Potty Training: A Tale of Angst

Alternately entitled: A New Thing to Add to the List of Things I’m Bad At, Why Didn’t They Tell Me This Would be So Hard, and Child for Lease. Bring Back When Potty-Trained

A week ago, I was a guest blogger on The Mommyhood Project. Thanks again to Cortney Galster for letting me contribute. Here is the post I wrote, in all it’s glory, just in case you missed it. Enjoy!


There is no roadmap

There is so much that people don’t tell you before you have kids. For the most part, I’ve been ok with this collective omission, with one major exception: potty training.

No one ever mentioned, even hinted at the horrors that awaited me with potty training. I had two difficult birth experiences, a hard time with breast feeding my first, and 20 plus weeks of hormone injections with my second and nothing, nothing comes close to the misery that I’ve experienced with potty training. I loathe it.

I’ve heard stories of children who just “train” themselves, or who one day decide to use the potty and never have an accident again. To the parents of those children I can’t decide if I hate you or want to be you.

For anyone else, though, who has experienced the on-going melodrama of trying to potty train a toddler—this post’s for you.

(Side note: I would like to say that I find some of the “signs of readiness” a joke. Sure, at 2.5 Theo was interested in the potty, but saying that is a sign of readiness is like saying Theo’s interest in anything with a motor means he is ready to drive. Interest doesn’t necessarily equate ability.)

Beginning the journey

I began by purchasing Theo his own potty, having him sit on it with a pile of books, and of course, a sticker/reward chart. He was super excited about all this the first day but it quickly lost its charm. I picked up numerous potty training resources, but I won’t go into detail as to what they suggest because while they were helpful, here is what actually happened.

For months, we struggled through all the tips, tricks and constant advice. There were times where we had faint glimmers of success, but mostly we just struggled. The one piece of advice that I did find helpful, though, was to back off when I felt resistance from Theo. One mom told me that PT can easily become a power struggle, one where the child knows that they hold all the cards. It’s terrible. It’s demoralizing. But it’s true.

Hitting the brakes

So after a few months of pulling my hair out, we quit. We just gave up. Truth be told, I didn’t feel like a failure, I was relieved. I was happy to go back to diapers where there were no random messes next to the potty, two feet away from the potty, or somewhere in the living room not even remotely close to the potty.

Then, a few weeks after Theo’s 3rd birthday, he started showing some genuine interest in using the potty and things seemed to build momentum from there. Over the next few months, he quickly mastered the skills required to earn him a “potty trained” notation when I left him with a sitter or in our church nursery.

Victory! Right?

Again, as with so many new skills with toddlers, the newly acquired skill brings both more freedom for the child (in his/her mind), and more work for mom. I wasn’t prepared for all of the accidents when we were out and about, all of the “I’ve got to go potty!” cries upon reaching every new destination, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the uphill battle of staying dry during nighttime.

Once Theo was “potty trained,” he did pretty well staying dry during his naps (he still naps for two hours a day). But nighttime dryness eluded us, and does to this day. To add more frustration to the mix, Theo continues to wet the bed if he isn’t feeling well, whether during naptime or simply just laying around. There was one horrible day in the not too distant past where Theo had literally peed on almost every bed and couch in our house in a 24-hour period while battling a nasty cold. It was a horrific experience, enough to give any mom PTSD.

Embracing the long road-trip

Theo is now 3.5 and does pretty well, but we still have accidents and he still isn’t nighttime trained. The thing that I’ve learned about potty training, though (and child rearing in general), is that we have such strict timelines for when our kids should do things. We expect things to be learned on time, we expect skills to be mastered without any setbacks, and we expect everyone else’s kids to do the same. When other kids don’t, we judge their parents, and when our kids are the ones a little behind schedule, we judge ourselves.

I’m here to say, let’s chill out! Potty training is tough. There is no magic formula to get your kids “trained.” Like anything with raising kids, you have to know them, work with them, and help them learn in their own way, on their own time. That can be hard, especially for those of us who like to control, or who simply have a lot of other balls in the air.

Potty training is hard because you can’t make them do it, and once they “know” how, they still make lots of mistakes.

It’s the same with becoming a mom. You can’t make anyone “know” how to be a mom. Even once we’ve been a mom for 2, 10, or 20 years, we still make lots of mistakes!

No matter where you find yourself today in the potty training journey, remember—you’ve got this! And most importantly, remember that mistakes don’t mean you aren’t a good potty trainer or that your child isn’t “getting it,” it just means you are learning.

James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Let’s embrace the mistakes that come with potty training and celebrate the discovery process with our children. Who knows, we might just learn something too.

Big boy underwear by day (especially when doing yoga), and pull-ups by night...we are getting there...
Big boy underwear by day (especially when doing yoga), and pull-ups by night…we are getting there…

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