Last winter my daughter decided that sitting on the potty was super fun. She didn’t really use the potty for its intended purpose, it was more of a delay tactic for rest time or bedtime and also to be able to watch the Elmo Potty Time video on YouTube. When she did actually manage to make it onto the potty to do her business, we cheered like it was an Olympic sport. And really, potty training is an Olympic sport – it requires practice, perseverance, setbacks, and so many wins and losses.
And then, like most small humans who aren’t quite ready to use the potty, one day she just stopped cold turkey. She dug her stubborn little heels in and refused to look at that tiny green potty, even with the bribe of that annoying Elmo video. I had been counting down until I no longer had to buy diapers and suddenly we were back on the Huggies train.
She wasn’t even 2 yet.
The only experience I’ve had with potty training was my son at least 4 years ago, maybe more like 5 years ago, and in the world of parenting, that’s basically a lifetime and since I sometimes can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before, it’s safe to say that I mostly blocked the potty training period. I literally had zero clue as to what I was doing with him, so in my hazy mind it took forever. In hind sight, I know that I started him way too early – before he was ready, probably even before I was ready, although I can tell you, I was super ready to be done buying diapers and changing what seemed like man-sized poop. Isn’t that both the glory and the curse of the first child? We don’t know any better so we do what we think is best at the time. Subsequent humans definitely benefit from our experience!
Anyway, there were these weekly emails that I would get that talked about the development of Your Toddler: Age 2! For weeks that revolved around how to potty train your child and my friends with small humans his age were all potty training, too, so we jumped on board. We set timers and tried wearing just undies and then no undies and still, the accidents happened. We bought pull-ups with Lighting McQueen on them and his favorite character undies, we reminded him that Lightning or Elmo would be so, so sad if he peed on them. We brought him with us every time we went to the bathroom and I didn’t even care about the lack of privacy because I was determined for him to be potty trained. I clearly wanted it more than he did, so I washed little boy undies on a daily basis. For an entire summer, there was a line of tiny tighty whities hanging out on the clothes line in my back yard. I had a change of clothes in my purse and a change of clothes for the change of clothes. I basically carried around a suitcase.
My mom tried to tell me that before he turned 3, it would click with him; she assured me that I would not be sending my son to kindergarten in a pull-up, although my overly dramatic self was absolutely positive that was going to be the case. I tried to heed her advice, she had successfully potty trained 5 of us, afterall, and not one of my sibbling nor I went to kindergarten in a diaper (because there were no pull-ups in the 80s. How did parents do it?!) It was so hard to be patient because it seemed so incredibly far away. Just as she predicted, though, one day it stuck and he figured it out. There were a few more accidents along the way: “I was just too busy playing, Mama,” he would sigh as we changed pants and cleaned up puddles, but those became fewer and farther between. And he went to kindergarten in big boy undies just like my mom said he would.
So now we’ve got this spicy daughter who is incredibly independent and she’s got what we like to call “leadership skills” (others may refer to this as “bossiness”) and it’s her turn to get out of the diapers. I mistakenly thought that the second child would be easier, I fell victim to the comfortable advice that girls train easier than boys. I should know by now that my girl is going to eschew all of the old adages. She does her own thing in her own time and when she’s good and ready.
From the minute we decided to start potty training her this past summer, I decided to let her lead. She picked out Elsa and Anna undies and we put the little potty seat in our kitchen (we have poured concrete floors – super easy for clean up) and we set about figuring it out together with no expectation of a time frame; just that she’d get there eventually. She did not respond at all to the timer; if the timer went off and it was potty pause time, she would refuse, even if I knew she had to go potty. She didn’t even flinch at the pull-ups that get cold when they get wet. She liked to tell me after she’d already gone potty in her undies or pull-up. You guys, I cannot even begin to tell you what I’m learning about spicy humans from this girl, but if she instigated sitting on the potty, even if she didn’t do anything but sit, we celebrated – her older brother would yell from the next room and cheer along with us. It was noisy and there was lots of clapping and high-fives and happy dances. We keep a candy jar and at the beginning she’d get to choose something just for sitting on the potty. That eventually evolved into getting to choose a piece of candy only if she actually went potty. Do not underestimate the power of the DumDum sucker.
Sometimes she’ll yell that she has to go potty and sit 3 times doing nothing before actually going the 4th time. She’s like the boy who cried wolf, only she’s the girl who cried potty. As frustrating as it was to have her sit for 5 seconds only to hop off and tell me “All done!”, we let her go at her own pace. Sometimes she’d get caught up in her playing and have an accident; sometimes she’d sit on the potty several times and still have an accident. She’s almost there, though, and I can certainly see the light at the end of the tunnel and this has by far been a more positive potty training experience. There was no pressure to get it done. There was no shame in sticking her in a pull-up for awhile, and I still carry around a change of clothes for her change of clothes.
Here’s the thing that my small humans keep teaching me over and over: parenting is a long Olympic marathon; it is certainly not a sprint, and at the end of the day, only the adaptable will survive to race another day. I relearn daily that they are both going to succeed in their own time, in their own way. They are going to take completely different paths – what works for my son isn’t necessarily going to work for my daughter; heck what works for the general populous on the internet is not necessarily going to work for either one. We try and try and try again until we find something that does work. Parenting, like potty training, is practicing, it’s not being perfect the first time; sometimes we’ll get pee on the floor that we have to clean up. Eventually, though, the wins will outnumber the losses.