We'll be navigating our family life smoothly, and just as I shift into cruise-control-mothering it happens.
The old rules and methods seem to stop working and one of the children starts behaving like a spoiled kid in a toy store.
Whining. Complaining. General unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Years ago I declared the public space in our house a "No Whine Zone." This was remarkably effective, mostly in reducing the clamor in my ears.
But removing the sound from the living room doesn't address the heart issue. So we memorized scripture. Even the five year old can remember
That verse has been recited more times than any other in our house. By far. And it helps adjust our attitudes.
Nevertheless, the cycles of whining and complaining come around again.
One day not long ago I was extremely frustrated with one of my children. The complaining had escalated to the point where it was starting to be difficult to be around this child.
As I sat there and opened my heart to God's leading in that moment, I realized that the complaining I was hearing was not just words that were grating to me and disobedient to the scripture. More importantly, this constant complaining was reflective of an ungrateful heart.
And right away I knew what our new rule would be.
- The first time you complain, you must say five things out loud for which you are thankful
- The second time you complain, you must say ten things out loud for which you are thankful
- The third time, fifteen, and so on
- You may not re-use an item of thanksgiving in the same day
- Each day you start with a clean slate
After slight hesitation the children have adjusted to this rule. Now all I have to say is, "I see, and what do you need to do now?" and off they rattle their thanksgivings.
The out-loud part of the rule has been key. Yes, we have had days when someone has said fifteen "thankfuls" in a row. It's delightful to listen to the change in tone from #1 to #15. There is something about speaking your blessings out loud that just makes you feel thankful. And cheerful.
I know from experience. <cringe>
It was a day that I woke up to a not-exactly-tidy house. I was behind on laundry, behind on dishes... just behind.
I was determined to take dominion over our crazy house, but that didn't eliminate the normal chores, schoolwork and activities. Then along came a few extra unexpected projects and interruptions. And a change to our afternoon activity that was going to mean less time at home.
The stress level was mounting in the mama brain, and the house still looked like a train wreck.
An hour before we needed to leave, as I was looking around me aghast that I was still woefully behind, Farmer Boy came in from the cold drizzle and announced,
"The goats are out. All of them. And they are spreading out in the woods."
To which I calmly replied, "WHAT??! I don't have time for this! We don't have time! How did this happen? Why wasn't this prevented?! Look at this house! It's a disaster! Aaaaargh!!!!"
My stoic eldest simply looked at me calmly (and somewhat quizzically.)
I growled "I'm sorry, I'm not mad at you, not at any of you, it's not your fault, I'm just so frustrated! I can't get everything done in the time we have in a day, even without disasters and interruptions, but disasters and interruptions just keep coming! And also AAARGH!"
It was one of my wiser and more joy-filled parenting moments.
So the goats were rounded up, the fence fixed, and the humans loaded into the van to leave for the kids' activity. At least we weren't going to be late. As we headed off one of the children fussed and fussed about how very hard life was.
Oh the complaining. Oh the whining.
And I realized I was listening to myself. Ouch.
"I think we'd both better say five things we're thankful for. I kind of freaked out earlier," I said into the rear-view mirror.
So we alternated listing five things each for which we were thankful.
By the end we were laughing. Because a cheerful heart is good medicine, and sometimes the best medicine for a complaining spirit is speaking thanks.