A Letter to Penny: Potty Training


Dear Penny,

Of all the things that parenting requires it was sleep and potty training that I was most scarred by when it came to raising your older sister through babyhood.  So, naturally, when we found out we were welcoming a second baby, you, into our family I experienced some pretty serious stress in relation to those two issues.  My sleep stress was healed upon our first night together, you slept all night, 8pm – 9 am!  I was so overjoyed, relieved, and immediately grateful. What’s even better, you’ve always enjoyed excellent sleep habits even if you did go through patches that weren’t as ideal, particularly when teething.  Praise Jesus and thank you Penny!

My next stressor, potty training, nagged at the edges of my brain increasingly as you grew.  I pondered “potty day” all of your babyhood but really started seriously considering starting to teach you some time around 15 months.  It was at that age you also started showing some interest.  You’re so smart and teachable so I figured you’d be likely to pick it up fast but I couldn’t make myself take the plunge for fear of frustrating our otherwise very peaceful and pleasant relationship and risk getting angry or frustrated with you in the process.  So, I opted to teach you the particulars while still allowing you to wear a diaper.  Whenever you wanted to go I would do my best to embrace your request and sit you on the potty, even if nothing happened half the time.

Every now and then I would get tired of in-between potty business and would set aside a day to really focus on teaching you.  My first day of this lasted a day and a half before I felt myself getting too frustrated to keep trudging ahead. Even though I knew you were really making some great connections… this mom can only handle so much pee on the floor.

I gave it a rest for several weeks and when I grew motivated enough to give it another try I blocked out the day for another potty training experience but miffed it completely in putting a diaper on you to go to the farmers market.  When we got home again I took the diaper off and you proceeded to pee all over for the next 30 minutes.  I got upset and you got upset.  I looked at you standing there with this look of sad bewilderment on your face and knew it would be best to call it.

This last time around we looked really great!  Again I took a break for several weeks, waiting for my next burst of inspiration.  I kept putting you on the potty at your request which was also becoming more successful, especially for poops.

For this round of “potty bootcamp” as I like to call it, I blocked out two days and really told myself to commit to lots of patience, to embrace the accidents as the learning experience they can be with the right attitude, and to really focus on learning your signals and teaching you how to recognize them.

Day 1 you held your pee pretty much all day.  You did not make it on the potty once, peed in your diaper during your nap, and only had a couple accidents in all.  You were really agreeable to sitting on the potty and spent plenty of time there, you just didn’t get anything out at the right time.

Day 2 you were a walking accident.  You didn’t make it on the potty all morning or afternoon and had accidents everywhere.  Part way into the afternoon you had a sloppy poop in the living room, at which point I brought two kid potties into the living room to give you another option and make it more obvious and accessible.  Right after setting those potties out you sat three times in a row, stood, then peed nearly right next to it.  That flipped the switch for me and I thought we were done; however, I did give it one more stubborn shot. The next time I new you had to have some pee in you I sat you on the potty, gave you some books, and firmly told you to sit down and wait until some pee came out.  Well your next move floored me because I really didn’t think you’d actually do it, I thought I’d end up throwing in the towel again by the end of the day due to sheer frustration.  But no, you took my frustration, lessons, and my ultimatum to heart and took only seconds on the potty before you got some pee out.  I freaked with excitement and in a burst of inspiration gave you an M&M for a reward.

Now, I have to take a break in my story to have a moment with this M&M reward business.  The Kaia a couple of years ago was fiercely against any kind of “reward system” and, really, I still on the whole don’t think it’s the wisest choice for most teachable moments.  I choose to operate on a Love and Logic mode of parenting – where natural consequences and problem-solving reign supreme.  However, at his juncture of potty training I had this moment of clarity.  What I saw in you Penny is that you were getting frustrated and saddened by this potty experience just as much as I was.  I really didn’t want that for you.  In putting you on the potty that “last” time I felt hopeless you’d actually go but knew that if you did I had an M&M waiting for you in hopes that it not only would make you feel good about your accomplishment, but that it would rekindle your excitement to want to potty train.  I’m so thankful I took a moment to go with my gut even though the concept of a reward wasn’t my favorite thing in the world because you took flight after that.  In that moment you saw the potty as the means to bigger and better things, both the experience of getting to wipe and flush (your favorite things) but to enjoy the sheer excitement I exhibit at each successful potty moment and the treat that comes after.

I know the treats won’t last forever and I’m ok with being flexible with that.  What I know right now is that those two changes, giving you a little potty in the living room and a treat after successful sit downs turned the corner for you.

Day three I photographed a wedding all day so your daddy was on potty duty and said you got it on the potty a couple times.

Day four, you went twice on the potty before church.  I took the risk taking you to church in your underwear and you refused to go on the big public potty so eventually you had an accident in Kidzworks and I felt helpless and ashamed at being the mom who’s kid peed in public.  I started shaming myself into thinking how foolish I was for attempting this potty thing.  I easily owned the title of “inept potty trainer” even before that moment.  Truthfully, I felt like a complete failure and potty idiot, like I had no idea what I was doing.  Then we got home and you proceeded to pee only on the potty all day long!  Each time you proudly watched me dump the contents into the big potty, wiped yourself thoroughly, and excitedly flushed the toilet.  I always had to remind you to come back and wash your hands because after the flush you were just too excited to retrieve your treat reward.  And, of course, the treat came just after I got you to wash your hands.  The smile on your face every time you go through all the motions of potty training now make my heart smile.  You smile so proud from the moment you pee in the potty all the way through the wiping and cleaning routine.

We are now nearly two weeks out of day time diapers.  The trend of potty awesomeness has continued.  I’ve learned that potty training is best viewed as a journey, not a script to follow verbatim.  These days you still run around half naked because I’m still working on teaching you how to pull underwear on and off and budget enough time to get to the potty to do so and you wear a diaper for naps and bed time for now, but you don’t ask for a treat after every visit on the potty and I’ve found that I can get you to go pee on the big public potty by offering you an M&M (which I simply keep in a small jar in my purse at all times for such times) as a part of the deal.   I know that we still have a ways to go before you’re completely independent with this potty thing but I also know I’m really ok with with that. The heavy lifting is done!  Now it’s just a matter of teaching particulars like night time dryness and manipulating pants.

Today I feel capable and like we are doing this thing well and with joy.  Today I feel like I know what I’m doing.  Today I feel like I can do this.  Today I feel like this potty training experience will leave me feeling capable and smart.  Today I feel proud of both you and me, but mostly you.

Got get ’em girl!  You rock!


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