When I was pregnant with my first baby I got so much unsolicited advice about baby’s first year: advice about the early days of so many diapers and frequent nighttime wake-ups; advice to always have a change of clothes for blowout scenarios. I could not wait to dive right into parenthood and baby snuggles, and to witness the developmental milestones that make infancy magical – even with all of the diaper changing mishap stories I heard about! But when my baby eventually turned into a toddler I felt a bit lost. It seemed as though a very large, important (and dare I say: traumatic) stage had been skipped over in these stories I kept hearing?
The stories I heard were all either about babyhood or childhood: family trips, memory making, and extracurriculars for big kids. And not one of the advice-offering women told me about the life-altering time in every parent’s life that is potty training. It was as if they had blocked the memory from their minds, like they all experienced some collective PTSD after sitting in bathrooms for hours on end with tiny humans refusing to get their bodily fluids and solids into the toilet, and they couldn’t summon those memories back to warn a new mom.
Well, I am currently in the throes of potty training my third child and I now feel a bit like these mothers who offered me so much baby advice. While some of the memories flood back to me – the accidents, the camping out in the bathroom, the picking out undies and a tiny potty at Target, the sticker charts and prizes earned – there is so much about potty training I don’t remember from my first two children. There is so much I too had blocked out from my memory and I am relearning the lessons as we go.
So for you, and for myself, here are four pieces of potty training advice I wish someone had given me as a new mom:
Lesson 1: Potty Training Is A Team Effort
Potty training is truly a TEAM sport. Both the caregiver and the trainee have to be ready and willing to jump in. With my first toddler I was heavily influenced by the advice of grandmothers and peer pressure to potty train in three days (and the younger the better, they said!). This endeavor eventually ended in one day. My couch was soaked in pee and my husband came home to a crying 18-month-old and a crying wife.
After some wise counsel from our pediatrician (who is also mother of five) I completely changed my potty training mindset. She told me that while potty training does rely on some key developmental milestones, some kids just aren’t ready and need more time. The most important part of potty training is that it is a TEAM effort between the caregiver and child. She said that anytime any one of her kids was potty training it also became a bigger family team effort – siblings cheering on the potty trainee and parents sharing the load.
This time around I looked for all of the developmental cues from my son: interest in the potty, language development, communication skills, awareness of when he was pooping. I also aligned it with my mental state: were we traveling anywhere soon (NOT the time to tackle potty training), was I stressed, was I ready to commit to the process? These questions were important for BOTH of us before diving in.
Lesson 2: Different Kids, Different Methods
I have a background in child learning and development. I’ve read my fair share of sibling studies and twin studies researching just how different temperaments can vary within families. AND YET, as a mother of three I am constantly amazed at how very different my kids are.
A common phrase we use when explaining our parenting choices (compared to other families) to our kids is, “Different mommy, different rules.” When it comes to potty training it has felt as though I need to use that same phrase but instead, “Different kids, different methods.”
With my firstborn, I read all of the potty training literature. We blocked off time on our calendar to train her and commit as a family. We were staunchly against using pull-ups and she was the kind of kid who would question us if there was any deviation in expectations. With my second, she declared her desire to potty train two days after we brought her brother home from the hospital – assuring us that her two-year-and-nine-month-old-self was no longer a “baby” and no longer needed to wear diapers. (All the while I personally was still in MY postpartum diaper set up.)
My third? This kid has used the most pull-ups because my sanity needs him to go to preschool twice a week and his sisters have extracurriculars that we want to attend as a family. At first I thought I was being lazy – I didn’t use pull-ups nearly as much with his sisters! But I was making the choice that our family needed in this season of life. He is also the type of kid who has been fine transitioning back and forth between pull-ups and underwear, which was also different from his sisters.
Lesson 3: Poop Happens
As different as my children are in their temperaments and potty training styles some things remain the same no matter your age, stage, or gender. In a recent podcast episode Meagan and Sarah talked about the muscle memory of motherhood, referencing that cool move I have done for all of my kids at some point: pry off a caked-on poop from their body while wearing training undies and then have the internal debate of whether or not to scrape the poop out and wash the undies or throw them out and save myself some gagging.
There’s also the time right before potty training. It’s a blissful time where you feel a bit of freedom as a parent. Your toddler can walk, you don’t need to haul a hefty diaper bag everywhere, life is good! Then you start potty training and you suddenly have the huge diaper bag again. But this time it is stocked with undies, wipes, pull ups, a change of clothes for your child and maybe even a change for you.
Let’s not forget the moment you notice that your newly potty training toddler has pooped in their underwear and continues to play like nothing has happened. All the while they look like a hen who has laid an egg in their pants. All moments I have experienced while potty training my kids, and all moments that many other parents have experienced as well. Poop happens to the best of us.
Lesson 4: It Really Is All Going To Be OK
The mental gymnastics of potty training are something else. I was talking to a mom friend recently and waxing poetic on my recent potty training experiences. I said I think the thing I hate the most about potty training is that I have no control, and MY CHILD has no control over bodily functions that need control and teaching the control is really HARD. She reassured me that it is hard and that’s what I needed the most. To have someone say that it is hard, acknowledge that potty training is something all toddler parents have to endure, and give me a little pat on the back for doing it all. She also told me that any progress is good progress to remember – which is hard to do when you’re in the thick of cleaning up pee off the floor for the fourth time in a day or rewashing tiny Spiderman undies.
I am making progress in my patience and need to control everything and he is making progress in pooping in the potty more often than not. One day, we WILL get there. There will come a day when he goes to the bathroom and I don’t even ask if he wants to put a sticker on his sticker chart. He will become self-sufficient and grow and these experiences will fade into funny memories. Memories that will definitely be shared one day when I attend a baby shower as a veteran mom letting a new mom know all that is to come after the baby’s first year.