Parenting lesson #7: The harder thing to do is most likely the right one.


Do NOT let your child be plagued by one of these.

As a parent, there are a lot of times I have wanted to change my mind about something Greg and I already decided because the easier option is so much more appealing in the moment.  Last week, for the second time, I was ready to undo potty training Zach.  (The first was in the middle of it.)

For the six of you who read my sporadic blog faithfully, you will recall that a week ago, Zach was interrupted – mid-business – by an automatically-flushing toilet that launched a powerful whirlpool attack underneath him.  The two days that ensued are a blur of pee accidents: at a friend’s house for dinner, at the breakfast table in his seat, twice in Eliza’s bed, and perhaps others that I’ve blocked from memory.  (Greg was traveling for work and I was in a place where I might have approached a stranger to “borrow” my children for a few hours.  Is anybody with me?)

Zach had become terrified of every toilet.  It broke my heart.  He would walk up to the potty whimpering, pull his pants down, sit down, and cry, “All done, all done!” before letting anything out.  He knew what he was supposed to do, but he just couldn’t do it.  And frankly, I thought I had done enough pee-cleaning duty two weeks earlier when we trained him.  I really wasn’t interested in going back to that place.  I wanted to give up and put him back in diapers.

But I knew that Zach wanted to do what he had learned and fear was the problem.  I assumed I would confuse him if I asked him to use a diaper again.  I imagined him as a five-year-old, still conflicted about where he was supposed to dispose of his waste.  I envisioned him holding it all in anyway, afraid to let it out in the diaper because he knew that wasn’t the right place for it either.  So I didn’t give in to the seemingly easier choice in the moment.  I stuck to the plan.

I’m so glad I did.  On Wednesday morning, reluctantly, I took Zach to the museum-like house where I have a Bible study and took him to the basement, describing to the babysitters our situation.  I went down a couple of times to take him to his potty that I brought along for familiarity.  I knew he had to go.  He knew he had to go.  I was frustrated.  He was uncomfortable.  I told him it was going to be okay.  I told him the potty could not flush.  I named all the people who would be proud of him for letting his pee pee out, including Buzz Light Year and Lightning McQueen.

He still held it in.

He got to a whimpering point.  I had lost my patience.  I was done talking sweetly because the niceties were not working.  He was sitting on the potty, crying in fear.  And I stared him down.  In that tone every mother has that says I mean business, I demanded, “Zach, we have to leave soon to get Eliza, but I’m not going until you pee.  You MUST let your pee pee out.”  And his eyes got really big, with full tears waiting to fall, and he released it.  And then he smiled, and started telling me in a delighted way how happy he was that he was peeing in the potty.  It was like he flipped a switch.

That was Wednesday last week, and for the next two days, I stayed close to the toilet, asked him often if he needed to go, and gave him cookies and gummy snacks every time he got it right.  We went to New York on Friday for the weekend.  He spent hours in the car.  We went to the zoo.  He used public toilets successfully, even the auto-flushing ones.  And he has not had an accident in five days.  The training stuck.  I knew that he knew what to do.  He had to overcome his fear, and he did.  I’m so proud of him.

I know that as my kids grow, there are going to be a lot of times they’re afraid, and it’s going to be so challenging to know when to push them and when to give in.  I often ask myself what the harder thing to do is, because more often than not and unfortunately for us as parents, the harder thing to do is the right thing to do.

If you learn anything from this, remember not to put your kids on automatically-flushing toilets.  Both of my children have suffered from toilet flushing trauma disorder.  And if you have no other option (HERE’S ONE!), then cover the sensor with your hand the WHOLE time your child is on the seat.  Leave no room for accidental flushings.  It might be difficult in the moment to both cover the sensor and keep your kid from falling in, but in the long run, you could save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.

I wish there were Mary Poppins for instant potty training


It's not rocket science ... but it can feel like it.

No matter how you potty train your children or when you believe it should be done, the truth is you have to do it (well, someone does).  It is as inevitable as diapering, and feeding, and answering millions of inane questions.  And like any training, it is learned over time.  It must be worked for, like anything worth having.  Sure, there are methods for speeding up the process, but even so, the concept of “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” sounds too good to be true because it is.  Accidents after training are a part of life.  (Eliza’s been potty-trained for half her short life, and yet she pooped in the pool last week, remember?)  For my kids, so far it has been “Toilet Training in 3 Days.”  If that sounds like magic to you, read on.

This morning around 10:30, Zach walked up to his potty, said, “Mommy, pee pee,” pulled down his pants, sat, peed, got up, emptied the pot into the toilet, flushed it, and put his training toilet back together.  I’d call that success.  It was proof that he now understands not only the urge to go, but what to do with that urge before urine starts trickling down his legs.  He has kept his pants dry for about 24 hours (except when sleeping).  But about an hour later, he came and got me because he had pooped himself.  You see, in all the training time so far, he has only pooped twice, and both times it’s been during his nap (in a diaper because he’s still in a crib).  Now he has to connect the fact that yes, even for poop, he needs to get to the toilet as well.  We are far closer than we were on Saturday morning when we began, but we are still working at it.

The point is that I wanted to give up.  It seemed inexorable at times, and Zach just seemed to be struggling so much.  But now he’s proud of himself and his new skill.  I would still recommend this book to anyone looking to potty train his child.  It’s just intense.  It also has some flaws, so even if Greg and I are partly to blame for our kids not “getting it” by the end of a morning, the book should shoulder some responsibility.  The most frustrating thing about this book is that it makes it sound so easy, so if you have issues, it does not give you troubleshooting help.  For example, it gives a specific process you are to go through with them when they wet themselves, yet we almost never made it through that process without our kids peeing during it, which completely derails what you know you’re supposed to do.  It also doesn’t account for children who cry throughout the process because they are upset about wetting themselves, or sitting on the potty, or peeing out the front of the toilet seat.

Regardless of the details of this method, or any method anyone uses, it takes a lot of effort to get your children to connect their brains to their bladders so they pee in a potty before they pee on you or your furniture.  Accepting the responsibility of toilet training is accepting that you’re going to have a lot of crap to clean up, accepting it’s going to be gross and uncomfortable at times, and accepting that your wishes are basically on-hold while you go through it.  In retrospect, it’s a Cliff’s Notes version of the whole parenting experience.

It’s not magic.  There’s no Mary Poppins, spoonful of sugar, snap your fingers and it’s done process.  No matter how you do it, it’s hard work for everyone.  But in the end, you get to look back and realize what you’ve accomplished, and be thankful you’re not changing poop diapers any more.  And I’m hopeful I won’t be cleaning it off of Zach’s legs or washing it out of his pants very soon, too.