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This could be the beginning of real change and progress in your family.

It begins with you.

All that stuff you’ve heard about ‘be the change you want to see?’ It’s true.

Humans are designed to influence each other. Especially in families. That’s scary, because to be a positive influence you have to take responsibility for that influence, which is hard. But it’s good, because when you DO take responsibility, the design will automatically help you.

So, when you take responsibility, start with these two things:

1. Accept your family

Here’s what I mean by acceptance; it’s your attitude: This doesn’t have to change. You don’t have to change. I may want change, but my happiness and contentment are not dependent on you changing.

Accept your family as a whole and accept each individual. Accept the reality of who they are. Desire change all you want, but don’t make your acceptance of them conditional on them meeting some criteria.

Accept them personally and accept how God seems to have created them. That doesn’t mean you approve of all their attitudes or conduct. It means you love them anyway. Each is an individual on their own personal journey and accountable to God. God is not finished yet, with them or with you.

This journey is tough enough without rejection and conditional love from the ones closest to you.

This is the same thing you want from them. This is hard to do. It’s hard for them, too, to accept you.

But this is the beginning of what Jesus did and does.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us – Romans 5.8

Hopes and dreams and goals for your family are different than your personal dreams and goals. You have control over your own desires and efforts. Would it be challenging to you to have a goal to lose 30 pounds? But how much more challenging would it be if you had a goal for someone else to lose 30 pounds? And what if you made acceptance of them conditional on them losing the weight?

Now replace the weight goal with goals like being respectful, or employed, or sober, and let’s say you won’t accept them until they change. How does that feel in your family? What if they hold back acceptance of you for their own reasons?

To be fully seen by somebody, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous – Elizabeth Gilbert 

2. Accept your role (and your limits)

You role is to take the initiative no matter what others do. In a sense, it’s up to you; not the results, but the role of modeling.

You want your family to be patient, kinder, more respectful? Then you be patient, kinder, more respectful.

You want your family to take less offense and be less argumentative? Then take less offense and be less argumentative.

You want your family to root for each other and have a more positive attitude? You know what to do.

No, of course you can’t do it all, and you can’t be perfect, and it will take time. But you can do something, and you MUST. You can’t say they won’t listen! You can’t say it doesn’t do any good! You can’t say but look how they treat me!

Their response is not your job. Your job is to model and to be an example – as imperfect as it will be – of what you want.

We are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours – Andy Stanley

And Jesus’ responsibility is to fill yours so you can empty it. Do you think he wants to do that? When I keep my cup full he doesn’t fill it at all. No room for him.

When you move in the direction of accepting your family and loving unconditionally, and in the direction of accepting your role to model what you want to see, you’re walking with Jesus. This is his direction. He’s with you.

This could be worth it even if your family doesn’t change.

How do you feel about this starting point? 

About the Author


Gary Morland helps you feel better about your most challenging family relationships, and helps you actually improve those relationships - all by adopting simple attitudes, perspectives, expectations, and actions (the same ones that changed him and his family).


  1. Cara

    I feel hopeful at this starting point. And I am so thankful for these posts. I have been checking back since the first one of this series, I am so glad to see this one! I am going to put this into practice in my own home and toward a couple of difficult extended family members as well. My own children are young, so starting early is a major blessing. Thank you so much for your insight, encouragement, and for sharing!

  2. Elizabeth

    Gary, thank you for your encouraging words. Exactly what I needed to hear. After years of not going to church because my husband wouldn’t, I decided to go back last Sunday by myself. I also have decided to love him anyway, unconditionally. Like you said, we don’t have to agree with a family member’s decision but we do need to model the behavior we want to see. Then leave the rest up to God. Have a great day!

  3. Kathy

    Great post, Gary. I am still haunted (in a good way : ) of your post about the Russian cats…. & this reminds me to take it a step further…. some action required …

    • we got where we are by just waiting for things to get better – God didn’t make us to live a woe-is-me life, right?

  4. I have been struggling myself in this area for quite a while now. Both with my family and my husband’s. Thanks for putting it into understandable and kind words, and for the nudge to move in the direction of love and responsibility for doing what God calls me to do…

  5. Lizajanie

    So true. So difficult. So courageous.

  6. Alisa

    This was just what I needed today. Our family has grown by two in the last 8 months – my 24 year old sister who is recovering from a brain injury and her 3 year old son. We are already challenged with two wonderful kids who deal with extreme emotional swings. We are living in a very negative environment due to my sister’s emotional/personality challenges and I often find myself struggling to stay above the surface, just gasping for air. I often find myself wanting to give up doubting that things will ever change.
    But I am encouraged today to continually accept my family as they are and to accept my role. I read something yesterday that said, “You’re not there to ‘save’ [them]; you’re there to assure [them they’re] not alone or abandoned.” This statement was very profound to me.
    Today I will believe that I am not responsible for filling their cup. And I will empty out my own so that Jesus can fill it.

    • lyricpdx

      I will be thinking of you today and praying for you, Alisa. The Lord has not forgotten you.

    • very encouraging – thanks for that Alisa

  7. Mary

    Thanks Gary. I have been working on this and praying for changes in our family but putting it into the perspective of modeling yourself to what you hope to see in them has opened my eyes that change has got to begin with yourself before you can expect anything positive. I had better get to work!
    God Bless

  8. M

    It’s like you were here, in my home last night, watching as I cried out & flipped out all @ the same time…under attack I say, can’t do it for you, only Jesus, & u can make these changes! Momma bear must let go & trust more, walk by faith & know that; she is worthy, & loved…even with all that comes @ her, all she desires is what is God’s best for her family…It’s hard, G to do that which you have shared…I’m in it, in all areas right now:( Please pray for me…thank YOU for this…blessings & <3 M
    ps. I hope this makes sense:(

  9. Adrienne Jelderks

    Thanks! Great article and looking forward to the next one!

  10. Pam Cason

    So good, Gary. Thank you for speaking the truth.

  11. Joy Candido

    Thank you for writing this, Gary! It’s exactly what Jesus has been putting on my heart in this new year. Looking forward to the series!

  12. Pam

    what if what you are dealing with is addiction and deceit-how do you know when to walk away? I just heard someone say if you are dying and someone else’s life flashes before your eyes you are co dependent- how do you love someone and not let their choices dominate your life??

    • 30 years ago I was the addict and deceiver. Before that, growing up, our whole family was dominated by my alcoholic dad’s choices. No one walked away in either case. Those days are like they happened on another planet. No short answer, Pam. Have you read From Beer to Eternity (on the right side here)? You should also email me. I promise there’s hope.

  13. Staci

    Thank you so much for this post! I found your blog through a link on Chattingatthesky. I am wondering how to apply the idea of acceptance to my in-laws who have disowned their son (my husband) and our newborn & toddler. They will not even talk to us at all so we are unsure what to do or why they feel this way. They did tell us that they did not approve of their son marrying me. My husband and I are both Christians and we are deeply hurt over their actions. I was hopeful they would be part of our lives when we had children and I still am hopeful things will change. Sincerely wondering how I can accept their choices when I do not think God makes people to hate. Confused about accepting people vs accepting actions. I want to keep the door open for restored relationship & make sure that I am appropriately accepting. Can you please give me any wisdom on how to do this? Thank you so much Gary.

    • Well this is just an example of how to maybe think about it . . . I can’t really know since you know all the details . . .

      Pray for a soft heart toward them. Pray to know how to love them.

      When someone acts offended toward you, the normal thing to do is to ask them how you have offended them. This would be after prayer, and with humility – no prickly attitude or being offended yourself. You’d be prepared to be hurt or surprised by how they answered, but having prayed and given it to the Lord you’d listen and be soft (at least on the outside :)

      “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” – James 3.18

      “Love covers all offenses . . .whoever covers an offense seeks love” – Proverbs

      “A gentle word can break a bone” – Proverbs 25.15

      Maybe something like that . . . I hope you have a great experience of grace.

  14. Heidi

    Thank you for the reminder to model the change we want to see in others. So true, so convicting. Gotta make a plan to help me do that every day. Hope installment number four will help!

    • I think the family was designed for behavior to be contagious – with the intent that it be good behavior :)


  1. […] you do a tough internal thing: you accept your family unconditionally, and accept your role to influence them on purpose. Hmm, even without them accepting the same thing? Well, OK, but yes that is […]

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