For a long time I hadn’t really understood what the big deal was about potty training. It was simple! At least it was for my first child. But when we were a month into training my second-born and still having regular accidents, I could see how potty training earned it’s reputation as “dreaded.”
As I reflected on this particular experience of potty training, I learned several things about myself. They weren’t new discoveries – more like patterns I’d already known about myself that surfaced in a new context.
Letting Go of the Need for Efficiency
Learning is not a linear process. This was difficult for me to be okay with. Society tells us to value efficiency but this was not on my child’s agenda. True learning, deep learning, was a process that included both progress and setbacks. It was true of my child. It was true of me. It was hard not to keep counting how many days we had been going at it with no seeming progress. I had to practice breathing deeply when accidents happened and trust that in time, we would get there.
Letting Go of the Need for Control
Teaching a child to put her bodily waste in a certain place was challenging partly because as the parent, I had no control. It was her body and she could do with it what she decided to. I could model what was expected. I could give her encouragement. I could do my best to motivate her to want to learn. But in the end, the learning was hers to do. There were so many moments when I felt utterly helpless. I had to let go of my need for control.
Letting Go of the Fear of Release
Early on during the first day of potty training, I learned something about my child. This child was incredibly good at NOT going. Too good. She would tell us she needed to go and she’d sit on the potty, but nothing happened. After some research, I learned that there was a term for this: “fear of release.” Something was causing her to feel anxious about letting go. Eventually, I figured out that something was me.
I was stuck in a conundrum. There were lots of tricks and suggestions on how to help my child overcome the fear of release but none of them would work for us because they required that I try them with her. But me being there only made her more anxious. So how was I supposed to teach my child how to do something if I couldn’t be present in the room to help her? The answer: She had to teach herself. And I had to trust her.
Not only did she need to overcome her fear of release. I had to overcome my own fear of releasing her.
At one point, I was running the laundry multiple times a day. Completely frustrated, I had to step away and remind myself that my child was not intentionally trying to pee everywhere. She was learning.
Then I flipped through my journal and noticed a quote by Richard Rohr that I’d copied down earlier in the year: “The great and merciful surprise is that we come to God not by doing it right, but by doing it wrong!” My relationship with my daughter would grow the most not when she pooped in the potty, but when she pooped in her pants. By doing it right, she hardly needed me. But when she messed up, that was a chance for me to live out my love, forgiveness, and service to her.
This was the perspective I needed. Mistakes were more than okay. Mistakes were welcome. Because mistakes were opportunities for connection.
It’s been eight months since we were in the thick of potty training and we don’t think about it much any more. I’m grateful we made it past the hardest part, but even more, I’m grateful to have been shaped by the experience. A close friend of mine said, “I’m glad you pay attention to the crap in your life (literally)!” Me, too.
[Side note: I have been asked for potty training book recommendations. This was the one that I found most helpful (affiliate link):]