3 Strategies for Dealing With Criticism

The following is by editor Kara Fleck.

Last week I wrote about the three types of friends I think every parent should have.  I know that having people in my life who don’t pass judgement on my parenting choices is very important to me.  In fact, in today’s critical world, it is crucial to have a support system.

Not everyone will be supportive of us, however.  Parents especially seem to invite scrutiny from others.  Everyone has an opinion on how children should be raised and some of us find ourselves getting advice (and lectures) practically from the moment we announce that we’re starting a family.

Encounters with those who make us feel like our lives are under their microscope can be emotionally exhausting, to say the least. Then, there are those who take it a step further and openly criticize our parenting.

  • Fact #1: We aren’t going to be able to please everyone.
  • Fact #2: There are those who want to make sure we know that!

Normally, I am my own worst critic, but there are a few people that I cross paths with in life whom I suspect are trying for that title. Perhaps you’ve got someone in your life like that, too?

Now, I don’t always handle criticism perfectly.  However, I am much better at handling criticism than I was, especially as a new parent.

I’ve learned some coping techniques over the years and picked up some things from parents wiser than I.  I want to share a few of those with you today, in case you find yourself struggling with criticism.

Here are three strategies for dealing with criticism that work for me:

1. Don’t Mistake Curiosity for Criticism

I have pretty thick skin, but when it comes to my children, I will admit that there are some holes in my “armor.”  Because of this, I can find myself on the defensive when someone starts asking a lot of questions about why my husband and I do or don’t do something a certain way as we raise our children.

I find that it is helpful to take a step back and really listen to the way I am being questioned. Sometimes people genuinely want to know why we do or don’t do something and a healthy discussion can occur, as long as I don’t start out on the defensive and too sensitive to the topic being discussed.

2. Agree to Disagree

There are those, of course, who question us but are not open to hearing the reasons behind our decisions.  We’ve all come across that relative or coworker or acquaintance who brings up a topic up just because they want an opportunity to tell us all the ways that we are wrong.

In some cases, that comes from concern stemming from their genuine love for our child and I can appreciate, even value, that.  However, I am my child’s parent and I have a right to make my own decisions (and even to change my mind or make my own mistakes).

I find that there are some issues on which certain individuals and I will never see eye to eye.  In those cases, to preserve the relationship, it is best to find a way to agree to disagree.

That usually means having to actually say the words, “I can see that you feel strongly about this.  I do, too. You mean a lot to me, so we need to agree to disagree about this and move on.”

Easier said than done in some cases, I’ll admit.

Which brings me to my final strategy …

3. Set Limits

You aren’t under any obligation to constantly defend yourself or your parenting decisions, so don’t waste your time and energy doing so.

Especially if you’ve already walked down this path with this particular criticizer, set a firm limit.  You are entitled to set a limit on the time you spend together or the subjects discussed.

Just because someone wants to dish it out, doesn’t mean that you have to take it. And you absolutely don’t have to stand there and let someone criticize you in front of your children!

Bean Dip

One of my favorite strategies for setting limits on critical conversations is to change the subject with the “bean dip” response “Yes, Mrs. Busybody we are still ____. Can you pass the bean dip?” End of discussion. No arguing, no further discussion, that is it.  If your subtle hint isn’t picked up on, smile and walk away. You have my permission.

Yes, the argument could be made that it is rude to walk away when someone is talking to you, but I would counter that it is equally ugly social behavior to openly criticize someone else’s parenting choices.

The “Bean Dip” (or pizza, or cupcakes, or whatever is nearby) response is something I first read about on a parenting message board years ago. It has become an inside joke between my husband and I when dealing with critical people –  “Could you believe Mrs. Busybody at the company picnic today? I had to ‘bean dip’ her twice before she got the hint and dropped the subject.”

Draw a Clear Line in the Sand

Sometimes there are extreme cases of criticism where you have to set limits regarding interactions. “Look Uncle Bertie, we love you, but if you’re going to insist on bringing up XYZ every time we meet, then I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to spend time together.”

Now, do I think there is a time and a place for being an advocate for a parenting decision or a cause?  Of course.  But the company picnic or Mother’s Day lunch at great-grandma’s probably isn’t it.

Let Them Talk … You Don’t Have to Listen

Of course, with some people, none of these things will work and even if we walk away they will continue to criticize us.  Somehow these people always find an ear willing to listen.

That’s okay.  Their behavior says more about them than it does about you – and at least this way, if they are gossiping to someone else, you don’t have to listen to it.

How do you handle criticism?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

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  1. As a family with eight kids we gat an AWFUL amount of criticism from “well-meaning” passers by… even folk who have tried to tell my children about contraception – believe it or not!!! In a mad world where everyone can seem grumpy we just “Smile and wave.” There is nothing worse than having an argument with someone you don’t even know about something that isn’t their business… after years and years I am able to say: What they think really doesn’t matter!!! So “smile and wave” “smile and wave”… it works for the queen, surely it can work for us!!!

  2. Wow! Great post, Kara. This is heading right on over to my Weekend Reads post.
    Amanda Morgan´s latest post: How You Can Encourage Your Child to be Creative Even When YOU Are Not

  3. Great post. I have had to seek forgiveness and healing for bitterness I was holding against well meaning people from when my son was colicky. I’ve realized, most people who’ve never had a colicky child can’t possibly understand what it’s like and how unhelpful advice like, “you have to let them fuss a little” or “all babies are like that” really is. I think a lot of people thought I was exaggerating what we were living through, when all I needed was a listening ear.
    Sarah Gainey´s latest post: 11 Things That Change When Youre 11 Months Old

  4. I like it! I need to “bean dip” people more often. I have this issue with justification and sometimes I should just drop it and walk away.

  5. Great post. I’ve learned a couple things over the years (with a lot more still to learn).

    1. People’s opinions are just there… their opinions. They are entitled to them, but I’m also entitled to ignore them. 🙂
    2. Some times people say things as part of a conversation that is perceived as a criticism when in reality it was just them making conversation. It may be that they didn’t know what else to say or how exactly to express what they wanted to say it the words coming out of their mouth don’t reflect what is in their hearts. I know I have both done this and been the recipient of words like this, so I try to assume it is the case (and the person isn’t being rude) as often as possible.
    3. Everyone’s life situation (from how they were raised to what they hope to accomplish in life) is different, so the fact that we’ll all have different parenting choices along the way is only logical. There is no one right answer. To each their own.

    I found the best way to handle criticism is to be comfortable with my own decisions. If I know I am doing what is best for me and for my family then what other people say affects me a lot less.

    I love the “bean dip” approach. I think I’ll be using that one for sure!

    • “3. Everyone’s life situation (from how they were raised to what they hope to accomplish in life) is different, so the fact that we’ll all have different parenting choices along the way is only logical. There is no one right answer. To each their own. ” <—- Wise words!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: 3 Strategies for Dealing With Criticism

  6. Single Mama by Choice says:

    Now, how to “bean dip” on the phone with a critical family member…?

  7. Britanie says:

    I am 21 and I look younger so I get a LOT of criticism. I am in a stable marriage and doing well financially and otherwise but when I was pregnant I actually had someone tell me to get an abortion. Some people are just ridiculous.

  8. These are really good thoughts, Kara–you sound so much more mature than I am. 😉

    Love the bean dip phrase – going to file that one away for later!
    Simple Homeschool – Jamie´s latest post: High School- Take Two 2011 Curriculum Fair

  9. Good advice–but this is easier said than done for me! I am far too sensitive when it comes to criticism (though I’m better than I used to be).

    I had an uncle who simply “didn’t hear” any unkind words, whether it was ugly gossip or rude criticism. Your bean dip strategy reminded me….although his strategy went a bit further!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s latest post: Gift Ideas for Men Fathers and Otherwise

  10. I really like your last point. My new neighbor has criticized me in almost every interaction. me- My son doesn’t eat breakfast when he first wakes up, her -oh its the most important meal of the day. me – This is how we organize our toys – her – oh that must be ugly etc etc. my son wants to play with her daughter but I don’t want to be around the constant digs so we just haven’t. I’m trying to decide if its worth saying to her “wow that was rude” to see if she stops or how best to deal with it. I don’t think pass the bean dip is going to work 🙂

    1. I look at their lives and figure out if I can learn something from them…maybe what they are saying has value. Do they have exceptional children? Something I want to aspire to? and if not (which is more often the case with the extreme criticizers) I just tell myself that clearly they are unhappy people who are merely trying to make me unhappy and to ignore them. (in one case I had to tell the person – look your adult children are disrespectful to you and haven’t accomplished much at all in their lives, I don’t want my child to grow up to be that so anything you say to me I will be ignoring. that person actually agreed with me but that didn’t stop her from continuing to criticize me)

    2. sometimes they aren’t criticizing. we all communicate differently.perhaps I am mis-reading their comments as criticism instead of a way to understand each other better. so I need to take a step back and not be offended and ask did you mean this to sound so offensive? especially in the virtual world we live in we sometimes read things in a tone in which they are not intended

    3. trust yourself. you know you. you know your child. yes, what is right for you may be criticized by or not work for others. my son is very sensitive and gets embarrassed when he gets hurt when others are around. I know if I connect with him and show empathy, and ask everyone around us to just ignore him and please don’t look at him, he will most likely let things go faster than if I tell him “suck it up and get over it” as many people seem to do especially with boys. sometimes I try to gently explain to others, he will respond better to this but if not, I just block them out and deal with him however I know is best. I have one friend that gets so mad at him when he cries, I’ve tried to limit their contact when he is upset but I also know, kids need to learn this so I just give him a strong, sure foundation of accepting his feelings so when there are those who aren’t as intune to him as I, he can handle it. he’s started to tell people “that hurt my feelings” or “I don’t like when you do that” – we practice things like that when he is not in the situation – unfortunately adults who would be furious if a child didn’t listen, think its funny to mock and torment a child when they are brave enough to say something like that. I’ve then explained to them and him that he just won’t be around them when they act that way. its taken a few explanations but they are starting to get it. I just don’t understand people they don’t want sarcastic disrespectful kids and somehow expect them to act differently than they…I now point out every instance when our friends say something to him sarcastically and ask “do you want him to say that to you in that manner?” they usually say no and kinda laugh. but really, its not funny.
    Nina´s latest post: This moment

  11. Katelyn says:

    I have a few phrases/thoughts that I like and try to keep at the top of my brain for these types of situations.

    “This is what works best for my family.” End of conversation. … pass the bean dip…

    I try to attribute the best possible meaning to another’s words/actions. (Admittedly I am a huge work in progress with this one, but it helps to think of WHY someone is saying something (truly want to help) and not just WHAT they are saying.) Very similar to your “curiosity and not criticism.”

    I am not a fan of agree to disagree, but I’m okay with thinking that I sometimes have different priorities than another parent. (This works best for me with things that I feel more strongly about.)

  12. Another good way is to make them a question to get the pressure off you! I blogged a bit on that- I don’t know if it really worked 😉

    (look for my post titled ‘strong cheesy opinions’)

  13. Love your bean dip tip! I’m absolutely going to do that; and I think “bean dip” might be a verb for me from now on 🙂

  14. I handle it, whether it be with friends, family members, or strangers, by simply saying, \”Noted. Thank you.\” I am sure that sounds a little rude to some, but I use a similar \”I\’ll keep that in mind, thank you\” or \”thanks for the input\”, even when advice is requested from someone I trust. It reminds me I need to reflect on how the advice applies to me, my style of parenting, and my family, and tends to put an end to unsolicitied advice. If I am being particularly sensitive I might be a little gentler and say \”That\’s great you found xyz worked for you. Thanks for sharing your experience.\” I find it lets them feel heard (which is what most people want, so if you validate them it helps), and gives absolutely no indication as to whether you intend to follow their advice or not, so you don\’t need to argue your side about why it\’s not good advice for you and your family.

  15. I also think it’s really important to remember this when a subject comes up that WE are really passionate about…to know enough to not judge others. Having been the recipient of people’s thoughtless and hurtful comments, we should be wise and not do the same. Thanks for the post!
    Paula´s latest post: Free &amp Cheap Summer Fun!

  16. Great Post! You are right everyone has an opinion on how to raise children and they are not afraid to share it. One book I read for professional reasons but after the birth of my daughter I reread it and read it again was “our babies, ourselves” by Meredith small. It is a great book because she gives a global perspective on raising children and show there are many ways and not one “right” way. The advice I give to the young parents I work with is nod and smile, then do what is right for you and your family.

  17. Love the Bean Dip response Kara. I don’t respond to some questions and sometimes ask questions back, ” oh hmmnn…why do you ask? ” If they are interested they will respond with curiosity if they are projecting their stuff, then they may blurt out why they worry. Some people seem to project their own stuff onto our homeschooling or start to feel insecure in the decisions they made for their children so sometimes I will make a gloss over statement like, “each family’s needs are different, we all find our way” or “what works for you?” to take it away from a picking on fest. Or for a big distraction, “oh wow, I love your blouse, in this light, the color just brings out your eyes.”
    Lisa´s latest post: The Lemniscate and the Senses

  18. When people criticize my parenting I listen to them. I don’t really care if my own feelings get hurt. I feel embarrassed and defensive, but I put those feelings aside. Parenting is my job — and a very important one. Just as I wouldn’t get mad at my boss if he told me I was doing something wrong, I don’t get mad if someone tells me I’m parenting wrong. Sometimes I don’t think that what they say is correct — I remember an old German woman who lived next door to us criticize us for carrying our baby outside in 80 degree weather with no sock on. But we laughed — in the old days, people thought not wearing socks made you catch cold. So what? Other people have said things that are spot on. I felt hurt, but they made a huge change in my parenting — for the better.

  19. I recently had to deactivate my account on a social networking app for moms because I was getting viciously bullied for taking about sleep training. These moms said hurtful things that I know were untrue and ridiculous, but now I have these insecure thoughts in my head, and I’m clinging on to feeling angry and hurt. How do I let go of my anger, move on, and develop a thicker skin? I’m so sad for us moms. We should be supporting each other, not picking each other apart!

  20. I was googling how to deal with criticisms about parenting and came across this post this evening. A friend of mine said some really hurtful things regarding my daughter and my parenting skills earlier today and I’ve been finding it difficult to deal with all day, replaying the conversation over and over and wishing I had said this or that! At the time, I didn’t say a lot, I was kind of shocked so my instinct was to change the subject quickly and then I’ve spent all day letting it fester. I don’t really know this woman well enough to know her motivations behind saying what she did, neither does it matter really. However, it has bought to light one very important realisation- I’ve spent the last nearly 9 years raising my girls and admittedly I’m not perfect however, I’ve never worked harder at anything else. I’m certainly not going to let one woman I haven’t known very long ( nor does she doesn’t have any children) shake my beliefs regarding the way we’ve chosen to raise our children. Thanks for such a great post, it’s really helped me to put things in perspective and realise it’s just not worth worrying about. It’s certainly a case that called for pass the bean dip- great tip!


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