‘The Grumble-Free Year’: A Conversation With Author Tricia Goyer

December 2, 2019 Updated: January 31, 2020
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Tricia Goyer is a homeschooling mom of 10, a bestselling author of more than 70 books, a speaker, a podcaster, and a family advocate.

In her current season of life—some of her children are now grown—her household consists of her husband, eight of their children, and an elderly grandparent with dementia. It was under these circumstances that she and her family challenged themselves to live “grumble-free,” that is, abstaining from complaints. As she put it, “What could possibly go awry?”

Goyer tells the tale of their “impossible” year in her new book, “The Grumble-Free Year: Eleven Family Members, and One Impossible Goal.” I asked her about their experience.

The Epoch Times: What inspired you to attempt to live “grumble-free?”

Tricia Goyer: Just as we were about to become empty nesters, my husband John and I adopted seven children, ages newborn to teen. For years, we dealt with big behavior problems and anger that came with adopting kids from hard places. We sought therapy and worked toward healing, yet we soon discovered our family still struggled with finding peace in our home. It came down to one big culprit: grumbling.

In our house, there are many people with wants and needs, which leads to much conflict and complaining. Eight kids still at home, two parents, and my elderly grandma all living together meant we could either live with the fault-finding and bellyaching, or we work to do something different.

The Epoch Times: How did your family respond when you told them you wanted to embark on a grumble-free year?

Ms. Goyer: My husband and I asked my family if they’d be willing to take on the challenge: one year without grumbling. The younger kids thought it was a great idea. The younger teens thought it was impossible. The older teens questioned, “How?”

We knew it would be easy to start but hard to maintain, so we told our kids that if we all worked on not grumbling for a year we’d celebrate by going on a family cruise. (And, just maybe, my husband and I had already been planning on the cruise anyway …) We knew it was enough to keep everyone motivated to keep working at it. And when I slacked, my kids would remind me of our challenge and our goal.

The Epoch Times: How did you define grumbling?

Ms. Goyer: Grumbling is more than words. It includes eye-rolling, moaning, slamming cupboards, heavy sighing, and stomping away. It’s more than just muttering words … it goes deeper. Grumbling is truly rooted in discontent. We don’t get what we want when we want it, and so we complain about it.

Sadly, our grumbling not only hurts our relationships with each other, but it also puts up a barrier between us and God. When we grumble, we’re telling God, “What you’ve given us is not enough; you’re not enough.”

The Epoch Times: What were the biggest challenges of living grumble-free?

Ms. Goyer: Truthfully, the biggest challenge was looking at myself first and being an example. I wanted my kids not to grumble, and I had to be the example. Grumbling is easy. Harder is figuring out what’s really going on, trying to make changes, and attempting to communicate better.

While grumbling is not OK, I realized it is good communication to tell my husband my worries, the day’s challenges, and my needs. Overcoming my internal grumbles, transforming my thoughts and attitude, and talking about my needs has helped me to be honest and transparent. And my children are learning that, too.

Usually, there’s something more going on behind the grumbles. It may be bigger worries. It may be families being too busy and disconnected. As I started with myself first, I had to figure out these things and then teach them to my kids.

The Epoch Times: What surprised you about this journey?

Ms. Goyer: What surprised me the most was that before our grumble-free year I hadn’t actually given my kids tools to help them to do things differently. Grumbling comes easy. Knowing how to respond in a different way takes work.

I remember asking my kids, “What should you do instead of grumbling?” And I received blank stares. I had to give them ideas on how to share a need without grumbling. Or how to take a deep breath and respond to a parent’s request in an appropriate way.

I worked with my kids to think through how to respond instead of grumbling. Then, we practiced doing it right. I’d send my kids outside and pretend to call them in, just so they could “act out” responding correctly. Or I’d pretend to serve something for dinner that they didn’t like and have them say, “Thank you for taking your time to make dinner. I will eat everything else, but can I just take a few bites of that?”

We teach our kids how to do so many things, but somehow we’ve forgotten how to teach them to communicate well and be grateful without grumbling.

The Epoch Times: What was the biggest lesson you learned during your grumble-free challenge?

Ms. Goyer: The biggest lesson I learned was that pointing out my kids’ grumbling didn’t improve anything. The thing that worked the best was pointing out when they got it right. Praise goes farther than nitpicking. It turns out when kids see a mom praising one of their siblings loudly for not complaining, or being grateful instead, they will want the same type of positive attention.

The Epoch Times: Do you feel your family succeeded in your challenge?

Ms. Goyer: Yes! Our family grumbles a lot less, and I would call that a success. There are many times daily when I see one of my kids working up to grumble, and then choose to communicate in a better way.

We also have a common language and common knowledge about grumbling. For example, when it’s been a hard day I’ll tell the kids, “I know we’re all hungry, and I know we’re all tired—so it would be easy to grumble right now—but we can all work together to keep positive attitudes.” Acknowledging times in which it would be easy to grumble helps us not to.

The Epoch Times: How has this challenge changed your family?

Ms. Goyer: We’ve all changed together—and we’ve each changed individually—which is something that our kids will be able to carry through life. As we work on our combined weaknesses, it actually causes us to build up our individual strengths. I’m always pleased when a teacher or coach tells me how much they appreciated one of my kids’ good attitudes.

Also, I’ve found it easier to turn around my attitude, too. Many times a day, when I feel like grumbling, I think of something I’m thankful for instead. Or I figure out a way I can communicate a need in a positive way. The changes are both external and internal.

The Epoch Times: What advice would you give to parents who want to inspire their family to live grumble-free?

Ms. Goyer: I hope parents will take time to focus on what’s often overlooked: our discontent. We get stuck in a rut of complaining, instead of working to do something different. Choosing good communication and gratitude over grumbling takes work, but it is worth it. Our challenge has turned out to be a gift to our family—one that will continue to give.

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