We all know what it’s like to have a bad day. In moments when everything seems to be going wrong, it can be difficult for me to maintain a good attitude and all too easy to get irritable, especially toward my children. I’m generally not the type to lose my cool completely, but I can get grouchy, going about my day in a rather sullen manner, with loud sighs of frustration and sarcastic comments toward difficult children.

I have been more stressed than usual in the past few months, making it easier for me to fall into sour moods. Both my husband’s schedule and mine have been extremely busy. In addition, our holiday plans were turned upside down by sickness, and our kids have been sick much more often than usual. I’ve almost fallen into the habit of thinking I have good reason to be grumpy. But recently I’ve been reminded that irritability is not a positive attribute and that I ought to be joyful and thankful in every circumstance. I believe God has been challenging me to work on my attitude.

Sometimes, as people often do, I depend on certain things to help lift my mood on a bad day. One little mood-lifter for me is an iced coffee, which I usually save until school is over and enjoy as an afternoon treat. A bigger example is a chance to get away and do something out of the ordinary. While these types of things alone cannot bring true joy, they can feel helpful in getting me through a particular day, week, or month.

A few weeks ago, an opportunity arose for the kids and me to hang out for several days at the beach, where my husband has been working. While it would not exactly be a vacation (we’d still be doing school), I was more than ready for the change of pace.

On the day before our departure, however, my oldest began complaining of a headache and chills. A fever soon followed. I tried to take it in stride, but it suddenly struck me that she might have the dreaded pandemic virus. We might bring it to my husband, who might then be unable to work, which his schedule cannot afford. The idea of delaying or even canceling our trip caused me a moment of dismay, and my thoughts immediately shifted toward self-pity. But I half-begrudgingly stopped where I was and prayed for my attitude to stay right no matter what happened.

I called my husband (who had left a day ahead of us), and we tossed around several options. We decided to postpone our trip by at least a day, test our daughter for COVID-19, and see how she did. Her test was negative, and by the third day, she was feeling somewhat better. The trip was on, but I felt this had been a reminder to me not to let my circumstances get the better of my emotions.

We set to packing. My other teen, who was tired and working harder because her sister was sick, was in a mood and fussing at her siblings. Dealing with an irritable child is one thing that very easily puts me in a bad mood, but I gave her a gentle reminder (as much to myself as to her) to try to work on her attitude and not take out her feelings on anyone else.

Finally, we had everything loaded in the car. I had my iced coffee in hand, in a mason jar as I typically do; I was preparing to enjoy it as a little treat for all my extra work and stress. Just as I was turning the lock on the door, however, I lost my grip on the jar. It shattered, scattering coffee and glass all over the porch.

In a different frame of mind, this probably would have been the last straw. When my heart is not right, it can be easy to see the bad in everything: a spill, missing keys, red lights, children who can’t find their shoes…. Every small irritation can become a big one when I’ve decided that the world is against me. When my heart is grateful, however, and I’m trusting in God’s plan, I can keep the blessings in mind rather than focusing on the minor misfortunes.

Granted, that spilled coffee was still a disappointment. But I took a breath, cleaned up the mess, and moved on. The day continued, not without incidents that ordinarily could have frustrated and discouraged me. I cut my finger cleaning up the glass, and my shoes smelled like the coffee that I couldn’t drink. My 3-year-old’s potty emergencies caused a few urgent stops, and then I realized I was nearly out of gas and had to stop again. But I kept reminding myself that this was a chance for me to be a good example to my kids. Despite the mishaps, we could be thankful for the opportunity and for the trip going forward. And we made it in the end, on a beautiful day to a beautiful location.

I have an old sweatshirt that displays the phrase: “Attitude is everything.” I imagine this saying was intended to inspire ambition and determination to succeed, but I look at it as a reminder to keep my attitude right. I wouldn’t say a positive attitude can change everything; a true trial may involve grief and pain and will require more faith. But in the day to day, getting my heart right and changing my focus can make a huge difference in how the day proceeds.

This is something I need to work on in my days of schooling. A good heart attitude makes a huge difference in the lives of my children, both because I treat them better and because I’m setting an example for them to follow. Rather than getting frustrated by the distractions, interruptions, and grumpiness that I encounter in a typical school day, I can be thankful for the opportunity to homeschool and to be with my children—and to have the flexibility to go on occasional pseudo-vacations! And when the bad days get the best of me, I can always be thankful for God’s grace and the chance to try again tomorrow.