Leading in a Complaining Culture

One of the most taxing things one encounters when mothering a three-year old boy is the whining: the use of an annoyingly complaining voice. One would think - and many experts assert - that if a child is never given the item for which he whines and is always required to rephrase his request politely, the behavior would eventually be extinguished. But no such luck in our household. Our myriad anti-whining strategies have met with no real success to date.

In a recent chat with a close mom friend about parenting our preschoolers, I raised our whining dilemma. What else could I try to stop it? Was there no solution (and if not, could my sanity be preserved)? After listening for a while my friend gently - and correctly - pointed out that I was, in essence, whining about my son's whining problem.

Complaining, in essence, is saying: "This isn't working out for me. I'm annoyed that I don't have - or am not getting - what I want right now." It's what my kid‘s doing when he asks for a drink in an unhappy voice. And it's what I'm doing when I'm telling my friend that ongoing effort to address this parenting challenge is killing me.

If ever there was a culture of complainers, our society is it. Here we are: world's richest nation, where instant gratification is the daily norm for most everyone in most realms of life. But we're eternally unhappy. We always want more, different, better… and we're not afraid to say so.

Now don't get me wrong. Sharing our burdens with one another isn't sinful but actually godly, and it's wise to seek advice from Christian peers and mentors about challenging situations. But the line between constructive problem-solving and complaining is terribly thin. I'm more apt to be on the complaining side than on the constructive side - and I find myself in good company.

Whining, rooted in our sin nature, is part of the "old self" we're commanded to "put off" (Eph 4:22). The original sin consisted of Eve doing exactly what my son does routinely: voicing dissatisfaction about the snack options God has provided to her. She wanted a different one. She and Adam were discontent with what they'd been given, said so, and then acted on it.

This is the essence of complaining: dissatisfaction. Lack of contentment. A joyless and unthankful heart. These were present when our first parents sinned, are present in my three-year old, and are also present in me.

June 05, 2009 at 7:20 PM

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