Every time the issue of potty-training comes up for discussion in my Mommy circle of friends, I am the momma who makes all the other mommas feel so much better about their parenting skills. I see it as one of my purposes in life. So . . . here . . . let me make you feel like a gold-star parent.
First off, let me tell you I am not one of those mothers who puts her 18 month-old in cute little cloth training pants with bunnies on them and drags him to the potty every 20 minutes and cheers with delight when he actually squeezes something out every third try and smiles with great patience as she cleans up 5 or 6 accidents every day. I just don’t have it in me. I have enough laundry to do without adding entire loads of soaking wet –or worse– bunny training pants. I don’t like scrubbing urine out of my carpet. I also get easily distracted — what with the baby crying, the boys trying to tie ropes to the ceiling fan, and the girls screaming that the boys are hanging from the ceiling fan — and I forget to take the toddler to the potty every 20 minutes.
With my first, I tried that whole potty-training-in-a-day book method. She was 2 years old and highly-motivated, and she hated being in wet training pants. It worked wonderfully. I bought every kind of juice from the local grocery store, pumped her full of liquids, and she cooperated beautifully. She had only a couple accidents, and then she did everything in the potty just like the book said she would. It was a lovely two weeks. Then my husband had to dismantle our toilet to seal up something. Our only toilet. For like 3 hours.
“Why didn’t I take my brand-new potty-trained daughter somewhere with a working toilet?” You ask. Hmmmm. Good question. Maybe I even had a good answer at the time. More likely, though, you can blame it on lost brain cells. I had a 2 year old, an almost-1 year old, and I was pregnant with our third child. I just wasn’t playing with a full deck. Obviously.
So in that one day, she decided that pooping in the potty was a painful thing to be avoided at all costs. At this point, she was still wearing a Pull-up at bedtime. So, every night, she waited until bedtime when the Pull-up went on to do her business. This continued for a while. A long while. In a book, I read that this sort of thing was a discipline issue and should be treated as such. My poor first child. Our guinea pig for parenting styles. We thought this parenting expert surely knew best, so we treated this as a discipline issue. We followed the “expert’s” suggestions about how to handle the situation. And my sweet daughter responded by not pooping at all. She was firmly convinced that pooping in the potty was painful, yet she also wanted to avoid pooping in her Pull-up because of the uncomfortable consequences. So she just didn’t go. For 8 days.
Being the quick learner that I am, the eighth day was when I realized the “expert’s” advice was not the best way of handling this situation with my daughter. So I contacted a doctor who told me what a major problem this not-going-to-the-bathroom was. He recommended I give her Senekot every night for 3 months and generously reward her every single time she even sat on the potty to TRY. After 2 months of the nightly Senekot, she finally –and I mean, Hallelujah chorus, Praise the Lord, F.I.N.A.L.L.Y– regularly pooped in the potty and was potty-trained. She was 3 years and 3 months old. We had been potty-training for more than a year.
My second daughter had low muscle tone as an infant. By age 2, the muscle tone in her major muscles had improved, but I didn’t know how to improve the tone in the muscles needed for potty-training. She caught on to pooping in the potty right away. That feeling was obvious to her muscles, I guess. But she was completely clueless about peeing in the potty. I did put cute little training pants on her, and she would be standing in the living room with pee puddling at her toes before she realized something was happening. I breezed through cans of carpet cleaner and bottles of white vinegar cleaning up those messes. She was nearly 4 before everything finally clicked and she was fully potty-trained.
I was tired. And I hated potty-training. And I had would have 4 more kids to go. Four boys. And I had been told that boys were harder to potty-train than girls. Harder? How could it get harder? Ha ha ha ha. It could get harder.
I decided that I wouldn’t even start trying to potty-train my sons until they were 3. My first son didn’t show any interest, and I wasn’t going to push it. So, at 3, we introduced the idea. Every now and then, he’d actually pee in the potty. But he didn’t think it was all that great of an idea. Some well-meaning lady from church told me he wasn’t using the bathroom because I put Pull-ups on him, and those were too much like diapers. So I put training pants on him. And he wet in them, not even stopping to let me know. He didn’t mind soaking wet training pants. I’d take him to potty when the timer went off, and he wouldn’t go. Then not 2 minutes later, he would pee all over a dining room chair or on the living room carpet. Once, he stood in his sisters’ doll cradle and made a big puddle. He kept right on playing. They screamed and cried. Clearly, this wasn’t working. (Honestly, though, I wanted to stick my tongue out at the lady from church and say, “Na-na-na-boo-boo, it wasn’t the Pull-ups after all.” Very mature and spiritual, huh?)
An older and wiser mother from church told me that if wasn’t staying dry at night and he didn’t seem to care about being wet, he probably wasn’t ready to use the potty. She told me to relax. So I did. I put him back in Pull-ups, and I encouraged him to go. But I stopped freaking out about the accidents, which way outnumbered his actual successful attempts to use the potty. I rewarded him for trying. We had stickers. We had M&M’s. We had jelly beans. I encouraged him to pretend to be a fireman and put out a fire. I floated Cheerios in the toilet for him to aim at. I read to him about using the potty. We did the happy-happy-joy-joy-potty dance when he actually went in the potty. I mean, one tiny squirt of pee had us dancing and clapping and shouting for joy.
None of it worked. He turned 4. He still wasn’t potty-trained. I asked the doctor if something might be wrong. It wasn’t. I made myself act relaxed and not make a big deal about it. I didn’t badger him. The bigger deal we made about it, the more determined he seemed to never use the toilet. Well, I should say, to never use the toilet for its intended purposes. He did use the toilet — he floated toys in it; he watched paperback books swell in it; he dropped toothbrushes in it; he probably even drank from it. He just didn’t go in it.
At some point, we started doing cold showers when he pooped in his Pull-up. He was nearing 5. He didn’t like the cold showers, and he did start going in the potty more. Maybe that was part of what eventually worked. But what really worked was telling him very matter-of-factly that 5 year-olds use the potty and he could not turn 5 until he was potty-trained. No cake. No ice cream. No presents. No anything. We would not celebrate his fifth birthday until he was potty-trained.
He wanted a party. “Great,” I said. “You can have a party for your birthday if you are potty-trained.”
To be fair, we gave him several months’ notice. Keeping in stubborn form, he would ask “How much longer until my birthday?” No need to start this pottying business until he really had to.
Finally, about 3 weeks before his fifth birthday, he decided he needed to be potty-trained so I could send out invitations and plan a party. And just like that, he was. He woke up one day, asked how much longer until his birthday, confirmed he could still have that party if he got potty-trained, and that was it. He wore underwear. And he only had a couple accidents that whole week. He was closing in on his fifth birthday, and he was potty-trained. Finally.
By this time, our fourth child, also a son, was 4 months away from his fourth birthday. He was also having cold showers when he pooped in his Pull-ups, and though he hated it, it wasn’t really deterring him. As we progressed through the summer, his older brother’s finally using the bathroom was having trickle-down effect (if you will pardon the pun). But he still wasn’t really potty-trained. It was hit or miss, with lots of misses. So, a few weeks before his fourth birthday, he woke up and told me he wanted to wear Batman underwear. He said he wanted to have a birthday and turn 4. He had assumed that since his brother couldn’t turn 5 without being potty-trained, he couldn’t turn 4. I allowed him to assume that.
So, he woke up and announced that he wanted to wear Batman underwear. I told him that if he had any accidents, he had to clean himself up. I was largely pregnant with our sixth child, and I just didn’t feel like dealing with accidents. He agreed. And he wore Batman underwear. And he didn’t have any accidents. He did have a few accidents over the next couple of weeks, but he was potty-trained.
My fifth child will turn 3 at the end of the month. I’ve been talking to him about the potty, naming friends and family members who use the potty. I’m hoping that having 2 older brothers who go will make this whole job easier. But I’m not getting my hopes up.
I do know, though, that if you wait long enough, they just sort of potty-train themselves. And I’m pretty sure they’d get trained by the time they go off to college. So I’m being relaxed about this. He might use the potty while he’s 3. Or he might not. I guess it’s not really that big a deal either way. Before long, he’ll be running around the house in Spiderman underwear yelling out that he’s a Champion Super Hero. Like his older brother is doing right now. Excuse me while I go put some pants on that boy.