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The Art of Giving and Taking Criticism
Rebbetzin Feige

The Art of Giving and Taking Criticism

When your relatives offer unwelcome child-rearing advice, what's the best response?


A woman writes:

We live in Israel and our families, including two sisters-in-law, have very little contact with us. My in-laws are great, and are very supportive and encouraging of how we are raising our kids. My sisters-in-law, however, are another story entirely. They constantly offer "advice" which is really not-so-veiled criticism, and this has gone on for years even though neither one of them had kids of their own. Nothing I do is right, and they are not shy about telling me what or why, and as one might expect, I find their "suggestions" impractical and not reasonable.

We've been told we aren't giving the kids enough, materially or time-wise. We should never criticize them. We should never get angry at the children (we try, we try, but everybody fails sometimes), and we should never punish, only explain.

I have tried smiling and saying nothing; I have tried saying that we will take their opinion into account. My husband has, on occasion, explained pleasantly that we appreciate their concern but that we see the situation differently, thank you. I now realize that it would have been better to have confronted the two of them more directly years ago. Is there any good way out of this now?


Before addressing the issue at hand it is instructive to note that criticism is, at the very least, a very sensitive and delicate issue. The Torah states, "You shall surely rebuke your friend." The critical word here is "friend." The person reprimanded must feel that the rebuke comes from someone perceived as a friend, an ally and someone whose words the individual can respect and wish to heed.

If that criteria is not met, the Talmud cautions that just as it is a mitzvah to speak what can be heard so it is a mitzvah to desist from saying that which cannot be heard.

One of the toughest challenges to human beings is to receive criticism graciously so as to respond to it appropriately.

When there are in fact legitimate issues that need to be addressed, often we may have to disqualify ourselves and identify another person who does meet the criteria of the perceived "friend." That might be a rabbi, mentor, or another who is significant and valued by the party in question.

One of the toughest challenges to human beings is to receive criticism graciously so as to respond to it appropriately. It is especially challenging to accept criticism when it comes to child-rearing. We often see our children as extensions of ourselves, and our parenting as reflections of our most significant efforts. Critical comments in this area hurt us to the core and feel like an assault on our very person.

The sages comment that one who is able to handle oneself well and control a response at a time of criticism and embattlement with another, is worthy of the world existing in his or her merit. That's how hard it is.


Practically speaking, I would think that the reader would be well advised to:

  1. Be reassured that there are many schools of thought in child rearing methodology. In fact, some of the most popular approaches of the past have reversed themselves and new ones appear all the time. There is no one right approach that fits all situations.

  2. To fortify yourself against criticism you would do well to seek the counsel of someone who knows you, your children, your values, and where you are coming from. I would subject the critical comments to their scrutiny and ask them to determine, given your situation, if there are indeed any modifications necessary in your approach.

  3. I would then tell my critics that I appreciate their good intentions, have explored their suggestions, sought counsel for my particular situation and am satisfied that while their approach might be commendable, mine works best for me. As they say, "different strokes for different folks."

  4. I might also share my vulnerability with them; namely, that I need to surround myself with those who will be supportive and who would give me positive feed back. If they can provide that, we can co-exist and they can be part of my immediate world. The bottom line is: I cannot waste my precious and limited energy on detractors who would undermine my efforts in the area of life that is both most challenging and sacred to me.

  5. My personal counsel to mothers of large families who juggle so much responsibility is to be mindful of the care, attention, and nurturing that they owe themselves. These moms need to eat well, exercise, be well groomed, make sure they take personal time for an exercise class, a learning class, an hour at the library alone, a solitary walk in the park, etc. This personal attention is a necessity, not a luxury. It recharges the batteries and helps us access our internal energy.

  6. And, as with all things, I would continue to pray. I would ask the Almighty, the source of all wisdom, to guide my steps and to help me see clearly.

April 28, 2001

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Robben Salter, May 15, 2009 12:29 AM

Often people criticize people they resent, or our bitter or jealous towards. Sometimes the person has a genuine point, but their own bitterness, anger, or thoughtlessness hinders the message to the receiver. If a persons constant criticism is hurting you, tell the person. Most people don't tell others what bothers them for 'fear' that people will stop talking to them. That's what the bible calls 'fear of man'. Saul in the bible was afraid of the people, and didn't obey Gods voice when he commanded them to kill all the live stock and people. He feared people more than he feared God.

(4) chava, February 11, 2009 9:48 PM

what happens if the person who tends to be the most critical about your spouse, aka "trying to be helpful" is your own spouse?!?!? hows that for debilitating

(3) Anonymous, February 19, 2004 12:00 AM

Dispense criticism with caution, receive criticism without hostility.

It is interesting that both sisters-in-law are childless. They may not be childless by choice. If so, they may be resentful of their brother's prolific (bli eyin hora)wife. Unfortunately, if she is the target of displaced agression, then there is little that she can say or do . She and her spouse should be commended for showing restraint under difficult circumstances.

(2) Pearl Fiber, June 6, 2001 12:00 AM

my opinion

For the two articles I have read, which were written by Mrs. Faige Twersky; all I could say is "Bravo!" Mrs. Twersky gets her message across well. Thank you for this opportunity of permitting me to read her articles.

(1) Anonymous, April 29, 2001 12:00 AM

Remarkable restraint

Dear Rebetzin Twerski: I think you were much too kind in your response to the woman whose child-rearing skills don't meet with the approval of her childless sisters-in-law. There's apparently
some kind of control issue going on, and it simply isn't acceptable. The writer needs to be empowered to take back the control here, for her own sake and the sake of the children, who are probably not immune to their aunts' highly critical remarks. The critics must be reprimanded, in private, and told in no uncertain terms that they are welcome in the writer's home if and ONLY IF
they can interact with the family in a non-critical way. If the underlying purpose of their visits is to
find fault in the writer's parenting skills, they must keep it to themselves, or risk being asked to leave. Permanently. I have personal experience in these kinds of destructive, toxic relationships. No good can come of them. I have severed all ties with some of my siblings because their behavior
around my children (comments, asides, manipulation, etc.) went above and beyond any acceptable level of what I felt was a healthy aunt/uncle/niece/ nephew relationship. I can not be
undermined in my efforts to parent my children, even by the most well-meaning relatives. It's difficult enough these days to get kids to respect their parents (and other authority figures) without inviting saboteurs in and offering them tea & cake.

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