Dear Rachel,

My family thinks I’m a nag. They say I’m always telling them what to do and not giving them any space to take care of their own affairs. But then they come home with notes about undone homework and overdue bills, saying, “You should have reminded me!”

I don’t want to create tension in my family, but I also want to help them. What do I do?


Dear Harping,

Being a helpmate to your husband and a good mother to your children doesn’t mean you have to take total responsibility for their lives or obligations. If you do, you resent it, they resent it, and you've created an overtime job you could be stuck in for life.

With that in mind, here are a few tips:

  • Let your family members experience natural consequences. You’re not doing anyone any favors if you take responsibility for everyone else’s life. Assuming your family members are old enough to take responsibility for themselves, let them experience the natural consequences of their actions or inactions—unless it’s something that could have dire results (like not paying the mortgage) or is life-threatening (like not taking medication). And better now than later. You can’t protect people forever, even if you love them very much.
  • Use affirmations. Whenever you feel compelled to take control of the situation, sit back and say to yourself calmly, with a serene smile on your face, “I don’t have to take care of that.”
  • Model responsible behavior. Rather than telling others what to do, you can model and inspire them to be their best, which is a lot easier than trying to do it for them. As Ethics of the Fathers says, “In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man.”1 Be the bigger (wo)man in this situation and provide a good example for your family.
  • Let go and know that G‑d is in control. We often need to feel that we are in control of everything around us. We’re not! G‑d is in control, even when we do our best—and even when we don’t.

When you release other people’s responsibilities, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on your true purpose. And when you respect your own boundaries, your family members will, too. As Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”2

Wishing you success in all your endeavors,