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posted: 7/9/2012 3:10 PM

What to do about relatives who are always late?

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Q. I have some relatives who never arrive on time for family functions. When my parents were alive they chose to wait until the couple arrived, but after a few times the folks decided to start without them.

Now that my parents are gone, my sisters and I have decided to tell them to either arrive on time or just forget it. Are we being too rigid? I feel if you are given a specific time to arrive for any function, then you should make every effort to be there on time. Sometimes they have been two hours late.

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Also, they never offer to bring any food or drink and usually end up drinking all the alcohol that has been provided for all the guests. What say you?

Disgruntled Relative

A. I say you have something to learn from "The Untouchables" version of Al Capone (but don't we all). He said, "Somebody steals from me, I'm gonna say you stole. Not talk to him for spitting on the sidewalk. Understand?"

Tardiness is the least of the problems your letter reveals. This couple drinks too much, takes too much, gives too little, blows off too much that matters, and has proved too much for the problem-solving skills of two generations of your family.

Unfortunately, your recourse list is short.

(1) You can choose to offer strategic indulgence, which consists of expecting the worst from them; regarding them, not you, as the real victims of their chaos; planning functions as usual, with firm resolve to embrace this couple when they behave and to starve them of attention when they don't; and making sure the bar is lightly stocked, if at all. (Risk involved: enabling.)

(2) You can go tough-love, and say they're not welcome if they can't arrive at a reasonable time or contribute a reasonable amount. (Risk: alienation of relatives who are a walking cry for help.)

(3) You can take an active interest in this couple to see whether their chaos has reached the point where concerned family members need to get involved. (Risk: drama creep.)

No. 3 is a bit misleading, since all the family involvement in the world can't help people who have no interest in owning, much less changing, their destructive behavior. (Paging Al-Anon.) But given that you still include this couple, I'm guessing the attachment or just the sense of obligation runs deep. And in that case, doesn't it make sense to think more broadly about what you can do?

Q. My same sex-partner and I are ready to start the process of surrogacy once we overcome one major point of contention. While my partner and I share the desire to have a biological/genetic connection to our child, I am steadfast in refusing to consider passing on my genes.

I have struggled with major bouts of anxiety and depression since my early 20s. Although I've led a mostly enjoyable life by proactively seeking treatment for my mental-health issues, I wouldn't wish the dark moments of my illness on my worst enemy. Mental illness is prevalent in my family and I think it's irresponsible to knowingly risk passing on a genetic predisposition to a difficult life, especially when my partner's genes would achieve the same end result.

He discourages me from fortunetelling the fate of an unborn child and laments denying him/her the countless positive qualities I would pass on, but I'm unmoved. Help me find the words to convince him that I have our child-to-be's best interests at heart.

A. You could continue to press the issue of genetic predisposition, which, yes, does involve some fortunetelling, but it's at least educated fortunetelling, given your family history; you could remind him you have just as much a right to want the child to have his good qualities, making his argument a wash at best; you could point out that your good qualities (do thank him, by the way, for the high compliment) are apparently more pleasant to appreciate than they are to maintain, and that's something only someone with a front-row seat to the demon-wrestling i.e., you can know.

Etc.

But aren't we just wasting precious letters here?

You're dug in, he's dug in, and the phrase "How do I convince " serves as little more than the battle cry of the dug.

Instead, I suggest accepting that you're stuck with one of four choices: You budge, he budges, you outsource the DNA completely, or you don't have a child.

Next, I suggest having both of you, separately, number each of these in order of absolutely flat-out buck-naked no-strategic-jockeying HONEST preference. For example, yours might be:

(1) His genes. (2) Rent-a-Genes. (3) No children. (4) Your genes.

Then, compare your lists. The comparison might not serve up a perfectly matched answer, but, like flipping a coin, it might unexpectedly jar one loose.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2012 The Washington Post

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