Potty Mouth: One Mother’s Fall from Potty Training Grace

There are moments in motherhood that we can all look back on and say, “Well that did not go as planned.” Unfortunately for me, potty training my youngest son Miles has been that moment. I honestly don’t even know if we would call it a moment at this point. It has become my Everest, and if I do not get a cover spread on TIME Magazine after this process I will be utterly disappointed.

I should start with what I have done in the past with potty training. I have three boys and two out of three are potty trained. My oldest, Jack, was disgustingly simple. He literally woke up one morning ready to be potty trained – and so he was. The Gods had shown me mercy at the tender age of twenty.

Our next son, Fisher came two years later and was a little more of a challenge. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase, “It’s great he has an older brother! That will make potty training so much easier!” I would have a college fund paid for or bail money for getting me out of jail after publicly shaming the people who told me this tale. Maybe this adage is true for some, but for me it was hogwash.

Having an older brother did not make Fisher want to pee on fruit loops in the toilet anymore than it made him want to eat dinner that night. He had his mind made up about potty training and was a little later coming around to the idea of it. However, after we talked to his daycare and they mentioned his love for routine, we knew we had it in the bag. Routine worked for Fisher, he liked the anticipation of things – we just needed to make him aware of it. So with the help of his teachers and an egg timer, Fisher was potty-trained.

Enter Miles, sweet baby Miles.

Up until this point, all of the boys were potty-trained before their third birthdays. We are about three months out from Miles turning three and there is no sign of being potty trained on the horizon. Ever. I saw a funny meme about a gag-gift cloth diaper that you can buy in adult sizes online. Only when I laughed I cried on the inside because I instantly realized that Miles may end up being the one who wears this and lives in our basement when he is thirty if I can’t get him potty trained.

Short of sending him to a potty-training camp for puppies, I have tried EVERYTHING. Let’s recap a list of the things I have tried just for kicks:

  • New fun big boy underwear
  • Videos of his favorite cartoon characters teaching potty training
  • Songs about potty training
  • Books about potty training
  • Sticker chart rewards
  • Reminders and polite asking

This is where the list takes a dark turn…

  • The “look your brothers and daddy go potty – don’t you want to?” speech
  • Letting him run around naked – TRUST me when I say he was vengeful on this one and it was not a pleasant experience for Mama or his big brother Jack who’s room took the hit.
  • Bribery – “If you go potty I’ll buy you a new toy”
  • Extortion – “If you don’t go potty, you can’t play with that new toy”
  • Lastly – Begging. Sheer pleading on my knees while he giggles in my face and runs away

As you can see, the second half of the list is where my sanity took a slight dip on the Mom-Scale. The thing is, he is too smart for his own good. He knows I tell you, that we want him to potty train. I know this because he has done it a few times – mostly with bribery and rewards of cookies and Mommy dancing and clapping like a fool. But he realizes that he holds all the cards in this poker game. And by golly, he’s not bluffing.

It wasn’t until after I cleaned up a pile of Miles-poo he had politely left during the naked-phase that I was sitting in my bathroom floor crying and eating half a bag of Milano cookies that it hit me. I just have to stop. No more asking, begging or videos. I have to ignore it completely. Not just because I was letting him win, but because if I didn’t I was going to end up placing puppy training pads all around my house and quit.

And so I did. And so did Miles. Now I ask him every once in a while if he would like to go to the potty in a very nonchalant way. Sometimes he says yes, and sometimes he says no. That’s ok, Moms! It’s progress. Aside from birth, I will say potty training a strong willed child who is hip to your ways is the hardest thing you will do as a parent.

Much like the epiphany we had with Fisher about routines, the epiphany with Miles was a combination of both Jack and Fisher’s methods. Like Jack, he is going to have to come around to it on his own terms, or it just isn’t going to happen. But like Fisher, we are going to have to give some gentle nudging in the direction that works. So far, treats seem to be our best working option.

* Note: For those parents who will inevitably say, “you shouldn’t use food as a treat, it will make them fat,” You can shut up and walk away, or come potty train this kid yourself.

I say all of this to say, it will get better. I know, I’ve been there. I hit rock bottom with potty training when I thought I was at the top of my game. I begged a two year old to pee in the toilet for thirty minutes while shouting swear words in my head. I get it.

I apologize for not having the end-all be-all answer for potty training a strong willed child. But I have this. Listen to your child and notice what works for them. As I have painfully learned, not one child is the same when it comes to potty training. Take advice from other parents with a grain of salt. And when all else fails, buy yourself some wine and Milano cookies and hide in your bathroom.

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Mother of three. Writer extraordinaire. Lover of art and music. Consumer of chocolate and wine.

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