Why I Refused to Potty Train My Son


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A strange man is peeing in my house
. This is my first thought when I wake up in the middle of the night to the distinctive sound of someone standing up while urinating.

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My husband is asleep next to me. No one is staying over with us. It's just us, our two kids, and two cats.

I start to sit up, to nudge my husband, when I hear a flush followed by the pounding of feet down the hallway. Then I remember. My 3½-year-old started using the potty a couple of days ago. While he could use a reminder about washing his hands, he has somehow managed to master the art of the big-boy potty. He has pushed up the lid and seat, and even put them down again. He has made his way to the bathroom without a nightlight or a cry to Mom. And he's gotten to this point with very little intervention from us.

I can't get used to this new phase after six years of always checking someone for wetness and keeping a close watch on the diaper and wipes supply -- at home, at daycare, in my purse, in the car, and on the weekly shopping list. Now, suddenly, we're no longer saddled with the burden of diapers.

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But I'm afraid to revel in this new milestone. I spent two years (yes, years) toilet training my oldest, Lilly, who is now 6, and I just can't believe Max is going to pick it up in only days.

Poop Pressure
potty train
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Once you get past the probing "How many teeth does she have?" and "Is she sleeping through the night?" questions, the most persistent one you hear as a parent is, "Is she potty trained yet?" The question can last for months and even longer, as other parents, your parents, and even friends who don't have kids seem strangely obsessed with whether toddlers can go to the bathroom on their own.

Lilly felt no pressure whatsoever, or, if she did, she ignored it. Underwear with bows and princesses didn't motivate her. Her friends going on the potty had no effect. We felt the need to prompt her to go, as her preschool teachers suggested, every time we left the house or put her to bed. We tried having her go once an hour. We tried sitting with her in the bathroom with books.

All of these efforts had the opposite effect of what we wanted. Instead of working on her ability to let go, she worked on her ability to hold it all in, creating buns of steel in the process. She looked the other way after months of soiled underwear, ruined pants and bathing suits, encouraging words from the doctor, and a trip to the ER when she became painfully constipated.

We could tell when we'd all have a bad day based on the last time she'd had a bowel movement. When she was constipated, she was cranky and prone to tantrums, and we didn't want to leave the house. We'd feel relief when she'd finally go, and then three days later we'd become beggars again, pleading with her to try so we wouldn't end up at a birthday party with her in the corner, clenching her butt cheeks together and turning red.

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At some point, I got tired and backed off. I'd just nod when her teachers complained to me and insist there were other strategies we should try. For so long doing nothing felt like I was being a bad mother when in fact it was the right thing to do, at least for my child.

I sent her off to kindergarten with extra clothes and hoped for the best. We bugged her less, and the accidents became less frequent until we were finally in the clear about halfway through the year.

potty train
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When the potty questions began with our second child, we tuned them out. "Boys are harder, you know," everyone loves to tell mothers of sons. If the process was going to be any harder, I wanted nothing to do with it. I showed Max the underwear section at a store and had him pick out his favorite characters, but I wasn't surprised when we got home and he lost interest. I also bought him a fun frog potty and put it in his room. And I didn't intervene when he used it as a house for some bears and a monkey.

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When he started a new preschool, I purposely didn't mention whether we were potty training. It became my own don't-ask-don't-tell policy. Then, a few months into the program, his teacher brought up the subject. "He'll let you know when he wants to go," she said.

If only we had met this wonderful potty training sage years ago! When the time came, Max did let us know, but it wasn't with words. It was with the sound of his feet running to the bathroom and the banging of the toilet seat against porcelain. It was the sound of incredible relief -- mine. 

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