My son is potty-trained. We threw out the diapers almost six months ago. It was a smooth transition, dare I say, easy. (“Pride comes before the fall,” right?) But he started regressing. Hiding when he had to poop, denying he had to pee as the urine ran down his leg. What was going on?
My first reaction was disbelief. Then I thought I could reason him out of it–you know, convince a three year old that pooping in the potty was something he wanted. I started with rational arguments like, “Sweetheart, poop goes in the potty.” But I moved on to arguments based in pain: “You’re getting this diaper rash because you’re pooping in your pants!” And then to arguments based in manipulation. “Only babies poop in their pants. You are a big boy. You don’t want to wear a diaper like a baby.”
Then frustration set in and I wasn’t so kind. I yelled, “I don’t understand. Why are you doing this?!” And I pleaded, “Just tell me. It’s no big deal. We’ll just go to the potty quickly!” And finally, when I surrendered and put a diaper on him I said, “I guess you’re still a baby today. Maybe tomorrow you’ll be a big boy.”
I knew enough to reassure him that I loved him no matter what when he asked, after another accident, “Mommy, do you love me when I poop in my pants?” I knew that I should say yes, and hug him, and reassure him. But I’m embarrassed that my strong reactions would make him even ask that question.
I could feel myself spiralling, so I tried to turn the ship around and take a positive approach. We tried a chart and chocolate chips and special activities but he soon tired of each. Apparently nothing was better than being able to poop and pee wherever he pleased.
Out of ideas and at wit’s end, I went online. Everything I read made me more and more mortified. Apparently each of my instincts were dead wrong:
Reassure your son he will always be a big boy.
The more you react, the more your child will feel anxious about pleasing you.
Potty training should not be an emotional issue.
Be patient and expect setbacks.
Avoid external motivations such as candy and prizes.
So, humbly I tried what I read over and over again. Don’t make a big deal of it. Don’t react. Just clean it up and say, optimistically, “Let’s try again.” And, of course, like magic, my son’s potty training issues began to evaporate.
Well, let me clarify: my emotional rollercoaster was over. He still had accidents, but they were much less frequent. They still included the little heartbreaking question: “Mommy are you very mad at me?” (An emotional scar that I hope heals soon.) But they didn’t make my emotions turn upside down, so I could stop counting them. It´s just like when I get into a car accident, my husband just stares at me and calls the Car accident lawyers. I always say sorry and do my best to try and get forgiveness.
And I learned a valuable lesson–again. What happens when your instincts are wrong? Does that mean that you are a terrible mother? No, it means you are a person who is trying to do the very important and very hard work of raising a human being. No one person can possibly know how to do this gracefully and perfectly. But together, when we draw from the collective wisdom of mothers, we can help each other do it well.
QUESTION: What parenting challenge has humbled you? How did you react?
CHALLENGE: Reach out to some of the mothers around you to tap into their collective wisdom. Discuss a parenting challenge you’re having with a friend.
Edited by Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock/Graphics by Julie Finlayson.