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How can I tell when my daughter is ready to be potty-trained? She tells me "pee" when she's already in the process of peeing. We previously tried potty-training at 18 months, but it was a mess and she didn't seem to be getting it after three days, so we gave up. When?
When Is Now?
Dear When Is Now,
For the last two months, my 14-month-old has been pooping and peeing in his plastic potty — that is, if he has to poop or pee when we sit him on it and if, when he makes the poop face, I get him to the bathroom in time.
Every time a turd lands in the potty, my husband and I dance around our 5-foot-square bathroom with our arms over our heads, and our son gazes up at us, appalled. And every time he poops in the potty, I think I'm brilliant, and he's brilliant (although as my millennial co-worker pointed out, if he has great looks AND smarts, society is just going to ruin him and he's going to turn into a drug addict).
You select a potty-training method, the most popular of which seems to be letting them run around naked for three days, a method I can attest makes one very popular.
The thing is, I'M READY FOR MY SON TO BE POTTY-TRAINED. I'm ready for a whole lot of things, such as for my breasts to resemble something other than tortillas that have flopped open on my chest, each of my ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends to line up in a row outside my house and admit they were wrong, and for the remaining members of A Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys to get together and form a supergroup YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST IT WAS MY IDEA.
But my son isn't ready. He might poop in the potty every once in a while, but if I leave his diaper off for long enough, he'll put both hands on the wall, stare at me with a look of wonder like he's just realized he nailed Final Jeopardy, and poop on the fucking rug. So, yeah. Not clear on the concept.
The current general wisdom in the U.S. is that children potty-train when they're ready, and the way to sense this is to look for potty-readiness signs: among many others, staying dry for a couple hours during naps, the ability to pull their pants up and down, giving a verbal or physical cue when they're pooping, and just plain understanding that they're pooping and peeing. After this, you select a potty-training method, the most popular of which seems to be letting them run around naked for three days, a method I can attest makes one very popular.
This wisdom, however, directly conflicts with a study that found that, in 1947, 60 percent of U.S. children were potty-trained by 18 months, but by 2003, that age had increased to 36.8 months.
Children haven't changed, which means cultural norms probably have.
I need to find out what those older moms were doing, I thought.
So I called my mom.
JENNY: How old were [my brother, Jesse, and I] when we were potty-trained?
MOM: I'm just heating up some tea right now because I just woke up from a nap. So give me a minute. Because I'm trying to figure out the buttons.
JENNY: The buttons?
MOM: On the microwave. THE MICROWAVE. OK. You were over 2. We put you on the potty chair. So you kind of got the idea. The bathrooms were not that nice, but I remember keeping you in there without any clothes. So if you peed or pooped it went on the floor.
JENNY: How did you come up with that?
MOM: What, about closing the door?
JENNY: No, putting us in one place. That's a common method now.
MOM: Well, it was just a practical idea, wasn't it?
JENNY: When you closed the door, were you in the bathroom or not in the bathroom?
MOM: In the bathroom. Well, as far as I remember I was in the bathroom.
JENNY: How long did you stay in there?
MOM: Till action happened. There was never a lot of crying. There was never, like, you can't leave the room. We also made a really big deal when something happened. You applaud, all that kind of stuff. I don't think you got a prize. NO PRIZES! NO TROPHIES! But a lot of applause. How old are you, honey? Forty-one now?
JENNY: Yes, Mom. I'm 41.
MOM: So this is like 43 years ago.
JENNY: Mom. Your math.
MOM (exasperated): I mean I'm having trouble remembering!
JENNY: OK. Do you remember how many days it took before we were trained?
MOM: I don't think it was a long period of time. It wasn't over a month, was it, David? No, it wasn't. Hang on, here comes your [sic] grandfather.
DAD: Hiya. OK. One of the funniest things that happened … do you know this story?
JENNY: I know this story.
DAD: When Jesse had an accident and saw his turd on the floor and said, "My penis fell off"?
MOM (takes back the phone): It's just consistency. You feed the child at a certain time, put them to bed at a certain time. You just put them on the potty at a certain time. If you know their habits of peeing, or some sense that it's a certain time. I just left you in the bathroom at that time.
JENNY: So you were in the bathroom with me?
MOM: Yes, Jenny. I was in the bathroom.
JENNY: Did you ever leave me there by myself?
MOM: I don't remember that. But I was so desperate for taking naps because of Jesse keeping me up at night. And you were not willing to take naps. So I would put you in your room with your potty chair so you couldn't get out.
JENNY: I knew it! You left me in a room by myself!
MOM: This is not a safe thing to do. I'd probably be arrested right now.
JENNY: How long would you nap for?
MOM: Oh, probably three or four hours.
MOM: Come on, Jenny. Not that long. But it was better for everyone that I took a nap!
JENNY: Do you want me to run these quotes by you before sending them to my editor?
MOM: I'm getting so used to it. Let me just be surprised in thinking, What the fuck, I didn't say that.
POTTY-TRAINING HAPPENS WHEN EVERYBODY'S READY. IN THE U.S. KIDS ARE OFTEN BETWEEN 2 AND 3 YEARS OLD BUT START ANYWHERE FROM 18 MONTHS TO 4 YEARS. HERE'S YOUR CHECKLIST: 1) AM I READY? 2) IS MY KID READY? IF YOU ANSWERED YES TO BOTH, GET THAT PARTY STARTED. IF NOT, OPEN ANOTHER BOTTLE OF SPARKLING CIDER AND TOAST TO ONE MORE THING YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO TODAY.
YOU GOT THIS.
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