Dear Rachel,

My sister forgot my birthday again. Every year we celebrate hers, and every year she forgets mine. I’m livid with frustration at her thoughtlessness.


Dear Rachel,

My husband knows how important being on time is to me, and yet he’s always late. Last week, we arrived barely in time for the wedding reception of my boss’s daughter. I was so embarrassed! Why won’t he learn?


Dear Rachel,

Every time my son brings home a report card, I tense up. It invariably says the same thing: “Can try harder; isn’t living up to his potential; needs to make more effort.” Nothing I do or say makes any difference.


Dear Rachel,

I just spent another frustrating morning with my mother. Although I spend all morning chauffeuring her all over town and helping her with errands and appointments, all she does is complain! Why can’t she ever just say “thank you?”


Dear Rachel,

My daughter is very disorganized, and I’m very organized. She never listens to me when I give her suggestions to help her. I offer to sit with her and help her make some order in her life, yet she balks. How is she ever going to be independent?


When I get letters like this, I feel like writing the person back ...

Dear So and So, This person has been doing the same thing for a long time. Stop expecting them to change!

But I don’t because I do the same thing. Ironically, people have as much trouble letting go of expectations as other people have of changing. Hoping someone else will change is like feeding someone else and hoping you’ll stop being hungry. It’s also more complicated when it involves family members because we can’t avoid the situations that come up which irritate us.

Each of us is in this world to do a tikkun—to change one or more character traits that are hard to change. It is everyone’s own individual work.

So while those around you may or may not be working to change, let’s examine four productive things you can do to help you deal with your family members’ foibles:

1. Acknowledge the good.

Your mother, sister, husband, son, daughter have good points despite their lack in the area that bothers you the most. Your son may not be a budding scholar, but he takes the garbage down and kisses you good night with a big hug; your daughter may be disorganized, but she’s a good friend and helps you when you need her most; your husband is late because he’s out working. Make a list of all their good points and praise them at least as much as you harp on their failings. People increase what you reinforce.

2. Take responsibility for what’s yours and let go of what isn’t.

Other than your children, whom you have a responsibility to educate properly, how punctual, grateful or organized another person is isn’t your problem, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can request that someone talk nicely to you or make arrangements to arrive at an event separately so you’re not dependent on another person, and you can improve the character traits within yourself that are important to you, but you can’t take responsibility for someone else’s behavior. Consider it a detour you have to maneuver around.

3. Show appreciation even for what’s not perfect.

Thank your husband for coming to the wedding with you; buy your son a small gift for his report card even though it’s not perfect; throw a surprise party for your sister’s next birthday; take your mother out to lunch on your next jaunt. Show appreciation for the people you love, even if they are not perfect. Focus on your acts of giving instead of their acts of not necessarily doing the same.

4. If you must deal with an issue, don’t spend more than five minutes discussing it.

Time yourself. Then move on. Don’t get caught up in an argument. State what you feel, you want, you need, and not what the other person has to do. “I can’t talk while I’m driving, I need to concentrate on the road.” “I need to be on time for the meeting, so I’m leaving a bit earlier.” “I’m going out with a few friends for my birthday, and I would like you to join us.”

“Love your friend as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). We can still love someone even if we don’t always like their behavior. While you don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior as far as it compromises you, your love shouldn’t be conditional or dependant on any specific behavior. One flaw doesn’t have to destroy your whole relationship with the person unless you let it.

And yes, don’t expect people to change.