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  • Lesson Learned – Public Praise, Private Criticism

    I am not a person who prefers to discuss very personal issues. And if I could forget a couple of things from my past I would choose to, but alas that is not how life works. But I learned the lesson of “public praise, private criticism” from my father after a very difficult time in my life and to explain how it had such a profound impact on me, I have to tell some of the backstory. Please know that I am offering up a huge amount of vulnerability and at the same time want to be gracious to all parties involved with the following story. 



    When people see this picture, feelings of happiness and memories of Christmas time possibly come to mind. However when I see this picture, I remember a very scary time in my life. I remember my first Christmas with Rebecca. She was 6 months old and I was a single mom.

    When I was 7 months pregnant I discovered my marriage was unraveling. My life was turned upside down overnight. I called my dear friends in my small group from church and my family who all rallied around me. I spoke about it also with my group of friends from work. I was devastated and felt like I needed people to talk about it with. And at that point in my life, I couldn’t think or talk about anything but that.  So I talked to almost anybody that offered an ear.



    After Rebecca was born, I attempted to reconcile my marriage. My friends, coworkers, and family did not support my decision because, quite frankly, they knew too much. I had shared too much about our marriage struggles and issues to the point that they weren’t able to forgive or forget. It made reconciliation almost an impossibility. I was much more willing to forgive him because I still had a love for him that others didn’t comprehend.

    When taking a walk with my father during those difficult months, I told him that I thought that I had sabotaged the possibility of reconciliation because my ex-husband felt judged by so many people in our lives. He felt exposed and that people knew too many details of what had occurred. He was right.  The thought that kept coming up in my mind was that I had a responsibility as his wife to build him up, regardless of guilt or blame.



    I shared these thoughts with my dad as we walked and he voiced the best advice I have ever received. He stated “Jennifer, always remember public praise and private criticism.” I never heard my parents say a bad word about each other in public. Never. It was a great example that was shown to both my sister and I.



    Check out the picture above from about a year later. I don’t know if you can see it, but I had felt a peace and contentment come over me at the time this picture was taken. You see I met Jeff, the love of my life, and he took this picture on a trip to San Francisco to visit my parents. Not only did he love me but he loved Rebecca. And even more importantly, she loved him.



    It was on that trip that Jeff proposed. During our courting, I told him about how I talked to my friends about the unraveling of my first marriage and how it still rubbed me the wrong way. Despite wrongdoings in my first marriage, I was responsible for my character and what came out of my mouth. I could control and be accountable for that. And I promised him that I would never say a bad thing about him outside of our home. And he promised me the same thing. And to this day, I would say we have done a pretty darn good job of it.



    I have had people tell me that I must love fairy tales because my life always sounds like Disneyland. They have called me Pollyanna and Mary Poppins, and people have gone as far as telling me that I “blow sunshine” and that my life and family are perfect. In actuality, I have gone through more in 37 years than most people I’ve known. I went through a difficult time in high school with some health issues, divorce, and breast cancer. I know all too well about difficulties.



    So, is my life perfect? Hardly. Is my marriage perfect? Nope, but Jeff and I work very hard at cultivating our relationship so that it’s pretty darn close. Are my kids perfect? Nope. They pick their noses, quarrel at times, struggle with some subjects more than others, can’t sit still and focus, etc. But I have a responsibility to my husband and to my kids to provide a safe haven, our home, in which they are safe to make mistakes. And thank goodness I have a safe place where I can be grumpy or irritable and not have to worry that my husband is going to go to work or to play golf with the guys and share all of those miserable details.



    Jeff constantly tells me, “your coworkers think I’m perfect.” And my response is, “Well they should. I only tell them the perfect things.” And let’s face it, we all have people in our lives that constantly complain about their spouses, children, boyfriends, etc. They literally suck the life out of you. Let me encourage you to learn from my mistake over 13 years ago. Don’t do it. The power of the spoken word can damage people more than any weapon or fist. And often those words can be unrepairable. Let me encourage you instead to build your family members (and friends) up and only speak kindly of them in public. I guarantee your spouse and children will notice. And it will fill them up with an enormous amount of pride and security.



    Life is tough enough without having our own close family members and friends tear it down for us. I am so thankful to have had good role models in my parents with building each other up in public. I also am thankful for that walk with my dad when I felt that I was dying inside as my marriage was unraveling but that he still spoke the truth to me as tears poured down my face. “Public praise, private criticism. Public praise, private criticism.” I hear it today just as loud as if my ears will never let me forget. And to this day, it is the best lesson that I have ever been taught.

    Welcome back to the day of all pictures being shot in automatic with the flash and no knowledge of any photography. :)  

    If you are new to this site, I am in remission from cancer and am learning and experiencing life through my life list of 1300+ things and documenting them and other lessons I have learned or am learning along the way. You can read more here.  

    Also, every person on my blog roll to the right is insanely talented in their respective fields. But the greatest compliment that I can give each of them is that they are positive in their outlook on life and complimentary of their families. Not perfect but filled with grace. I highly recommend you visit their sites. 




    Hannah Jones

    Jenny -

    This is so great and so necessary in marriages and relationships. Ryan and I made the commitment early on to not talk down of each other to our friends/coworkers/etc. We each have a friend or two that we both trust that we can vent to, but have asked our friends to keep us accountable in never attacking our spouse’s character. These close friends also will not automatically take our side, but help us see the whole picture. I get very angry when I hear others talking down about their significant others/spouses. It’s not okay! Thank you for taking this stand and saying it publicly.

    29 July 2011 at 8:33 am Reply

      Thanks Hannah- I appreciate your comment and I applaud you for making this decision so early in your marriage. What a gift to you both. And close friends who won’t take sides are invaluable. Thanks for stopping by and the peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes were a hit. Thanks for the suggestion.

      29 July 2011 at 4:51 pm Reply
    maryann perry

    Your father is a very wise man! I would love to meet him one day! This is something that I have always believed in to the very core and its is a lesson that I too learned the hard way….my dear friend we have traveled down so many of the same paths in life….I love you sister!!!

    29 July 2011 at 9:29 am Reply

      Often when we learn from our mistakes, the lessons sink in harder. And boy did it ever for both of us. Thanks for stopping by Maryann.

      29 July 2011 at 4:52 pm Reply

    Nicely written. Criticism of your spouse to people outside of the marriage can fracture your family.

    I agree that your dad is a wise man.

    29 July 2011 at 11:12 am Reply

      Thanks Chris. Thanks for being there for Rebecca and I, especially until Jeff came along. I will always appreciate you.

      29 July 2011 at 11:31 pm Reply

    I remember those days and you have come such a long way….what an inspiration you are to all who read this!

    29 July 2011 at 11:20 am Reply

      What a difficult time for us both. We both have grown. But we are too far apart now. I love you dear friend. Thanks as always for everything.

      29 July 2011 at 11:30 pm Reply
    Julie Coryell

    Thinking back to those times makes me very emotional as they were some of the most difficult, heart wrenching times we have ever been through as a family. I agree 100% with “public praise, private criticism”. Mom & Dad both instilled that in us from early on. However, I personally do not feel as though you should carry the burden that you were unable to reconcile your marriage because you shared your hurt with others. He made poor choices & I absolutely do not think that he would have been willing to reconcile whether or not you had shared what happened with others.

    At our wedding reception was the engagement picture of me & Chris and one of the best things written on that was from our Aunt Donna. She simply wrote..”Edify one another”. Those words have stuck with me for almost 14 years.

    Thanks for being vulnerable! It is often through vulnerability that you get the most tremendous growth.

    29 July 2011 at 11:45 am Reply

      Regardless of the outcome, I learned and that is what is the most important. I didn’t carry it on to Jeff. As a result, I am more appreciative than I ever would have been. And Donna’s advice was spot on, Edify each other. I think I might have to adopt that too.

      29 July 2011 at 11:29 pm Reply

    I remember when I was dating my Mr. Dreamy and I asked him to never tease me. I said, I don’t mind when friends or family tease me but I can’t be in love with someone who makes fun of me. He never has and like the nickname I gave him, I always always talk about how much I love him. He is my angel. And as for your Mr. Dreamy, well, I’m a fan. I think that praise is well deserved. I needed to read this as all too often as a SAHM I criticize my children because they make me tired. It is so easy to overlook how blessed and blessed again I am. thanks for this post. I love your blog!!!

    29 July 2011 at 8:00 pm Reply

      Thanks Kerry. I too can be caught saying something about one of my children especially when I am tired or at the end of the day. I’m really working hard on this. I’m glad you like the blog. It has been such a fun experience. Thanks also for spreading the word. I’m meeting so many wonderful and diverse people. Love it.

      29 July 2011 at 11:32 pm Reply
    Becca – Our Crazy Boys

    I love this lesson, and I need to remember it. I’m one that likes to talk -to anyone -about almost anything. Thank you for teaching ME today :)

    29 July 2011 at 8:11 pm Reply

      Thanks Becca. It’s a lesson that I continue to remind myself as well on a daily basis. It is very easy to get caught up in gossip or chat sessions. Often they start out innocent but quickly spiral out of control.

      29 July 2011 at 11:36 pm Reply
    Jeffrey Meyerson

    Great post honey, but those pictures make me feel REALLY old!

    30 July 2011 at 11:39 am Reply
    Nicol (imanewbierunner)

    Jenny, thank you very posting such a wonderful lesson. This is something I really need to work on and I appreciate your willingness to be open. I will try to remember your dad’s wise words.

    1 August 2011 at 11:09 am Reply

      Thanks Nicol for the kind words. It was a difficult lesson to learn but one that has paid off in the end. I still have to remind myself of it at times though. Thanks for stopping by.

      2 August 2011 at 6:59 am Reply
    Jeri Ann

    Jenny, you are so right. Most people do learn this lesson after the fact, the hard way, if they learn at all. Keep telling people.

    2 August 2011 at 5:04 pm Reply
    Jan C.

    Short and to the point, that may also be the best advice I’ve heard. In thinking about it, I realize that my husband and I have always instinctively followed this rule, but that when it comes to our kids, we have tended to discuss and commiserate with other parents on various problems we’ve encountered, and that maybe we were wrong to be so forthcoming. We just wanted reassurance, I think, but when I put myself in the kids’ places, I suddenly see that I should have kept much more to myself. Well, I may be a day late and a dollar short, as they say, but I am going to remember your motto and try to put it to work in my life from today onward. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog tonight.

    16 August 2011 at 7:29 pm Reply

      I couldn’t agree more. My husband and I are really working hard on this right now. It typically starts so innocently and with the best intentions, but it just always seems to backfire. As days pass, I am believing more than ever that public praise, private criticism is the best advice I can give to people getting married and becoming parents. Thanks for stumbling by!

      17 August 2011 at 7:03 am Reply

    Jenny – I just discovered your blog today. All I can say is WOW – this post just hit home for me in ways that I cannot describe. Your Dad is a really wise man and I am going to start following that mantra “public praise, private criticism” immediately. It has not been my style and I can see why it is unfair to my amazing husband – I need to really check myself. Thank you for keeping it real!

    30 August 2011 at 6:02 pm Reply

      Oh Kimberly- I really have to continually check myself with this one. I don’t really struggle so much with criticizing my husband but I do make little comments at times to other moms that don’t build my kids up. So believe me, this post was just as much for myself as it is for anyone else. Thanks for your transparency and I’ll keep you in my thoughts. Good luck!

      1 September 2011 at 3:39 pm Reply
    Juli Smith

    Jenny~you are truly an amazing person. I’m glad to know you. I have been married for 23 years. Some were good but most were great. I know this wasn’t a rule I followed but will from now on. Thank you for teaching me. Love Juli

    1 September 2011 at 6:34 pm Reply

      Thanks Juli. It’s a lesson that I’m glad I was taught by my folks and will share it with others to prevent the struggles that I endured. Glad you stopped by.-J

      2 September 2011 at 6:47 am Reply

    Such a good point, Jenny. I do have a question though, when you’re frustrated with Jeff what do you do? Who do you talk to? How do you handle that frustration we all feel with our spouse, children and extended family (parents, siblings, etc…)?

    18 February 2012 at 7:17 pm Reply

      I suggest you find one person, or better yet one couple who are not judgmental, won’t take sides, and who you know would encourage you and your spouse to be better people. A mentor couple if possible. Jeff and I had one at one stage of our marriage (unofficially) and if I ever complained, she would always direct me back to the truth and not allow me to bash him, etc. In the end, she always reminded me that the only person I could truly change was myself.
      It’s tough sometimes. I journal. And I’m always amazed at how better I feel a couple days later when I read back. The emotion has lessened and I’m so glad I didn’t vent to someone.
      I highly suggest not talking to people you work with. I have seen this turn bad in multiple cases. (Really ugly bad). And you know your extended family… if they hold grudges, gossip, or bring things up that happened 10 years ago, I would highly suggest steering clear of them.
      But keep it to one person/couple who is honest, honorable, confidential, and someone who you want to be like and gives Godly advice (if that is important to you).
      I hope this helps. – Jenny

      18 February 2012 at 9:45 pm Reply

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