potty training

Why All the Advice on Potty Training is Actually the Worst

Why All the Advice on Potty Training is Actually the Worst | Writing Between Pauses

We started potty training in May 2017. Yes, you read that right: May 2017. Forrest was just over 18 months old and I had started to get panicked because other babies in my due date group were either already working on potty training, or were completely out of diapers. "Oh god," I thought, "he's behind." So we bought a potty seat, a small plastic potty, and the Elmo potty training DVD, as well as about 400 books on the subject. 

We watched the Elmo DVD repeatedly. Forrest sat on the potty. We had staring contests over the potty training books. And all the while, he never actually peed in the potty once. We kept trying. I had read advice that told me not to take it too seriously, to let him learn, but also I had to be in control, but also not to give him anxiety about it, but also he needed to be potty trained and it has to happen eventually, right, and how does it happen, guys?! 

I was stressed out by September when he turned 2 and was no closer to using a potty than I was to achieving time travel. I gave up. Over the holidays, I just let bygones be bygones; I didn't have the time or mental capacity to do it. 

Then, in February, we started over again. As I've said several times, March through May were very difficult months for us. And in February, we started having some potty training success (thank goodness), only to have Forrest develop pretty severe anxiety about the potty. The sound of the water would often make him panic and stop peeing, so we were still changing a lot of diapers. I was exhausted. I felt like it would never happen. In fact, I started to wonder if he would ever be potty trained at all. 

If you've ever potty trained a toddler, you know that it can feel like it's just never going to happen. 

Diapers are safe. Even for parents, they are safe: you know when you're out and about with your kid that they have a diaper and nothing bad will happen. Blowouts happen, sure, but that often (at least in our case and, truly, condolences to those parents out there who deal with blowouts multiple times a day). I started to get as stressed as Forrest, which surely wasn't helping things. 

I read all the advice. Anxiety for toddlers trying to potty train? Pour water into the potty to help them get used to the noise. Did it. Didn't help. A toddler who refuses to try? Either give them space,., or just refuse to give them a diaper. If they pee on the floor, they pee on the floor. (Listen, it's a no from me in that regard.) 

I read every solution about potty training out there. I read all the books, all the blog posts, all the parenting articles. Some suggested just waiting, deadlines for preschool be damned. Some suggested forcing the issue and spending three days in one room with a potty and a lot of juice, which truly sounds like some version of torture cooked up by parent blogs, honestly. 

In the end, do you know what happened? 

One day, he just did it. He was at my mom's house, he asked to use the potty, and he did. Then he did it every single time after that. Then, three days later, he was wearing underpants. It felt like it happened at warp speed: one day I was lamenting on Instagram that he would never be potty trained and the next day, he just was

It's been a few weeks now and I'm honestly still in shock a little bit. All that time, all that struggling, and you know what? All the advice I read was absolute garbage.

It's incredibly easy to write about parenting. In hindsight, it can sometimes feel like you put all the pieces together right. I have no idea if I did the right thing with Forrest. Is he permanently scarred from those two months he spent anxiously sitting on a potty? Could he have been potty trained at 2 if I'd just tried harder? Who knows!? I sure don't. And for everyone out there who claims they have the answers--of what is easiest, of what works immediately--I can't help but think that either 1) the days of actually being in the trenches of potty training, or breastfeeding, or whatever are so far behind them that they've literally forgotten or 2) they're so caught up in appearing perfect that they need to make it seem like they have the answers to everything. And that's not a judgemental thing: it's just the truth and I know I've probably done it myself. 

What else have I learned from this potty training journey? Well, for the sake of all the other moms in the trenches right now, sitting with their kids on potties in living rooms or cooped up in the bathroom for 20 minutes or watching that Elmo potty training DVD for the 500th time, here's a list of everything I learned from potty training: 

1. It doesn't happen overnight. 

First on my list of "things that are absolute lies" are those articles, books, and methods devoted to potty training your child in three days. Not only do those methods make all parents feel like absolute crap for thinking being closed up in a room with your naked toddler and a pile of juice boxes sounds like absolute hell and the last thing we want to do, they're also completely misguided. Those methods don't teach kids to actually learn to follow the rules of their body; they're just being shoved onto the potty by their parents for 3 days until eventually, they get used to sitting on the potty in intervals set by, guess who, the parents

The thing about parenting is that almost nothing happens on the schedule you think it will. Their development, growth, interests, and more happen sporadically, randomly, almost impulsively. And in a time of instant gratification, taking on something like potty training, which is about teaching a skill, can feel incredibly daunting. We want it to happen overnight because we are ready, we are tired of buying diapers... but we don't think about what our little person is learning. And really, it's not about making them do something: it's about teaching them a skill that lasts their entire lives. You can't rush it. 

2. Introducing concepts is important. 

As I said, we've been talking about potty training for over a year. So, even if you don't plan to potty train until after two, or closer to three, or you just want to let them lead... introduce those ideas. Start watching the Elmo potty training DVD (as much as I complain about it, it really was the best) or the Daniel Tiger potty training episode early--like at 18 months to 2 years. Introducing those concepts, even if you don't plan to act on them, helps them develop skills around language. 

3. It's not always about what is easiest for you. 

I'll be honest: sometimes, I feel really selfish because I struggle to set aside my needs for Forrest's. I've definitely gotten better at it. But with potty training, I think it goes without saying that sometimes what seems like it will be easiest won't be what works. Prime example: I did not want Forrest to use a little plastic potty that I had to empty. So messy! But you know what? He just did better with the thing I hated. That's fine. It's fine. There is no point in pressing the issue though. 

4. Stop freaking Googling. 

At a certain point, I just had to stop reading about what to do. It was driving me crazy not having the answer that worked for us. And all the advice, as I've said a few times now, felt conflicting, overly simplistic, or just plain wrong. And it didn't work! So if you're struggling, if you're not sure what to do, here's my advice: stop Googling, let your kid wear a diaper, and give yourself a week to just have fun and not worry about it.