“I didn’t want that kind!”
“Why did she get the bigger one?”
“I hate emptying trash cans.”
I endured comments like these for weeks and maybe even months before I suddenly had an epiphany.
My kids have a complaining habit.
They were complaining about everything. From the food I served them to the chores we required of them, no aspect of our home life was immune. Even when a request was granted, they complained that it wasn’t enough.
“Sure, you can stay up until 8:30.”
“Why can’t we stay up until 9?”
“Sure, you can have a cookie.”
“Why can’t I have two?”
And before I considered why or how or what to do about it or even what God says about it, I first couldn’t help but wonder why it took me so long to recognize the complaints for what they were.
My kids weren’t making an effort to disguise them, after all. The vast majority of the complaining was done in the typical high-pitched, whiney, fingernails-on-chalkboard tone one would expect.
After some prayerful consideration, I came up with a few reasons why we can tend to overlook a grumbling habit.
How Complaining Flies Under the Radar
First, we live in a land that lauds its freedom of speech, among other liberties we enjoy. While freedom of speech is certainly an important principle, as Christ-followers we must have a higher standard than simply what we’re free to say. Though perhaps we wouldn’t consciously use freedom of speech as an excuse to complain, that deeply ingrained philosophy can cause us to overlook ungodly uses of speech like grumbling.
Second, we live in a culture that in many ways idolizes its children. Gone are the days of “children should be seen and not heard.” Thank goodness for that! But now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, landing somewhere in the vicinity of “children can say whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want.” We need to find the middle ground!
Third, we live in a time of psychological awareness. We know that kids need to express themselves. They need to share their opinions. They need to feel like they’re being heard. No one wants to think of their adult child having deep-seated psychological issues because her parents never listened to her impassioned pleas (a.k.a. griping and grumbling) for Lucky Charms.
Finally, we’re complainers ourselves! No, we don’t generally whine quite like our kids do. But I can certainly pull out a complaint or two when I feel like it. Maybe it’s aimed at the exceptionally poor driver in front of me. Maybe it’s the fact that someone used the last of my K-cups. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s my responsibilities. The truth is, being accustomed to our own complaining can blind us to the grumbling tendencies of our kids.
There are plenty of reasons why we might fail to recognize a complaining habit. But as stewards of these little people entrusted to us by God for this season, we owe it to them (and to Him) to help them deal with their complaining tendencies.
Because this thing matters to God. In fact, it matters quite a lot more than we realize.
God’s Response to Complainers
Numbers 11 describes what happens when the Israelites complained about God’s provision.
- His anger was kindled (v.1)
- The fire of the LORD burned among them (v.2)
- The anger of the LORD blazed hotly (v.10)
And it didn’t stop there!
Complaining against Him directly isn’t the only kind of grumbling that angers God. He is just as incensed by complaints against those He has placed over us in authority. Miriam experienced this firsthand when she was struck with leprosy after complaining against Moses (Numbers 12). Numbers 16 gives the account of the utter destruction of 253 more complainers against the God-ordained leadership.
While complaining doesn’t necessarily yield deadly consequences in modern times, these examples illustrate God’s perspective of a grumbling, complaining spirit.
Here’s how my family is getting our act together. See what you think, and then leave a comment with your suggestions, pretty please! We’ve still got a long way to go around here. 🙂
1.) Examine together what God has to say. God’s opinion should be of prime importance in our parenting. Going to God’s Word together reinforces to our kids that the Bible is relevant to their lives. It teaches them that what God has to say matters. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more important lesson for kids to learn.
2.) Look for the heart issues. It’s tempting to target the behavior, isn’t it? “Just make it stop!” But the better solution isn’t going to be a quick fix, because complaining is a fruit, not a root. Since a complaining habit is a symptom of other sinful attitudes, the only effective way of eliminating it is unearthing and then dealing with the motives behind the complaints. Sins like ungratefulness, selfishness, and rebellion are behind a lot of the griping I see.
3.) Memorize Scripture together. Once you know what God says, choose some relevant Bible verses that address complaining. You can also choose Scriptures that speak to the heart issues you uncovered in #2. Commit to hiding God’s Word in your hearts, that you might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
4.) Replace the bad with the good. Now that we’ve established that we shouldn’t complain, what should our speech look like? Look to God’s Word, and practice using the kinds of words the Bible applauds. When your kids complain, have them state three things they’re thankful for in relation to whatever they were griping about. Practice makes progress!
5.) Pray. It’s so important that our kids see us going to God often in prayer, and that we approach Him together. Urge your children to confess their sin to God and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Encourage them to ask Him for help in kicking their complaining habit.
6.) Be a good example. Ask God to help you identify areas of complaining in your own life. Get vulnerable and ask your spouse and even your kids! See what heart issues might be contributing; confess them to God and to your family, if needed, and ask for forgiveness. Then keep working on this right along with your children.
7.) Keep each other accountable. Encourage each other in your pursuit toward godly speech free of complaints. Praise the progress you see. Remind each other of your goal to speak words that are pleasing to God. I love this Grumbles Game idea—it’s a fun way to stay focused on growing in this area together.