I’m a mom to two lovable, amazing, and incredibly stubborn boys, and when I think about potty-training them, the first word that comes to mind is “survivor.” Persuading my pig-headed firstborn son to pee and poop in a toilet and reliving the trauma all over again two years later with his equally unyielding younger brother didn’t break me, but I didn’t exactly come away unscathed either.
I cope with the enduring memory of those days on the bathroom battlefield by baring my scars to parents of toddlers who don’t yet fully comprehend the shit show they’re getting themselves into when they naively find themselves with a dozen diapers left and a long weekend ahead of them.
My healing comes from helping others.
At ages 9 and 7, my kids now have what is commonly called bathroom independence, which is mostly fantastic except that lingering fears of stranger danger and the worry that my boys will pee all over the floor still grip me as I wait outside mall bathrooms.
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself (and scaring the crap out of you), but I only mean to demonstrate that the transition from diapers to independence takes longer than you think. It’s a lengthy, arduous process that lasts anywhere from three days to, well, forever during which you’ll ask yourself repeatedly, “What’s that smell?” and “Is that pee on the ceiling?” and “Did you wash your hands?”
For those about to take the potty-training plunge, here’s an honest insider’s look at the 10 things “potty trained” does and doesn’t mean.
- It does mean you can cross diapers off your shopping list, but it doesn’t mean you can suddenly afford expensive lattes. You’ll need to buy an arsenal of potty-training supplies, including underwear, nighttime pull-ups, a potty chair, a travel potty, a potty seat cover for the toilet, flushable wipes, craft supplies for a potty-training chart, and rewards. You’ll also need a plumber on retainer (and speed dial) because flushable wipes aren’t flushable when your precious angel puts 20 of them in the toilet all at once.
- It does mean you’re done begging your kid to change his saggy diapers, but it doesn’t mean you’re finished nagging. Do you know how your kid sometimes asks for fruit snacks 30 times before breakfast? (And how annoying it can be?) Now you're the one doing it. Do you have to pee? Do you want to poop? Let’s sit on the potty now. Is there a tinkle that wants to come out? Let’s just give it a try. It’s time to sit on the potty, OK? OK? Let’s get your poops out! Let’s try. Try for Mommy, OK?
- It does mean changing table wrestling matches are over, but it doesn’t mean the struggle is over. You’ll need to employ CIA-level negotiation techniques to persuade your kid to poop in the bathroom inside the restaurant instead of in the travel potty in the back of your station wagon in the parking lot.
- It does mean you’re finished with grimy changing stations, but it doesn’t mean your time in public restrooms will be any more sanitary. Now you have to take your kid into a stall where he’ll mistakenly think he’s at the touch tank at your local aquarium.
- It does mean you have more freedom, but it doesn’t mean you’re free. After the initial “house arrest” – the three to seven(teen) days you’re stuck at home with a feral, cranky and mostly naked toddler who disappears every time you say a little too cheerfully, “It’s time to sit on the potty!” – you’ll be detained indefinitely in every store, restaurant and park bathroom within a 20-mile radius of your home because loitering on dirty toilets behind locked stall doors will be your kid’s new favorite pastime.
- It does mean the rancid diaper-pail smell wafting through your house is gone, but it doesn’t mean the fresh scent of a spring garden will replace it. You’ll need a hazmat suit to disinfect the training potty after each use, and sanitizing every nook and cranny of the toilet and bathroom floor will require some serious elbow grease to eliminate the, oh, let’s call it aroma. Disinfecting wipes will be your new best friend, and don’t be surprised if you rethink your “no peeing in the yard” rule.
- It does mean pee trained, but it doesn’t mean poop trained. Poop is the wild card of potty-training. Some kids only poop at home but not at school, and other kids only poop in the third stall from the left at Target but not at school or home. Some kids only poop in a pull-up, and other kids don’t poop at all. What?! The only way to navigate the high-stakes venture of poop training is to sharpen your diplomacy skills and reward anything that lands in the toilet handsomely.
- It does mean day trained (mostly), but it doesn’t mean night trained. Some kids get the hang of staying dry at night quicker than others. You can limit liquids after dinner or set an alarm to go in the middle of the night, but do you really need another reason to be awake at 2 a.m.? Staying dry at night is a developmental milestone kids reach when they’re ready, or when they’re in charge of doing their own laundry (whichever comes first).
- It does mean you can ask family, friends, teachers and babysitters to follow your potty-training instructions, but it doesn’t mean they will. For instance, Grandma might give her precious grandchild an entire bag of Skittles instead of a few pieces after a tinkle on the toilet, which will corrupt your reward system and cause an unwelcomed “potty” strike for unfair compensation.
- It does mean you can brag on social media about how your cutie patootie woke up dry and had no accidents at school, but it doesn’t protect you from karma. Don’t get cocky, because eventually your kid will poop in and shut down the community pool because he didn’t have to go when you asked him five minutes ago.
Trust me, potty-training panic is coming. I only hope my insight will help reduce the severity of your anxiety as you clean poop out of a bucket disguised as an “adventure” or “celebration” potty chair and realize there’s no turning back.
If I survived potty-training, trust me, you can, too. Good luck, and don’t forget to wash your hands! Seriously, wash your hands. No, really, wash your bleeping hands!