Musings on Potty Training

IMG_1886Kristen lives in Syracuse, Utah with her husband, Wade, and their four children. She loves to read more than anything- her favorite novel remains Jane Eyre. She wrestles to write everyday despite plenty of interruptions. Her children ground her in the moment so she won’t spend too much time in her head. Her husband is waiting (patiently) for her to write a bestseller so he can quit his job.

What is it about the topic of potty training that can hijack a perfectly engaging conversation and bleach it down to opinions, debates, and tiresome stories?

Say a group of my friends are gathered at book club and an offhand comment is made: Luke is still having accidents. Emily still expects treats after she goes. At this point, the potty motif seems to catch just under the skin, like a hook in an eye, and won’t let go. The conversation shifts, the opinions multiply, and we won’t be returning to The Book Thief. I want to hit my head against the hollow brick wall.

Just the other day, a friend mentioned over the phone that she was potty training her little girl. Instead of keeping my big mouth zipped, I retorted, “Good luck with that. I haven’t started with Kate yet and she’s almost three. I hate potty training.”

“Well, it’s going good so far. She’s been telling me when she needs to go and no accidents yet.”

It’s at this point in the conversation I notice a dark shroud in my gut. Annoyance? Resentment? I shamefully hope this first go with potty training does not go well for my friend. I hope accidents occur, frustrations rule, diapers are restored. I want my own experience vindicated.

You see, potty training my third child, Zeke, was the most gritty and wretched experience of my entire life. (I might be exaggerating a bit here). The entire ordeal lasted at least eighteen months, an entire year of that I cleaned up accidents, mostly poop in all shapes, sizes, and consistencies.

It’s not that I think all potty training modes, method, recipes, schemes, (whatever you want to call them) aren’t worthwhile. But none of them worked with Zeke. We shunned the pull-ups (a crutch!) and donned the super cool underpants. Juice, crackers, treats crowded the bathroom vanity. My oldest son impersonated Lightening McQueen on the phone after any teensy weensy success. The potty chair traveled with us to the kitchen, the living room, the car. Hundred of books were read in the cramped hall bathroom. We did it for three days straight, six days, ten. We tried Dr. Phil’s one-day-promise that included an investment in a peeing doll.

“Do you need to go potty?” I asked day after day, walleyed and dry-lipped. The shiny Tonka dump truck rested above the cabinets as a final prize. I dropped cheerios one-by-one into the toilet and instructed him: Aim to kill. A juicy red lollipop if you hit it midstream.

Maybe he just wasn’t ready. People said that a lot. But when his fourth birthday came and went, I started to panic. With preschool and kindergarten just around the corner, I begged, yelled, then ignored. I whimpered and whined.

Zeke was four and a half when the poop ended up in the toilet more than in his Sponge Bob underpants. (A fact I will tell to every girl he tries to date.)

There was a day in the middle of it all when I once again found Zeke standing in the bathroom with poop oozing from his underpants which he had pulled down around his ankles. His legs were streaked and drops down the hall marked his frantic path.

“Sorry,” he said.

I lost it. Not with Zeke, thankfully. But with myself and that delicate balance between sanctuary and recklessness. On my knees in the hallway, my body prostrated Gandhi-like, I yelled at God. I mean yelled. Deep-throated and raw.

“I can’t do this anymore! You’ve GOT to help me or I’m not going to make it.”

Yep. Over potty training.

In those few moments, with aching knees on the hard floor, I saw the portion of my life I truly controlled reduced to a drop in an ocean of swells, saltiness and waves. Yet, there was relief in the ebb and flow. The swathing relief of acceptance.

In my late mother’s journal, she writes of potty training as a process not an event. Bryce is just about potty-trained. It takes months and a lot of patience but it does pay off in the end. Then two weeks later, she writes again: Bryce is almost completely potty-trained. She hesitated to claim victory. She never presumed ease or swiftness.

I’m sure there’s a better way to potty train then my now accepted piecemeal method but I no longer care to find the magic formula. Potty training has become my own sweet haphazardness. I’m sure there is something I did wrong in every method I tried. But I no longer wish to discuss it with any of my dear friends. I still have one more child to train and I plan to give way to imperfect moments and shady potty training practices. I’ll expect minimal results. It might take months. Why rush such a priceless experience? For when Kate emerges victorious, I’ll never have to do it again.

22 thoughts on “Musings on Potty Training

  1. I’m in the middle of it with my second. Patience doesn’t even begin to cover it! I am mentally prepared for a forever-long battle, but who knows? Kids are all so crazy different! And seriously, how can one person hold so tight to their ‘correct’ method when their child (ren) are not who I’m dealing with? Anyway. Good luck with your last one! You can do it!

  2. Yup. I’m with you on all of this. It seems like this is one of the biggest motherhood competitions, and I’ve been on the losing end more than once. It was a special kind of embarrassing when my 3.5 year old daughter was in Sunbeams, talking in full sentences, and still wearing a diaper 24/7.

    I’m in much your same situation. 4 kids, one left in diapers who is almost 3. I’m not in any hurry to get rid of the diapers. Refreshing to read that I’m not the only one.

  3. I told the preschool teacher my daughter was almost trained and sent her to school in pull-ups for most of the year until she was actually day trained, nights took another year, preschool here starts at age 3, not every kid is ready at that age.

  4. I’m not sure why potty training has become such a hot-button, competitive issue. But I hate the fact that other moms might see me as being competitive for potty training my kids early (before 2). I am on my third go-around with potty training right now, and I’m much more secure with my plan and less worried that people will think I’m insane for training a 21 month old boy. My kids have been spaced so that they were potty trained before I got pregnant with the next one. I don’t know that I could physically handle changing diapers while pregnant and nauseated constantly. And since my youngest is doing fairly well with training at this point, I feel like maybe I could handle another baby. But I promise I don’t judge other moms/kids for training at later ages–just don’t judge me for training earlier!

  5. I have grown children but I still shudder at potty training. I always said the two hardest things about raising kids are potty training and teaching them to drive. Both of these have driven me into a nail-biting, losing my mind adult.

  6. Amen Jean R. I’m teaching my third to drive AND potty training (sort of) my ninth. He (the ninth) is SO reluctant. So we are taking it day by day–does he want to potty train today? Do I? (He is a little over three.) He has an iron will and I am tired. Why fight over it? He’ll be potty trained before college. I’m sure of it. My first bucked it until age three when I had three in diapers and insisted he learn. My hardest was my third child (first daughter). It was SO hard that when her younger sister started acting like she wanted to be potty trained at 18 months, I turned a blind eye and she basically potty trained herself at about age 2 1/2.

  7. By the way, Jane Eyre is one of my favorites too! When I first read it I was 19. Back then I didn’t much care for it. I thought it was depressing and totally off the mark–“Nobody’s life is like this!” Then I read it again ten years later when I was 29. “EVERYONE’S life is like this” was my thought when I finished it. I guess that’s what a little perspective and life experience can do for you, huh? HA!

  8. OH I feel your pain! I have a son who is EIGHT who still has accidents somedays! AAAGH! WE have found though that he has ADHD and there is a strong correlation to that and soiling his pants. Still doesn’t make it easy, but a bit easier to be compassionate toward him!

  9. Jean R. – you took the words right out of my mouth. I’ve said it once, and I’ll keep saying it – potty training sucks. It’s (in my opinion) the worst part of teaching kids anything. I felt like a failure on a daily basis. My youngest was 7 or 8 (trying to forget) when she finally stopped yelling “come wipe me!” from wherever we may have happened to be at the time. I remember (shudder) the time at a wedding reception at a friends house when the whole wedding party got to hear it, because she wouldn’t let me into the bathroom til she was ready. Ridiculous.
    I was just having a similar convo with my sister who has a 12 year old that can’t control herself at night. She’s been checked, no medical issues. Yikes.
    Parenting – fun, isn’t it?!

  10. A great turning point in my life as a mother was when I realized that ALL adults (without some kind of medical condition) are potty-trained. ALL of them are. I stopped stressing about it at that point. So what if my four year old is in diapers. He won’t be when he goes on a mission.

  11. yes, to the above comment. I stopped even trying to potty train my children after the trauma of my first child’s. I did gift the cute underwear and I did let them see their older sibs going potty and I did let them go around without a diaper in the summer and I did take them to a toilet when they asked but there was no other plan or goodies or pressure and surprise they are all functioning potty trained adults.

    As has been stated ADHD and difficulty in potty training are related as is autism . So why make life more difficult for your child and you with a potty training program?

  12. Timely post for me. So glad I’m not alone!!

    My first was trained beautiful at 21 months. I thought that I was just the bees knees and nailed this parenting thing like a rock star. Enter child #2. I did the exact same process with horrendous results! Probably one of the worst parenting mistakes I did (maybe) and one I’m still dealing with the consequences. I pushed that poor boy way to hard, expecting him to be like his sister. Yes, I ate my humble pie daily, and I still do. At nearly 5 1/2, my son still needs a pull up at night (which he fills to the brink–it’s daily sheet washing–blah!!) and still poops his pants at least 2-3 times and month if not more….add to it, despite how many times I have taught him he still doesnt wipe well enough to get cleaned. For me, it’s been nearly 4 years of potty training and there are days I literally pull my hair out (just yesterday actually). I have spent more money on underwear than should be allowed. Since then I’ve added another and am currently in the throngs of morning sickness with my fourth. Nothing says bad day like cleaning up a 5 year olds poop when you already feel like you’re gonna die from nausea. And then changing your 14 month old’s dirty bum right after.

    Alright God, I get it. I’m not the bees knees. Please accept my humble apology and give me mercy.

  13. Ugh. Just thinking about potty training gets me frustrated. My first was so easy – 2 weeks and she was done! Then my second…urrgh. She’s turning 5 this week and just had another accident yesterday. Unfortunately, the toilet overflowed on her once and now she’s afraid of it. THAT was (and still is sometimes) a huge hurdle.

    I still have 2 more daughters to go and I definitely have the “wait until they’re ready” philosophy. I’d rather change diapers where the mess is contained than floors, beds, and clothes.

  14. Yeah, my first was easy so I got too confident, and then my second was a total nightmare that took more than a year and a lot of frustration for both of us. Now my third, and last, turned 3 in February and both she and I are avoiding the issue. Plus I have the added complication of being divorced, so when I potty train her we need to coordinate it between me, her babysitter, and her dad and the thought of that just overwhelms me.

  15. My kid decided she wanted to start potty training on a flight to Hawaii. Just what every parent wants, searching for a potty every 20 minutes while on vacation. Seriously, why couldnt she wait one more week? So I took her to the potty on the plane, made the mistake of flushing the airplane toilet with her in the room, and she wouldn’t sit on a potty in a public place for two more years! Auto flushers scared her.

  16. I HATE potty training. For me it started a shift from “my adorable child can do no wrong” to “why the heck can’t you figure this out!” And it takes a long time to regain that lost innocence.

  17. First child: nightmare potty training…somehow I believed the book called “Potty Training in a Day”. HAH! What a joke! Second child- ignored potty training and she about potty trained herself. Except for the times she wore the potty “bowl” on her head as a hat. Potty training is just not a bonding experience. sigh.

  18. I second the “don’t tell his friends”. Life is hard enough without your parents embarrassing you.

    I also say amen to the haters of potty training. My oldest: done at 2 1/2. Few accidents. The 2nd…longer, more accidents. The 3rd (first girl) had accidents til she was 10 because she wouldn’t go at school. Someone told her a Bloody Mary story and she became afraid to use the school toilet. She also now takes almost an hour in there at age 12. I worry for her digestive health.

    At least I’m done now.

    And Jane Eyre is my favorite too! Great writing!

  19. Oh, honey. That’s crappy! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!) I hope you get your bestseller–this blog post was great; although I admit I probably wouldn’t read a whole book about potty training woes… I don’t know what makes some kids harder to train than others. And bless your mom for not writing that it was a wonderfully smooth process. It just ain’t! I have a few comforting (commiserating?) tales: My 2nd son held in the poops for days because he didn’t want to go on the potty–talk about colon cleanse when he finally relented! My six-year-old kindergarten graduate STILL prefers dropping to the floor in squirmy agony to peeing in the toilet. And as a substitute teacher, I have written health room notes for changing wet pants. Toward the end of the year when supplies were low, one little girl excitedly came back from the health room with BOY undies. (Not a deterrant for future accidents–she was way excited about it.)

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