, extra water bottles, some rags, DVDs, a few extra diapers, a change of clothes for me and for any children who might need it, emergency supplies like a spare bag for the feeding pump, a shelf stable meal (or cold meal if we’ve brought the cooler) for everyone who’s coming, and any other supplies we may need that we don’t want to carry with us. The shelf stable meals – I can’t tell you how many times we’ve ended up eating them. We can’t always afford to buy food for everyone from the cafeteria, but many clinic days have dragged on much longer than expected and left us starving and needing more than our lunch and snacks. Heat and eat food to the rescue! (We usually bring one or two of those microwave single mac and cheese bowls, a can of spaghettios, and a shelf stable pasta meal.) I also always pack a few of my emergency chocolates. (I hoard a specific type of chocolate that’s only available during the Christmas season, and I always have a few of these in my car bag for the drive home. I don’t really drink, but these are like my version of wine. Bonus: I can enjoy while driving.)

6. Electronics

If you use electronics, long clinic days are the time to get those out. Whether you have tablets or portable DVD players, electronics can help fill hours in the car, hours in the waiting room, and hours in the doctor rooms.

A boy plays on a Kindle in an exam room

7. Audio books or Podcasts

If your child/children will listen to audio books, pick something you can all enjoy together. If your child/children will not listen to audio books, pick something you’ll enjoy while you drive. I have read so many books this way, over nearly 8 years of driving to and from clinic appointments. It gives my mind something to do so it doesn’t go into auto pilot too bad while I drive.

8. Car Games

If your child is capable of playing car games, they can be a great way to fill the time in the car together. I’m Thinking Of, I Spy, Alphabet Games, Would you Rather, 20 Questions, etc. are all great to do in the car and easy enough to do while driving. Parents magazine has a decent list of car games here. These games are also great for waiting for the doctor, as well, as long as your child can quickly transition to another activity when the doctor comes in.

9. Prizes and Activities

I don’t pack a prize for one-appointment days, but for long days, I usually pack some sort of small, cheap, new toy, or an old toy that’s been forgotten for a while. I try to find something that will be engaging for longer than a few seconds. Pullback cars are always a hit with my kiddo, for example. If your kid’s into crafts, bringing the parts needed for a non-messy craft or two would be awesome. Bring a printout of a Lego creation and the bricks needed to make it, or some How To Draw The Thing Your Kid Likes instructions, as well as some art paper and drawing supplies. Some kids are really into coloring or activity books. Obviously you’ll bring activities your kid likes to do, but try to also bring something you can realistically pull off as being a Prize (or a surprise). We usually pull out the Prize after the first appointment. It’s just a little extra something to look forward to on an otherwise boring and sometimes icky day.

10. Work on rules for when the doctor comes in

We have a rule that when a doctor is in the room, kids get my attention nonverbally and they refrain from obnoxious behavior. This is a goal, and it isn’t always achieved. But I do remind them every time we are waiting for a doctor. “What’s the rule for when the doctor comes in?” Make it clear what the expectation is and remind them as necessary.

Mom and boy playing go fish

11. Help older siblings learn to navigate the hospital

Older siblings can start learning how to navigate the hospital on their own. Help them notice where the signs are, the name of the place where you are, how you got there, etc. Point out where the bathrooms are when you walk by them. If you feel safe enough, and if your kids are old enough and well enough behaved, they can go places – even if it’s just back to the waiting room – on their own while you and the kid the appointment’s for stay in the “doctor room.”

12. Your child is a child. Your child’s doctor chose pediatrics.

Your child is a child. They’re going to act like a child. They’re not going to sit quietly and wait while you and the doctor talk, especially after a long car trip. Even if they’re being pretty good, they still make noise. Play is often noisy. They aren’t going to always cooperate with everything the doctor wants to do, either. And it’s fine. Your child’s doctors chose pediatrics. Everyone they see all day is a child. Are some children more cooperative and better behaved than yours? Yep. But so what? Any pediatrician who judges you or your child based on behavior during long, stressful days isn’t probably worth your time. But most peds doctors are pretty accustomed to talking over background noise, to getting down on the floor to address a child, to coaxing cooperation from a reluctant child. Your kid’s a kid. It’s ok.

13. Exercise between appointments

Sometimes, we find that clinics want us to wait in the doctor room for the next doctor, rather than go back to the waiting room. I don’t mind this – I’d rather not have to pack up all our stuff again – but those rooms are SO SMALL and SO PLAIN. They often don’t have windows. Even I get a little stir-crazy. We have never felt an obligation to actually remain in the room, as long as we can SEE our room at all times. Our new Children’s hospital has hallways that are quite deserted most of the time, since staff use back hallways, so I let my kiddo go run wind sprints between appointments. “Run as fast as you can to that chair and then turn around and run back!” or “hop like a bunny until you get to the star on the floor, then turn around and walk like a bird back to me!” Before they remodeled, the hallways were much busier, so we didn’t run, but we did still stretch our legs and walk up and down the hallways. As long as you keep an eye on the door to your room so you can run back when you see someone headed in, this SHOULD be ok. Nobody’s ever said anything to us about our wandering habits, anyway.

14. Find fun things to look at or do between appointments

We do bring between-appointment activities (usually it’s Go Fish cards right now because he’s totally into Go Fish), but we also enjoy exploring and finding interesting things to look at around the hospital, and we also usually seek out the things there are to do at the hospital. Does your hospital have a playground or a playroom? A patient library? Activities? Artwork on the walls? Statues to look at and pose with? New hallways to wander down? Find a map, ask the people who work there, or just wander around a little and see what you can find. One day at Children’s in Cincinnati, we took a picture with as many statues as we could find, for example. One day, I had him pick an elevator and then pick a number, and we got off on that floor and explored, lol. Consider asking other parents for their tips on things to do at your hospital – we discovered, through much wandering, a little cubby in a not-busy waiting room with an Xbox, for example, and that’s where we spent an hour one day.

Young Boy standing next to a Purple Caterpillar Statue

15. Plan a post-clinic reward

Is there a playground nearby? A fun park? A children’s museum or zoo (if you have the energy for something like this after a clinic day)? Is there an inexpensive treat your child likes (like McDonald’s ice cream or a fountain drink from a gas station)? Whatever your kid would enjoy and find rewarding, plan to do it after a long day in clinic. It isn’t a reward for good behavior. It isn’t a bribe. It’s a “we just have to get through x more appointments and then we can (whatever)!” The treat is a given. It cannot be taken away for “bad” behavior. It’s simply a way to recognize that they – and you – made it through the day – whoo hoo!

Judgemental Family Members (or friends): How to Deal

Most of us have them. Certain members of our family or certain friends who don’t believe our children have the diagnoses they have. Or they don’t believe those diagnoses even exist. Or they are certain your child could be fixed with the right parenting – parenting that you’re obviously NOT doing. Or they downplay the difficult realities of your child’s life. Maybe they think babywearing is ridiculous, or homeschooling will ruin your children. Maybe they restrain themselves to nonverbal judginess – snorts, scoffs, eyerolls. Maybe they even undermine you directly to your child.

In short, they’re a real joy to be around.

Every family is different. Every situation is different. I’m not here to give you a step by step, sure-fire way to fix your judgy family members and friends. What I can do is offer you some tips that have worked for us and that have worked for others I know. The goal here isn’t to win, it isn’t to score points. It’s to at least attempt to win the person over, to get them on your team, or to at least get them to shut their mouths. Try one, try them all, and share what worked for you in the comments!

A woman with dark hair looks very mean and disapproving

First, Do They Know What’s Going On?

You can’t expect understanding if you haven’t been upfront with your child’s struggles. Don’t just tell family and friends that your child has ADHD, or your child has autism, or your child has heart failure. Too many people don’t know what those terms actually mean – and, worse, they think they do.

You’ll want to name the diagnosis (or diagnoses), explain how it/they impact your child, and give an action step or two.

“Johnny has combined type ADHD. Contrary to what many people believe, this means that his brain is actually UNDER stimulated. His brain subconsciously seeks stimulation that more typical brains get from normal body chemicals. What this looks like to us is sometimes what appears to be naughty behavior – but is often just seeking stimulation or input. You can actually watch it happening if you’re observant sometimes – after a period of quiet, his brain starts seeking stimulation. It knows from past experience that hitting a sibling gives it LOTS of exciting stimulation. Then Johnny’s much lowered ability to stop and think – his impulsiveness – means that there’s no pause between the thought entering his head and his body doing it. BAM. And his brain’s happy because the sibling has yelled and mom’s mad and there’s so much EXCITEMENT going on. It isn’t caused by poor discipline – it’s actually an imbalance of brain chemicals and structural differences in the way the brain works. It’s really quite fascinating. Johnny’s working with a therapist to strengthen his skills in managing his behavior, and you can help, too, by stepping in with a calm voice when you start to notice he’s getting too squirreley. Often, he just needs a change of pace to get himself back under control.”

“Elizabeth has a primary immunodeficiency called NK Cell Dysfunction. This means her body’s NK cells – part of her immune system – don’t work very well. NK Cells help your body fight viruses – her body just doesn’t do this very well, which is why she’s often sick. When she’s sick, she has to miss school, and it’s hard to keep up with her peers, even though she’s very smart, because she misses so much school. You can help by being sure to let us know if you’re sick when we’ve planned to get together.”

This is an important first step. You’re never going to get the buy-in if your family doesn’t know what’s going on.

“Well,” you might think. “It’s really none of their business.” And yes, I agree to some extent. There are a few things we’ve decided are just not anyone else’s business – either forever, or for right now. But then I can’t expect others to be understanding about the effects of those things, because they don’t know. For example, if my child must take medication that makes him ragey, but I don’t tell anyone, I can’t be surprised when they respond to him like he’s just being a really naughty child. Because they don’t know what’s going on.

Second, do you have a safe place to vent?

Most of the time, people can handle tense situations so much easier if they have a sympathetic ear to complain to. Find that person. Use them. Preferably not in front of your kids.

The Techniques

Ignore it

The simplest way to deal with judginess is to just ignore it. Like, really really ignore it. That eyeroll you noticed when you brought food for your kid that they can/will eat? Pretend you didn’t see it. The not-very-quiet comment about your child’s behavior made to another family member? Pretend you didn’t hear it. Ignore, ignore, ignore. I find it’s helpful to repeat to myself “don’t engage, don’t engage, don’t engage.” Just don’t see the things. Don’t hear the things. I like this for situations that are short-term with people I don’t see often, or for a situation where it wouldn’t be appropriate to address the issue. It lets me save my energy for things that actually matter, and keeps whatever event I’m at pleasant. It’s often not really worth the energy to address judginess from people or situations that you won’t encounter very often, and it isn’t often worth the unpleasantness to have it out with Aunt Martha in the middle of a funeral.

“You don’t say”

This strategy involves, not exactly ignoring entirely, but MOSTLY ignoring. This works best with people who want to give you advice, tell you what you’re doing wrong, etc., but who you don’t see often enough to really worry about, or for situations where you just don’t want to actually confront the person for whatever reason. Let them say whatever they’re going to say. At the earliest polite opportunity, say something polite but dismissive. “Huh, you don’t say.” Then walk away, start talking to someone else, or change the subject. “If you let him get hungry enough, he’ll eat. Children don’t let themselves starve.” “Oh, ok. Hey, have you read Ted Chiang’s latest book?” If they persist, you can try simply letting them go on for as long as they will with no encouragement from you. (Be polite, but don’t engage with head nodding, eye contact, or verbalizations.) When they finally stop, go back to Plan A: Dismiss+move on. “We’ll have to think about that. Oh! That reminds me, I wanted to ask Aunt Barb about her cats.” This is also called the “pass the bean dip” technique. “I think your child just needs firmer discipline.” “oh, ok. Hey, could you pass the bean dip?”

Humor or Light Sarcasm

I used to do this with breastfeeding. “How long are you going to keep nursing that baby?” “Well, we figure if he takes classes at the local college, he can come home between classes for a snack…” Depending on the reaction, plan to wrap this one up like You Don’t Say – change the subject or find something else to do and somewhere else to be. We’re still mostly practicing avoidance here.

“Have you tried ?” “No, but we did try waving a dead chicken over him. Didn’t work. Oh, looks like I’m needed in the kitchen!”

If you can’t think of anything humorous to say, sometimes it works to just pretend that whatever the other person said was funny. “Kids won’t let themselves starve.” “ha! That’s a good one!” or “haha! Yeah, that’s what we thought, too. hahahhaha.” Walk away.

Eliminate the Middleman

Don’t allow other family members to tattle to you. I’ve taken the stance that I don’t actually care what is said behind my back. I have a decent idea of what is said, and I just can’t bring myself to care. I really only care about what’s said to or in front of me or my children. Therefore, I don’t allow others to gossip to me about what they heard Aunt Judy said to Cousin Bob last week. I only care if I heard it directly from Aunt Judy. You may feel differently here, but I just don’t think anyone’s best interests are served when we run on gossip.

A man and a woman talk sitting in chairs

Educate Informally

Correct incorrect assumptions or statements made by the person in question, casually and gently, as they come up. “Kids won’t let themselves starve!” “You are right, most kids won’t, that’s true. But for some kids, the wiring that connects their body’s ‘I’m hungry’ messages with their brain’s ‘need to eat’ messages just isn’t working right. In Little Janey’s case, (whatever). So she uses a feeding tube until her brain can sort that out – we’re so glad we have that available as an option for her, so she can grow healthy and strong! Thanks for your interest in her feeding tube! I can show you how it works the next time I get ready to feed her if you want to watch.”

Try to work in a positive thing to say at the start and the end. Start by affirming that they’re actually RIGHT, or at least partially so, or by complimenting their excellent observation skills, or by using words like “interesting.” “That’s interesting that you say that.” End with another compliment, or by thanking them for the conversation, or by thanking them for their understanding, or for listening, or for accepting what you told them – even if they didn’t really.

And, if possible, invite them to be part of your experience. I’ll show you how tube feeding works. I have an excellent link that gives you a bit of an idea of what it’s like to experience the world with a sensory processing disorder. There’s an event next week at the library called “Experiencing Dyslexia” that you might be interested in. Do you want to come along with us to his next dialysis appointment so you can see how it works?

Again, the goal isn’t to get in a good zinger. Those are fine if we’re talking about a stranger in the grocery store who you’ll never see again, but this strategy is for people who you see regularly. The goal is to maintain the relationship and get them on board with you, rather than fighting you. You’re playing the long game.

Educate More Formally, Part A

So what if you have a person who you see often, you wish to maintain a relationship with, you’ve told them the situation, you’ve done some informal education along the way, and they still make judgy comments?

Enter into a conversation. In this case, you’re being a bit more active – rather than waiting for the other person to say something to you, you’re bringing it up. Either because you overheard a comment, you saw the eyeroll, or you just saw an opening.

Use your “I” statements that you learned about in middle school. (or was that just me?) “I noticed you have frequently commented on Mikey’s behavior when we’re at mom’s house. You might remember he has autism. In Mikey, that often manifests itself in an inability to roll with the punches or deal with rules or expectations that suddenly change. For example, earlier to night, he had been looking forward to playing baseball after lunch – and that had been the plan. But then after lunch, everyone decided to watch a movie instead. Most kids his age can just roll with that, but he cannot. His brain isn’t made that way. I know it can be difficult to understand when you don’t have a kid with autism, but it isn’t poor behavior – it’s him trying to deal with a world that’s very hard for him to navigate. Usually, it helps to (whatever). I’m not asking everyone to change to suit him – it’s perfectly fine that everyone’s watching a movie instead. But it would be ideal if we could all just give Mikey the time and space he needs to deal with his frustration (or whatever).”

Educate More Formally, Part B

This can be used in conjunction with the above Part A, or on its own. Simply put, send or bring the person some educational information. Sometimes people won’t believe you, for whatever reason. Anything you say is dismissed. But sometimes they’ll believe doctors, researchers, or the staff of Good Morning America.

But don’t just fire off an email, “Hey, you need to read this.” Enter into a conversation. Either stick it onto the end of the conversation above (“I have some excellent resources that might help you understand. I’ll email you one and I’d love it if you could read it.”) or start a whole new, shorter conversation (in person or via electronics). “You might remember that Matilda has hypotonia. In the event you’ve forgotten what this means for Matilda, I’m attaching a short article about what hypotonia is and how it impacts kids – I’d love it if you could read it as a refresher. Thanks!”

Then, follow up. Next time you see them, ask if they had a chance to read the information and if they have any questions. Ask nicely, not like you’re challenging them. “Hey, have you had a chance to read that article? I’d love to answer any questions you have.”

Ask for Understanding

Here’s where we start to get a little more blunt. At this point, you’re no longer trying for buy-in. You’ve given up on that. You’re just trying to stop the comments.

Use your sandwich technique (start and end with compliments or something positive). Say something positive, name the thing that you want changed, ask for their help or understanding, end with something positive.

“Aunt Jan, I can tell how much you care about my Janie, and I love that you love her so much! I know that you think that the feeding tube is a mistake and we should just force her to eat with her mouth. I have explained to you why that isn’t an option and why it wasn’t successful in the past. This is not a decision that’s up for discussion. This is now an off-limits topic. If you want to learn more or ask legitimate questions about feeding tubes, I’m always open to that conversation, but I will not entertain criticism on this topic any longer. I value our friendship and I love spending time with you, let’s not spoil it by arguing over this same topic every time, OK?”

“Mom. It’s obvious how much you care for my kids. And I know that our decision to homeschool them really bothers you.

Draw and Enforce Boundaries

We’re still going for polite. We’re still trying to maintain the relationship. But we’re getting serious. You need to explicitly name the unacceptable behavior and name the consequence for the behavior. Yes, yes, just like you would if you were talking to your children.

“The last time we spoke about this, I asked if you could please stop criticizing our choice to use medications to help Max with his ADHD. Yet you continue to bring it up. This is not acceptable. It must stop. If you can’t restrain yourself from criticizing our parenting choices in the future, we’ll need to reduce the amount of time we spend together.”

But it cannot end there. If the person respects the boundary, consider whether it would be appropriate to offer a thank you. Maybe after a few visits where the named behavior doesn’t occur, you might text them after and just say, “hey, thanks for following through on not bringing up x. I really appreciate not having to feel defensive every time we’re together.”

But what if they don’t? Do not establish a boundary you’re not prepared to enforce. If they do the named behavior, you do the named consequence. You’ll need to thoughtfully consider the person and the situation to determine exactly how to follow through, but maybe you get up and leave in the middle of a gathering as soon as the named behavior occurs. Maybe you grin and bear it, but turn down the next event and explain why. But you cannot just ignore it. Just like with children, if you name a consequence and do not follow it, it’s harder to be taken seriously the next time.

Reduce Contact

Of course, you can just reduce contact without all of the above bluntness. Maybe bluntness isn’t your thing, or maybe you have reasons to believe all the bluntness in the world won’t help. Just simply start seeing the person less. Show up for gatherings less often. Don’t initiate phone calls or texts. Unfriend or unfollow the person on Facebook and change your settings so they no longer see your updates. Take whatever steps you can on the other social media places that all you young’uns are using these days.

End the Relationship

I put this one last because it’s the most extreme, but shouldn’t be eliminated. Especially if the person in question is undermining you to your kids, ending the relationship is a step that deserves consideration. And it should be done, if possible, in a way that doesn’t pull the whole family into drama. The disagreement is between you and the one other person – everyone else doesn’t need to know the details. However, be warned that if you decide to stop talking to Grandma, probably many, many others in your family are suddenly going to make it their business.

Practice Makes Comfortable

I personally find that practicing potential responses to potential things people might say helps me to feel more comfortable going in to any event, and helps things go more smoothly during the event. It helps me keep my responses upbeat, positive, and less flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. You can practice with someone else, or you can just practice in your head.

Analyze Your Own Situation

Now that you’ve read through the list of potential ways to handle the situation, you need to decide what might work best for you. Before you can do this, you first need to analyze your situation. Think about the family member(s) or friend(s) that led you to this post. What is your relationship with them? What you do WANT your relationship to be? Is what you want realistic?

If the person is someone you don’t see often and you don’t have deep feelings about, ignoring it is probably the best choice.

If the person is someone you see often and you wish to maintain the relationship, you’ll need to decide what you think will work best with that individual person that still maintains a good – but honest – relationship.

But it is also a good idea to really, honestly consider if what you wish for a relationship with the person is actually realistic. Sometimes we want to have a “normal” parent, for example, instead of the parent we actually have. (We want a parent who is loving and supportive of our choices, rather than one who reacts as though we are still small children, for example, or who has more typical reactions to situations instead of extreme reactions that come from their own past trauma.) Look honestly at the person you’re reading this post for – are you being realistic about the type of person they are and the type of relationship you can have? If not, the FIRST step to managing the relationship and dealing with the judgementalism is to change your expectations of the relationship. I’m going to very sincerely suggest that it might help to get a therapist on board if you suspect that your expectations for a relationship with a close family member may not be realistic for that person.

So, I hope these ideas are helpful. Got something that’s worked well for you? Let us know in the comments!