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6 Strategies for Dealing with Criticism from Your Family

Sometimes your most brutal critics can be the people you love the most. Your parent, siblings, spouse, children—you know, the people who should be supporting you. Instead, you get unvarnished, unsweetened criticism about your clothes, your choice in partners, your hair, or your career. Sometimes in happens in front of the rest of the family. So, what can you do during the holidays to handle unwanted comments?

Here are five things you can do to survive critical feedback.

1. Reframe Criticism as Caring

It can help to change your perspective of your family’s criticism. You know deep down that they do not think you are a terrible person or a failure, but maybe they do care enough about you to want the best for you. Sometimes their worries or concern manifests as criticism, even if the person did not mean it that way. Mentally reframe hurtful words as a sign that your family member really cares about you.

2. Talk About the Effect of Criticism on You

Not all caring feels warm and fuzzy. Some family members probably have no idea that it is hurtful to challenge your life choices or criticize your parenting skills. Sometimes the best thing you can do is calmly tell the other person how their criticism makes you feel. Say you value their advice, but perhaps they could be more positive and helpful in the way they deliver it. Ask for concrete suggestions and see how you can strategize together.

3. Remind Family Member that Unconditional Love Is Not Just from the Dog

Families are supposed to love each other no matter what, but sometimes people forget that. They think it does not matter how they talk to their child or their sibling, and the niceties of politeness fall by the wayside. It is interesting that we are often more polite to complete strangers than they people we love the most. Make a conscious effort to be more polite. Remember to use “please” and “thank you.”

4. Set Clear Boundaries

Sometimes family members forget that grown-up children are adults, not kids anymore. I still remember when my nieces and nephew were born, and sometimes it is a shock when I think that they voted in the last election.

Adults make their own mistakes and take responsibility for their actions and life decisions.

Much as I WANT to give my nieces and nephew advice on their lives, I need to remember that if they want guidance or advice, they will ask for it. My job is to make sure they know that I am available for them if they want that advice.

5. Decide to be the Dog

We all know that dogs love unconditionally. I personally live with The Happiest Dog on the Planet. She was a rescue dog who had no idea where she was going when we selected her, but she happily jumped in the truck, wagging enthusiastically the whole time, and never looked back. She was not sure where she was going, but she decided that it had to be better than where she was. Her attitude continues to inspire me.

We can emulate the dog’s attitude and decide to love our family no matter what. That does not mean we like them all the time, or that we approve of some of their dumber life choices, or that they do not drive us crazy. But we can control our responses to their comments. We can decide that we will accept them as they are.

6. Make Good Choices

Ultimately, it is our choice. Yes, some people are toxic, and maybe we need to limit our time with them, whether they are friends or family, but we can set time and emotional boundaries. We can choose to take on their negativity or not. We decide how we react.

The holidays can be stressful because we all want happiness and enjoyment, and sometimes our expectations of others do not match reality. That is okay! Smile and say please and thank you, be pleasant, and control what you can control.


  1. PJ Whiteley

    I’m the most financially successful in my big family. I’m generous to them, and live modestly myself. But they aren’t happy unless I give more and frequently. I work harder than any of them. It hurts and I feel used.

    • Mary Kelly

      Hi PJ,

      I once had a friend whose husband’s family kept asking them for financial assistance. They were living extremely modestly, never went out to dinner, and had four kids and yet her husband’s family was always asking them for help. Things came to a head when they visited the husband’s family and realized they had just bought a brand new RV.

      Generosity is wonderful, and there are probably many local charities who would be very grateful for assistance. If the family doesn’t appreciate your generosity, then, maybe it’s time to direct that generosity somewhere else.

  2. Trudy

    No matter what I do for myself or my daughter it comes with criticism from my parents. I sent my daughter to camp last summer thinking of giving her this wonderful experience – my parents were convinced it was too expensive and I was doing it purely for personal gain. They still won’t back down despite my daughter having a fantastic time. This month, we’re getting a dog and I don’t even want to tell them because they’re not big pet fans and they think that it’s a waste of money. I just know they’re going to tell me that they’re too expensive and everything they say will ruin the experience for me and my family.

    • Mary Kelly

      Hi Trudy,

      Criticism from people close to us is even more hurtful because we EXPECT them to love us and show that they support us. I get it! My dad used to ask me why my books were not on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Then he’d ask, “Are your books just not that good?” Ouch!
      I learned to accept the feedback and say “thank you for your thoughts. I know you mean it in the best possible way.” Then I let it go.

      At the beginning, middle, and end of the day, the only person who knows what you are going through is you. As long as you know you are making good decisions, doing your best for you and your daughter, other people’s thoughts are theirs! And their thoughts don’t have to occupy real estate in your head.

      It is not being selfish or rude. It is being pragmatic and rational.

      And good for you to get a dog! So many dogs in shelters right now need great homes. Send me an email to and I will send you a copy of the best dog training book I’ve ever read.

      I am cheering for you!

    • Kay Hamer

      I had this with my parents… you can’t afford a dog, you don’t know how to look after a dog. You havnt got the time… Bla bla bla.
      You should be able to tell them you’re getting a dog and have them excited and interested in what dog you’re getting, what your going to call it etc.
      I had all of this with my first dog. He had the best life but sadly went over the rainbow bridge at 12 years old.
      I have another dog called Jake and he was a rescue. I didn’t tell them about him till he came out in conversation – they were surprised I hadn’t told them, so I reminded them that with my other dog, all they did was moan about the prospect and as a 40 year old I didn’t realise I had to inform them of my every life decision.
      They were quiet for a while and then asked all about him.
      A pet, any pet, can bring unconditional love into your life and the life of your child. Good luck xxx

      • Mary Kelly

        Thank you so much for your comment.

        Sometimes our family members are the least supportive of our goals and dreams. I counsel entrepreneurs all the time that sometimes their family is not the best source of motivation or inspiration. Some family members will say things like, “Oh, you can’t start a business. Remember that one time you tried to have a lemonade stand when you were six years old and it didn’t work?”

        I think maybe it is because they have not tried, so they can’t really comprehend what the path is like. They cannot see themselves doing it, so they project those doubts to others.

        It is up to us to make our own path.

        Thank you so much for your comment!
        I’m SO glad you have dogs. 🙂


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