Can you imagine training a family of 11 to live without grumbling for a year?

That’s what the book The Grumble-Free Year: Twelve Months, Eleven Family Members and One Impossible Goal (2019) is about. This is my book review.

Tricia Goyer, the author, inspired me before I even picked up any of her 80+ books. Anyone who has writes that many published books, adopts two sets of siblings after she’s raised her own children, homeschools to boot, and still finds space in her life to care for a grandparent and help weekly with the local teen pregnancy centre she founded — well, it certainly arrests my attention.

When the book came out on November 5, it intrigued me. I only have one child in kindergarten, and steering our family towards non-whiny, pleasant attitudes can be challenging enough. As the eldest of eight children who were homeschooled, I could only imagine the feat Tricia’s adventure must have been.

The Mission

Tricia describes the Goyers as a “too-big family squished in a too-small home”. By the time she had raised her own three children and launched them in the world, she had worked through how to balance raising kids, managing commitments and working from home. She had faced trauma and triggers, such ones tied to her past as teen mom as well as her how she dealt with expressing what she needed. Her home had become tidy, clean and a quiet place to write.

Then she and her husband John felt drawn to adopt. Within six years, they finalized the adoption of seven children, six of whom were through the foster system. Their home became entrenched with anger, reactions and hurt feelings as each child wrestled with the fears and trauma from their past. Laundry, clutter and emotional drama overtook the house, and Tricia struggled with losing the calm and cleanliness she had previously know.

She had had enough of merely surviving. Something major needed to shift — for her sanity and the children’s well-being. It was time for their family to find a way to thrive. Thus, her grumble-free year idea and book was born. After announcing the experiment to her family, she writes,

“Taking a family of eleven, full of personalities and viewpoints and individual struggles, through an entire year without grumbling was a monumental task, but I sensed we were on the verge of something special. And I couldn’t wait to see what God had in the works.” Tricia Goyer, The Grumble-Free Year

Gearing Up

It’s easy for me to point out where others need an attitude check. After all, I have good reasons for my bad mood and grumbling. People don’t clean up after themselves the way I want them to. Things break just when I need them to go smoothly.

As Tricia figured out how to start training children towards a grumble-free year, she realized she needed to start with herself — by looking at how her past shaped her style of grumbling, acknowledging what she expected and needed from others, and examining the thoughts she nurtured that led to complaining.

“Grumbling is taking a grim look at ourselves and the world around us and muttering about it between our teeth…I realize maybe part of my grumbling came from my desire to feel powerful while truly feeling powerless.” Tricia Goyer, The Grumble-Free Year

Her approach was the heart-check I needed. Her vulnerability in sharing the blow-ups she regretted served as a mirror that revealed the impact my own grumbling has on my family.

Beginning the Challenge

How would you begin moving a family towards not grumbling? Rules? Contests? Lectures?

Tricia starts with a conversation with her kids about how grumbling feels, sounds and looks. One by one, each child recognized their signature style, such as eye-rolling, whining or mumbling. Admitting their own faults was a feat in itself. After being moved from foster home to foster home and disappointment from broken promises from other families, the children had every reason to be insecure and uncertain how much they could trust they had landed in their forever home filled with unconditional love.

Increasing self-awareness was a helpful start, but Tricia knew it wouldn’t work for everyone to just try and stop their grumbling. They needed simple strategies and ways to replace the thought-behaviour cycle. Some ideas had promising potential — at least how she envisioned it could turn out. But either the kids weren’t willing to get on board or she failed miserably in her approach to the strategy.

Beauty in the Ugly Mess

What I found most endearing about The Grumble-Free Year, is how authentic Tricia is portraying the messiness of her adventure. I would have been tempted to tidy up the details, distill the lessons learned, and deliver a polished portrayal of the experiment. I’m sure Tricia had the same temptation, but she chose to be real about the mishaps, struggles and failures. Life and crises interrupted their rhythms, and a number of times she confessed, “weeks passed before I remembered that I was supposed to be guiding my children through a grumble-free year.”

Yet often it was in looking back on the hard times that she realized her family had learned a way to position their heart away from grumbling towards gratitude. The times when she was running out of strength and at the end of her rope, she realized how much she — and the children — weren’t meant to overcome grumbling on their own.

In a culture that often reminds us to practise mindfulness and gratitude to better ourselves and our mental health, Tricia keeps coming back to this refreshing truth that she and the kids couldn’t change on their own. God provides where we cannot. His presence is strength where we are weak and undone. He loves us amid our mess and transforms it into beauty.

As someone who defaults to trying harder before accepting grace, despite knowing better, I was surprised to find I still need this reminder.

Tips for Training

Each chapter ends with questions to ponder and discuss. And if you do want to walk your family through the adventure of a grumble-free life, Tricia also includes tips to prepare and guide you through your family conversation on each lesson she learned.

You would benefit from The Grumble-Free Year if…

Anyone who wants to transform their own heart and words, as well as their family’s, from grumbling to gratitude will be inspired and challenged by this book. It’s worth the read.

Also, anyone who has adopted children, has a large family, is homeschooling, or caring for an elderly parent in their home will especially relate to the adventures.

May you be inspired to find a copy and begin your own heart-check toward being an encouraging influence on those around you.

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