One thing my children have in common is that they’re both intense. But in many ways they’re polar opposites. For example, my daughter Dee was “potty trained”, while, in my opinion, my son Manny is “potty learning”.
Now, I don’t really care what you call it or what word you prefer to use. Some people get upset by the concept of “training” a child. Having spent several years in the U.S. Army, I can tell you that I am familiar with training, but be assured that, even though my daughter was “trained”, it was still gentle and considerate. I could reframe my experience of ditching the diapers with both of my kids using terms familiar to most nursing mothers—child-led weaning and mother-led weaning. With my daughter, our experience was very much a “mother-led” weaning from diapers, while Manny is choosing the “child-led” method.
From the beginning with her, I was determined to go slowly, carefully, gently wait until she was ready, to let her take the lead. But nothing motivated her to change her cloth-diapered ways. Dee was anticipating her third birthday, and at that time on one particular day, I had a quite strong “enough is enough” moment while wiping her bum. I won’t go into the sticky details, but I will tell you that this little girl knew what the potty was, what it was for, when she was wet, when she needed to go, and had a good understanding of most of the necessary concepts needed for a successful transition from diaperhood. She just didn’t want to do it. (And she told me so. Repeatedly.)
I thought I had all the material things and goodies needed for success. I had the little potty, the seat for the big potty, and the step stool. I had the Big Girl Undies. I even had the perfect bribe…a bag of mini marshmallows that I dangled in front of her, hoping she’d leap.
We talked about how girls who turn three can use the potty, and she didn’t care one bit, as long as we could still go to the zoo and have cupcakes on her birthday. I decided to give her a nudge and gave official notice that her days of diapers were ending. In three days, no more diapers… In two days, no more diapers…
One morning, her pink pocket dipes were gone, replaced with a stack of flowered cotton training pants. On the suggestion of a friend, I poured a bag of dark M&Ms into a large mason jar, added a long silver spoon, and showed her the new reward system. She was not amused.
I was gentle about mishaps and clean ups, but firm that we were done with diapers. The very first time she really had to GO was a bit dramatic and involved some tears, possibly a wee bit of screaming. But she was ready, she got it, and less than two days later, despite digging in her heels, Dee was very close to ninety-five percent reliable.
(And yes, we took her to the San Francisco Zoo for her birthday and ate chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and strawberries while sitting on the grass.)
Considering you are now familiar with some of the pain involved with “potty training” my reluctant girl, you might imagine my surprise when at sixteen months old, my little son was yanking off his diaper, wailing when I tried to put one on him, willingly sitting on the little potty, and clapping his hands with joy for the dinosaur Big Boy Undies. I called, texted, emailed and chatted on Facebook with my mama friends—how do I potty train this kid? He’s so young! He barely even speaks! Let it ride, they said. Just go with it. He’s “in the window”, they wisely informed me. Manny is nowhere near as verbal and articulate as Dee. She had all the knowledge and none of the desire. He really wants it now, but doesn’t know how to get there. So we’re taking this one day at a time. He’s going to make mistakes for a long time, but he’s very excited about it. I can see this will be a long learning process for him, so different from my girl.
So maybe Dee was potty trained, while Manny is potty learning. She was mama-led, while he is leading me. Certainly I’m doing my own fair share of learning, as I navigate this winding path with these two little ones. I think this is one of many parts of motherhood with several different yet completely valid approaches. Maybe we’re teaching each other a few tricks in the process. In the end, find your own way and what works best for your individual child. I don’t think the answer lies in one book, one potty video, or even in the sage advice given by a nosy relative or well-meaning friend. If you know your child and trust your instincts, odds are good you can’t go wrong.
Also, a hopefully helpful note, if you are on the go a lot like me:
(This little product has served us well and still does—in the car, in parking lots, on an airplane seat while the seatbelt sign was lit and we were beginning our descent, in hotels, on a hiking trail, near a glacier in Alaska, on public toilets, and elsewhere. It’s familiar to both of my kids, fits into my small diaper bag, and is generally awesome. We actually own two, one for the diaper bag and one that stays home for Manny, used with this soft, reusable insert. When traveling, I use grocery bags as liners and get creative with the absorbent material inside. We’ve never had a leak, and sitting on the bag as needed doesn’t bother my daughter. Don’t let the potty learning phase keep you at home!)