The One Thing I Ignored That Could've Made Potty Training Easier

by Steph Montgomery

Potty Training: two words that can strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. I was terrified to potty train my oldest, and while I wish I could say my fears were unfounded it didn't take long to realize the ordeal deserved its reputation. It was so much worse than I ever could've imagined. There are so many things I wish I had known beforehand, too, that could've made potty training easier. But hey, you live and you learn... and I learned one very important lesson in particular.

No matter how many books about potty training you read or websites you peruse, no one tells you that it's not a necessary milestone you have to rush. In fact, as a first-time mom I received the opposite message. My own mom told me that I was barely 1 when I learned how to use the potty, and I was told people all over the world potty-train their babies before they can even walk. In other words, the pressure was on.

I don't think it's entirely our fault, as parents, when we set the bar way too high during our potty training endeavors. If you believe what you read in parenting books, see on mommy groups on Facebook, and hear during your kid's preschool pickup, your child should actually be potty trained from birth. We set the bar high because we feel obligated to, and we're afraid of failing to live up to this arguably unrealistic standard.

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

Plus, whether or not your child is potty trained can make a difference in what preschool they can attend, the cost of child care, and most importantly, whether or not you can leave them at Småland while you shop at IKEA. You want them to be ready, and everyone else expects you to do it effortlessly, so you start the potty-training process arguably way too early and with the confidence of someone who has no idea what they are in for.

I felt so much pressure to do everything perfectly, and so much guilt at the thought that my daughter might fall behind her friends at school. I wanted her to be the best, and as a result I didn't allow her to be herself. In the rush to push our kids to meet milestones, we stop seeing and listening to them. The desire to keep pace with the other moms we know, or even strangers on the internet, prevents us from actually parenting our kids. In my case, the pressure to potty train my kid early caused me to start potty-training her long before she was actually ready.

Now that I've lived and learned I am not ashamed to admit that I decided to start potty training my daughter way too soon. And I made that decision mostly for myself, too, and not because it needed to happen. Seeing as how it took me roughly a year to potty train my daughter, I'd say my decision totally backfired.

In the rush to push our kids to meet milestones, we stop seeing and listening to them.

I started potty training my toddler as soon as she could sit on the potty. I also tried everything I could think of to model the behavior I hoped she would emulate, and way before she was actually ready. From using the toilet for my toddler, offering her pretty new underwear, placing stickers on charts, feeding her M&Ms by the handful, and buying four different potty chairs, I was desperately grasping for straws. I was so focused on the finished line I didn't realize that my daughter wasn't ready to run the race.

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Turns out, there’s a huge difference between showing “interest" in potty training and actually being ready to engage in the process, especially when poop is concerned.

In the end, I'm happy to report that my daughter finally, and amazingly, figured it out. After a full year of “three day potty training" boot camps, regressions, accidents, poop refusals, and power struggles, my daughter learned how to use the "big kid" potty. I must have blocked the worst of it out, too, because I had another baby.

I wonder if her "terrible twos" had more to do with me trying to force my wild child into a potty-shaped box, than her being 2.

Thankfully, however, the hard lessons I learned during my daughter's potty training experience paid off. Instead of jumping into potty training with my son, I waited, and waited, and waited... and then he pretty much potty trained himself just before he turned 3. At the request of his preschool, I bought him some pull ups, and by watching me, his classmates, and his older sibling he just figured it out on his own.

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

There were no rewards given. I didn't have to beg. It was seriously no big deal. I was absolutely shocked when it happened, too, as if my child had fallen under some kind of magic spell. I also remember thinking that I lost a year of my daughter's life trying to make her learn how to use the potty before she was ready.

So while I was happy to enjoy the potty training success with my son, I was also sad and upset about my previous potty training experiences. I honestly wish I had just let it go, and let my daughter tell me when she was ready. I wonder if her "terrible twos" had more to do with me trying to force my wild child into a potty-shaped box, than her being 2.

I will never know.

My youngest is still way too young to use the potty, by pretty much anyone's standards. And as much as I am so ready to be done changing diapers for good, I've learned my lesson and will not be pressuring my youngest to potty train before he's ready. Parenting is hard enough without adding power struggles about pooping to the mix. This time, I’m going to wait and see if he will potty train himself. If not, I’m not going to press the issue. I know he'll tell me when he's ready, and it's way better (and easier) to wait.