Parenting When I Don’t Know What To Do

Parenting (When I Don't Know What To Do) //

We all hit those moments. You know the ones. The ones where you have NO idea what you’re supposed to do.

Here’s a sampling from my own mom experiences:

  • My oldest, at 2 years old, (who I was convinced was practically perfect in every way) reared back and hit me in the face–hard– in the middle of Hobby Lobby.
  • What to do about sleepovers? It’s easy if I don’t know the parents, but what about if it’s “his BEST friend?” and “the only time they’re ever going to do this?”
  • My 3-year-old hit his not-even-1-year-old brother.
  • When one of our kids was consistently bullying another of our kids.
  • One of my sons told me he was on top of chores in a particular area, and then (after a few weeks because of busyness of life) when I went to evaluate it, I was appalled at the poor state of affairs.
  • Sorting out who can go to who’s house, when, and under what circumstances
  • When my newly-potty-trained 2-year-old son showed his privates to a friend’s baby. On purpose.

Many of those left me baffled and unsure of what to do. In each situation I remember feeling like, WHAT????? IS????? HAPPENING???????

What do we do when we hit moments we’ve never thought through? How do we handle these new situations?

Here are a few things I do:

#1- I seek counsel from the wisest person I know in this area.

The wisest mom you know about how to give a self-controlled, non-angry, effective spanking to your 2-year-old may not be the wisest mom you know, 5-10 years later, when it comes time to think through your sleepovers policy.

I think of a woman who is strong in this area where I feel weak— SHE’s the one I ask. And before I follow advice from someone, I evaluate the fruit. For example:

  • If it’s sibling relationships I’m wanting to understand and grow wiser in, I consider: do their kids have good relationships with one another?
  • If it’s sorting out when/how your growing kids will time spent away from the family, I look to the person giving the advice and the closeness of the parent/child relationship as well as whether their teen seems entitled and disconnected or well-adjusted.
  • If it’s what to do when your toddler rejects food, look at how agreeable their kids are in regard to food, and in general.

#2- I try to pull my head out of the details of the situation and consider what big-picture principles are at work.

Sometimes we can overcomplicate things and if we pull back, we see that there are big-picture principles at work.

Yes, I felt hormonally crazy-protective toward my baby when my 3-year-old hits him, and yet, hitting and anger is a situation common to man. While it felt SO shocking, it’s really not. Anger and strife between siblings has occurred since the very first two siblings.

Very often, once I get out of the shock/surprise, there are almost always biblical principles to draw from. In that situation, my son needed to be:

  • corrected/rebuked
  • disciplined
  • instructed about what to do when he’s frustrated
  • reminded of those instructions the next time he began ramping up toward anger

My emotions would have had me ignore the basic principles at work in this situation, but picking my head up out of the details (and hormone-charge protective instinct) helped me to choose a bigger perspective. 

While my emotions were telling me that this was a shocking, horrifying display of wickedness and hatred (and WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO MY SWEET, BROTHER-PROTECTING SON??!), the facts were that my son had done something utterly typical among humans– gotten mad at his brother– and done something sinful about it. He needed correction, discipline, and instruction.

#3- I consider what advice I would give if someone came to me with this exact question.

Over the last 10+ years, I’ve participated, to varying degrees, in two online message board forums. They were focused on homeschooling and parenting. Doing so gave me the gift of learning about areas I might not have (yet) encountered in our home.

So when I encounter things I’ve never encountered before, I think back a lot to those forums, and the observations made from various wise mamas, and I fuse that together with whatever I have observed/experienced in life. Drawing on these experiences, I piece together what would be the wisest, best, most biblical advice I would offer to a friend if she came to me with this exact question. That often gets me going (at least for the short-term) in the right direction.


IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE: What do YOU do when you don’t know what to do?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast ( I write and wrangle kids.

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15 Responses

  1. TerriW says:

    Regarding seeking out someone who’s strong where I am weak: I’ve learned something important about that over the years.

    Sometimes it seems like our parenting is very strong in one area, and we feel confident about our parenting technique, but it turns out our kids just had a natural bent and we just rode the wave.

    (We first start to learn that lesson in spades once the second child comes, don’t we? But sometimes I forget to apply it to other families!)

    So, as with everything else in life: prayerfully consider your own situation/children.

    (Thank you for this post — very timely for me as my oldest daughter enters her late adolescence and the “what? WHAT???” is a whole new ball of wax.)

  2. Heather says:

    This is a great article. In hindsight those seem like easy years, and all the “I don’t know what to do” moments seem like no-brainers later in life, which, I guess, is a good thing when younger moms seek us for advice. Kind of overwhelming when friends want toddler advice while you are weathering bigger storms with bigger kids.

    I suppose all those “I don’t know what to do” moments with 25 year olds and 13 year olds and 9 year olds that come when you don’t know any moms with kids who have been through the harder issues than toddler/preschool stuff will seem like a piece of cake to us once they are all grown to middle age?

    It’s not always obedience/discipline stuff… It can get more complex than that. Good, obedient kids who just don’t handle life well. Or who have serious health issues. Or dehabiltating depression. When their faith has to stand on its own feet, and we can’t do the believing for them.

    Terri is so right about riding the wave, too. My first seven were naturally easy kids. Obedient, even tempered, cheerful. Teen years were sublime. Then my fifth child hit teen years. Soooo easy and pleasant up until then. Homeschooled. No drugs or health changes… Apparently “just” an inability to handle the hormones as well as her siblings. Then my seventh baby humbled me beyond belief from the point of birth… Challenge after challenge.. Parented no differently than siblings… But such a different “bent” than the rest at every turn. Thankfully I have had wise and seasoned friends who have breathed grace and wisdom into my frazzled mind. (Eighth and ninth babies were a breeze by comparison to that seventh! All the rest were SO much easier, even with their tantrums and biting and who remembers what else, LOL)

    • Jess Connell says:

      You’re right; even as I wrote it, I thought– wow, that wouldn’t phase me now. But back then, some of these things… most of them… left me in tears or completely bowled over by it.

      • Heather says:

        Right, but my point was that every season has it’s “oh no! what do I do!” moments that seem not so big once you get through them, and I am hopeful that remains the case getting through teen and young adult years, even though I have no one (but JESUS!) who has BTDT to counsel me through them.

  3. Em says:

    Hi Jess, thanks so much for your blog. I’m always encouraged by your words. Can I ask you as an older woman, what did you do about one child consistently bullying another? We have a similar situation at the moment. I know each child and situation is unique, but what advice would you give? Thanks in advance :)

    • Heather says:

      I’m not Jess, but a referee whistle helped here. 😉 I felt like I was reprimanding the bully until I was blue in the face, and the bully was not getting their love tank filled, because they felt like they were constantly being criticized. Especially since they did not believe they were bullying, but thought they were just being helpful. I just wore the whistle around my neck, and any time someone used unkind words or tone, I gave a gentle puff on the whistle and everyone stopped and checked their own words/actions/tone and corrected their path…. even those not bullying took a moment to check their actions. The whistle means mom has called a play unfair or hostile, and they are not allowed to argue with the referee. 😀

      • Em says:

        This sounds so similar to us. Especially the offender sometimes just thinking they are being helpful! I do love the idea of wearing a whistle to referee the situation. It does the job of “whistle blowing” to get everyone to think about their actions (before I would even have to say something/ tell someone off again). Gives them a chance to reflect/have insight on their own behaviour at that point in time. Might come across well to my sport crazy one too! Thank you for sharing! It’s much appreciated :)

    • Jess Connell says:

      We have just told one child that it will be 6 months before he can say anything to one of his siblings unless it is:

      (1) unquestionably kind/encouraging
      (2) spoken in order to save his life in that moment

      This (offending) child has also lost all privileges of spending time with friends/anyone OUTSIDE the home (even at church events, he will be by our side for a while) because of how he is treating the other sibling. Basically, we’ve told him, until you learn to consistently treat family with respect and basic levels of kindness, you will not have the freedom to go and be superficially “kind” to other people.

      So for us this sometimes has gone to this level of extremes, although this is the farthest we’ve ever had to take it. Generally, I talk to the child who is the offender very sternly (but heartfelt) to let them know it is not simply their brother/sister they are talking rudely to– it is *MY* son or daughter, and that they are grieving ME by the way they talk to this precious child of mine.

      Ephesians 4:32 is a wonderfully brief verse that points out that our human kindness ultimately HAS to be fueled by a right understanding of God’s forgiveness to us, in Christ. This is a great place to take our children to help them understand that it is only through a right reckoning of our position as the needy ones (in need of forgiveness from God) that we can offer true and lasting forgiveness and kindness to our blood brothers/sisters (and eventually, our spiritual brothers/sisters as well).

      Keeping them close is a huge part of helping them rightly work through sibling relationships… when they are off in private places, older/stronger siblings are able to intimidate, talk down to, make fun of, tease, strong-arm, etc., their weaker/younger sibling. But when they are near me, that almost never happens.

      So if I see even a hint of bullying, they are not able to be very far from me at all for some number of days/weeks. (Or longer.) Not just until it stops, but until I am convinced that it has not only stopped, but that they are actively participating with me in building new habits of interacting.

      • Em says:

        Thanks Jess, this is really clear and helpful. Definitely has made me think about the “keeping them close” principle. Especially the loss of privileges until they can demonstrate a change of heart. I had been separating the kids by sending the offender to play by himself in his room (right off the living area, so I know what he’s doing) for a set time (not fun for this little extrovert) and then giving him a chance to rejoin the family in good fellowship, after explaining how his unkindness is not OK (as you say it grieves me as this is my child you’re being unkind to) and as it breaks the fellowship we have in the family. But considering it still keeps on happening I think the suggestions you have shared would be really helpful. Thanks for being willing to share and encourage me :) thanks for continuing to write and to encourage young mothers!

  4. Take a step back and pray. Every child is a world of his own, and we parents need Divine guidance. I’m a believer in God’s help in parenting–tried and proven.

  5. katy says:

    #2 is so important to me! When one child is unkind to another child, I take offense and feel very MAMA BEAR protective. To step back and see that they are just acting as a sinful person acts is not where my brain goes. Definitely something to pray the Lord opens my eyes to see.

    as far as seeking advice, it is important to seek it from wise counsel. However, I find that there are seasons I seek it too readily. If I am staying in God’s Word, it is amazing how He answers our questions. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with potty training w/my 2yo awhile back. Where in the Bible does it say anything about potty training, you ask? And yet, I stayed in the Word and one day, when I was rocking the baby to sleep (being quiet with the Lord), He made it clear what needed to be done, how my heart needed to change, etc. I can’t remember the revelation exactly but I remember it being VERY clear. All of this to say, don’t be too quick to ask for advice from others before you ask from your Father! :)

  1. December 2, 2015

    […] drudgery is hard for every single one of us. All of us hit moments where we have no idea what to do. All of us hit difficulties we never […]

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