I never planned on being a mother of 10 kids, although I will admit I've always been drawn to large families. My favorite reruns growing up were The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough. Full House and The Cosby Show attracted me, even as a teen. After all, there was always someone in the family to jump in to help, or to point others to the bright side of things, all in the span of 30 minutes.
And then "large family" came to define us. When our three biological kids were nearly adults, we adopted seven more, from ages newborn to 15. While television shows display the drama and the many unique personalities under one roof, what they don't portray is the real-life stuff: the Mt. Everest of laundry piles, the improbability of matching socks, the five-pound meatloaf needed for dinner, and the grumbling. Always the grumbling.
In our house, there are many people with many wants and needs, which leads to many conflicts 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.
That's when my husband and I decided to challenge this large crew to a Grumble-Free Year. It was either that or invest in noise-canceling headphones. Sadly, society looks down upon parents who ignore their children.
We got our kids to buy into the idea by promising that if they worked at not-grumbling for a year we'd take them on a cruise. (Not mentioning that we, sort of, had that family vacation already planned.)
The first lesson of our challenge was that grumbling is more than words. It included eye-rolling, heavy sighing and stomping away.
We had ups and downs over the year, and I figured out -after many months- that the thing that worked the best wasn't pointing out when my kids got it wrong but instead 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. Go figure.
And now that are a year has come and gone, I'm seeing a much more peaceful, connected and thankful family. I truly have nothing to complain about, because I've learned so much in the process. I've learned that because of the large number of people in our home, we can't ignore little problems.
Little problems—like grumbling—become big problems when everyone's doing it. It may be easy to ignore the grumbling with only one, two or three kids. But the sum of our collected whines and moans moved grumbling from "annoying" to "acute."
We also learned that overcoming challenges together in the home is noticed outside the home. I'm awed when a youth leader or coach comments on one of my kids' positive attitudes. There were many years when I doubted that my kids would ever be called thoughtful or positive.
Not that anyone around here gets it perfect, but our combined weaknesses actually caused us to build up our individual strengths. My hope is that as my children move into adulthood, they will know that even in challenging situations they can control their words and refocus their thoughts to what they can be grateful for, instead of grumbling. I have a feeling this will get them ahead in work and in life.
By the end of the year, we did enjoy a Mexican cruise where everyone ate steak for dinner and wore out the free ice cream machine, but the biggest reward was discovering we could change. We still try to maintain grumble-free, but we also realize that no one is perfect. And when one of us is having an especially bad attitude, we've also learned to offer grace.
No one will ever be perfect, and in real life, problems aren't solved in 30 minutes like in the TV shows I used to watch. Sometimes in a busy household, there isn't someone who will jump in and help—especially when I'm trying to get dinner on the table and kids out the door to basketball—not I'm grumbling about that, mind you.
And sometimes the problems are bigger. They need more than an attitude adjustment or to see the bright side of things, but offering grace works for that too.
Giving grace means it's okay to offer undeserved kindness, even when someone messes up. It's keeping short accounts and not holding another's words against them. It's knowing that none of us are perfect (especially mom and dad), but at least we're all trying.
And with this many people in the house, sometimes even the trying is a miracle in itself.