I read too much.

Don’t misunderstand—reading is powerful and beautiful and a gift that I am so thankful for, I don’t even have words to explain it.

But I still read too much at times.

I know this because two years ago, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about parenting. We had a struggling adopted child, and I was researching and reading parenting theories left and right. I was 100% willing to change everything about my parenting techniques in order to reach the heart of this child, so I read from one end of the spectrum to the other.

I read about child development, trauma, attachment parenting, gentle parenting, connected parenting, playful parenting. I read theology books that broke down the verses in Scripture about parenting and discipline. I read about parenting difficult children and angry children and strong-willed children. I read opinion pieces online, followed bloggers who talked about parenting, and listened to podcasts.

And I know I read too much because instead of feeling encouraged or like I had tools to try—I felt tense.

I felt tense because I would read one parenting theory and think, “Yes, this makes sense.” And then I would read another and they would use different terminology and I would think, “No, wait. Maybe that last thing was TOTALLY WRONG because this makes sense now.”

Then I would be in the middle of actually parenting and my whole body would go numb. Should I give a consequence for this behavior? Should I not because that would be punishment instead of discipline? Should I try to make this lighthearted so we can laugh? Should I sit down and dig into this issue with my child to try and get to the root emotion here? Am I still a godly parent if I choose something here that “this theory” orthat theory” says isn’t Christ-like?

But something happened that calmed me down.

Something that allowed me to release everything and just relax.

One of my children made a horrible choice. And by “horrible”, I mean—it could have potentially altered the future permanently.

And I knew it happened, without any evidence, and with the child lying to me for two days about it. I just knew.

I pulled that child in close to me for two days, I asked questions, I prayed, and I felt complete peace through the whole thing. Total peace.

And when we heard a knock at our bedroom door at two o’clock in the morning, and we welcomed a tearful, repentant child into our arms, and as we worked at making things right over the next couple weeks—all the questions stopped.

They stopped because I realized that I knew my children.

I knew them so, so well.

I knew when they needed consequences and when they needed arms to hold them and when they needed firmness and when they needed compassion. I knew when a tantrum meant that my child was exasperated and desperate, and when the meltdown was from avoidance or bitter anger.

I haven’t always known, of course. It took time and experience. And sometimes I still pick the way wrong thing. Sometimes I give consequences that don’t help, and sometimes I let things slide that should be addressed, and sometimes I am so exasperated with the tantrums that I basically throw one in return.

But whether my choices are good or bad, right or wrong, I am still learning to know my children in a deep way that fills in all the empty places of exasperation and confusion and wrong decisions.

I found the answer–the one that’s not really in any of those “how to” books:

The way to “get it right” as a parent, is to take the time to know your child.

That doesn’t mean you won’t ever get it wrong. Trust me, I have to apologize a lot. But it does mean that when you get it wrong, you’ll know what to do to make it right again.

I know my daughter needs me to make eye contact to apologize and she needs a hand squeeze or some type of touch for the communication to be complete–but not too much. Not a big hug. Just a quiet touch.

I know my son needs a full-on snuggle. He needs me to lean close and almost whisper my words because whispered words mean more to him than loud words.

I know because I know them.

I found the answer–the one that’s not really in any of those “how to” books:  The way to “get it right” as a parent, is to take the time to know your child.

There are so many parenting theories. So many ideas. So many tools that are superbly useful.

But none of them can bridge the gap of not knowing.

If you feel like you’re trying and striving to just get this parenting thing right, let me encourage you:

Take some time to study your kids, to learn to know them.
Watch their reactions and their habits.
Listen to their commentary.

And make your choices on discipline and parenting based on what you know about them, more than what you’ve read in a book, or what someone at church said, or what the latest podcast suggested.

There are loads of great ideas out there, and if you’re stuck in a rut–if you’re feeling angry or frustrated with your children constantly–there’s probably information you need.

Maybe a chart that teaches about child development to help you get a better understanding of where your child is mentally or emotionally. Maybe you need some out-of-the-box ideas for connecting with your child through emotional upheaval or trauma. Maybe you just need a firm reminder that parenting isn’t all about you and your kids need you to stop being selfish and start paying attention.

But no matter what information you get, don’t forget it can’t bridge the gap of not knowing.

When people, especially children, are seen and known, it changes everything.

Our little ones are created in the image of God and their personalities and thought patterns are precious, beautiful gifts. When we view children as image-bearers, and see them as people worth knowing, it gives them room to develop into who they were created to be.

So precious mamas, don’t worry about theories on parenting, on what ideas to adhere to. Instead, just get to know your kids. Trust that even when you get it wrong, you’ll know how to make it right because you know your children well.

Then when they’re the ones that get it wrong–because of course they will–they’ll still feel safe to come to you because they’ll feel seen and known. Even if it’s the middle of the night.

Don’t worry, I promise the lack of sleep is worth it, because if your child is coming to you for help you’ll know that something has gone beautifully right.

Photography: JenniMarie Photography