There are many things parents go through with their children, but the horrors of potty training can be truly traumatizing.
Potty training is like one of those tense nightmares where you’re constantly under stress, breaking a sweat, and trying to control forces much, much stronger than you.
And by forces much stronger than you, I mean toddlers. Toddlers who are in the midst of potty training. You are absolutely at their mercy — especially if you’re using the “no more pull-ups” method.
At home, everything may be more or less under your control. However, this changes dramatically once you go out to a store, someone else’s house, a restaurant, or any place where your child is ultimately distracted from anything that requires immediate attention — such as going to the toilet.
Things can get downright scary.
I know this fear. The fear of not knowing if your child is going to pee or poop their pants in the middle of someone’s birthday party or in a Walmart shopping aisle.
For a while there, I really thought I was the only one who was experiencing this agony. I forgot that other parents with small children are going through the same thing.
When you’re inside the bubble of the toddler world full of snot, urine, poop, wiping, spills, accidents, and cleaning into infinity, you tend to forget that there are other moms or dads out there struggling just like you.
Overhearing one of these moms in a bathroom stall with her toddler one night literally saved a good portion of my own sanity.
The conversation between mom and toddler inside the bathroom stall went something like this:
Mom: “OK honey, see, mommy went potty. Don’t you think you should go now?”
Toddler: “No, Mommy.”
Mom: (slight tension in her voice) “Well, sweetheart, you haven’t gone in a while, and what are you going to do if you have to go on the way to grandma and grandpa’s house?”
Toddler: “I’ll go potty there.” (Insert vision of mom silently screaming in her head.)
Mom: (with renewed patience) “But, sweetie, it’s quite a long car ride there.”
Toddler: “That’s OK, Mommy.”
This toddler was not going to give in, clearly.
I finished up in the bathroom and listened to the mother continue to try ever so patiently to convince her child that getting on the toilet seat was indeed the right decision.
In the end, the toddler won out, and this mother probably worried the entire car ride to grandma and grandpa’s house.
The next mess is always lurking just around the corner. And if it’s a potty mess, it’s gross. I knew what this mother was going through. The utter exasperation. On the outside, she tries to remain calm and controlled in front of her child, while inside her head she’s imagining all the potential icky situations that could arise if her child doesn’t just sit on the damn toilet!
It seems ridiculous, I know. There are real problems out there, like poverty, hunger, climate change, disease, and war. Things that are much more important than a child’s bodily functions.
But when you’re in the trenches, sometimes you just can’t see anything else.
When you’re in that battle of wills, just trying to prevent yet another accident because you refuse to put your child back in diapers, but you’re also so tired of cleaning up potty messes, the struggle is real.
There’s a voice inside your head telling you that you should just give up and go back to diapers and “let your child do it when he/she is ready.” Then, another voice says, “No, it’s time. Every other kid we know is potty trained!”
To hear another mother going through the same battle was a welcome comfort.
This is why it’s important that parents just be honest about feeling fed up and imperfect. Instead of the judging and the timelines as to when children should be doing certain things, parents should just be honest instead.
Be honest and admit that you keep your child in underpants even though they keep having accidents because you just can’t look at another diaper, or even entertain the thought of spending money on more of them.
Be honest and admit that your child is still wearing a pull-up because you’re exhausted and just don’t want to deal with messes.
Be honest and admit that you look at older kids and fantasize about how amazing it must be for their parents that they use a toilet on their own without having to negotiate for hours about it.
All parents have been through it, are going through it, or will go through it.
No matter how organized and together another parent may look on the outside, she or he is still probably going through their own personal bathroom hell with a toddler.
So thank you to the mother who was in the bathroom stall next to me that night. Not only was she muddling through the strange puzzle that can be young children, but she also reminded me that none of us are truly alone.
More from Michelle: I Know Why You are Exhausted
Previously published on “A Parent Is Born”, a Medium publication.
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