Potty Training

What a Stranger Taught Me About Potty Training My Toddler

Red baby potty

At the airport, he needed to go on every stupid moving walkway, to stand and wait as the belt inched him along. I begged him to walk and explained if he walked, it would get us to the gate quicker. But, no, he stubbornly stood there, flat-footed, just staring at me like I was the crazy one. Then, he came sprinting off when he realized I had walked ahead, and got scared. He caught my shoe, tripped, and laid out flat on the airport floor.

Knowing he was okay, I stood there trying to explain that these things happen when he doesn’t listen to mommy. As I was talking, I made eye contact with an older couple relaxing in the new, black leather plush chairs at our gate. The wife smiled at me, basically communicating that she had been there before, and I was in good company. But even in that moment, I felt so alone. Like I was the only parent in the world who had 3-year-old who didn’t listen to anything I said. Like he was the only toddler who created such a scene in public.

Well, because of that “scene,” the woman kindly engaged with me while we were waiting to board the plane. We were having a nice conversation until I was interrupted by, “Mommy, mommy, I have to go pee pee.” I explained that we had just spent the entire week potty training, so I needed to take him ASAP. Upon our return, she excitedly asked if he went on the potty. With a smile on his face, he shouted, “Yeah!” She then asked, “Is he fully trained?” I said, “Oh no! Halfway now.” She replied, “Gosh, you know, I don’t even remember potty training my son.”

You don’t remember potting training your son? Are you kidding me?

The only thing I could possibly imagine at that moment was that woman must have memory loss because there is absolutely no way I will ever forget the difficult experience of potty training my 3-year-old, a process I was fully immersed in that day.

Every day for the last year, we have read every potty book imaginable. We have taken him to Target to let him pick out his own “big boy potty.” He chose the Elmo one. It collected dust, and took up space. We took him back to Target, and let him pick out a stool and a potty training seat. These are still both nicely placed next to our vanity, untouched.

We bribed him with every kid-friendly candy. We told him he was getting too big for peeing in diapers. We offered our help, and guidance. And, honestly he didn’t give a shit (no pun intended.)

And, then, the strategy that gave him the “control,” we made a special mommy/son trip to Target. I had him pick out his own “big boy underwear,” and told him when he was ready to wear them and go on the potty, to simply let us know.

I’m sure, you, like everyone else, are thinking these two things: “He will do it when he is ready and “There are no 13 year olds in diapers. He will be fine.”

On a deeper level I get it, but, let me tell you—when it is your own child who has not picked up on such a task, you struggle for so many reasons. For me, it’s not just because he won’t go on the potty. Instead, it’s the pure frustration that he hasn’t listened to me or done what I have tried so hard to teach him to do.

Control. I, clearly, like to have it and, so does he. The battle of control with a 3-year-old has given me gray hairs, put me in tears thinking I’m failing as a parent, and has made me work extra hard at parenting.

And then, out of the blue, my son finally let go and embraced the potty. I was elated. Shocked. Nervous. Excited. Was this really happening? Had the work finally paid off?

As I reveled in my son’s new skills, I thought back to that woman’s comment about not remembering potty training her own son, and realized maybe someday I’d forget this struggle too.

As a parent, every single thing at the moment seems so important and big. But, as time passes, we tend to forget the hard times, and choose to remember the good moments, or laugh at the stressful ones. We hold onto memories that are far more meaningful than the milestones we think we’ll recall—when our child begins to talk, goes on the potty, recites the alphabet, or writes his name. Because, these things, they all learn to do…at their own pace. That doesn’t mean we don’t stress about them when they aren’t doing something others their age have mastered.

But as this difficult period for both of us melts into the past, I will try to use this as a lesson to not obsess over the small things. Going on the potty was challenging for my son, but keeping a check on my obsessive tendencies is a challenge for me! He did it, and I couldn’t be more proud. So, now it’s up to me to relax during the moments that would otherwise make me tense up.

I guess each of us has our own age-appropriate struggle.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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