My 3 ½-year-old daughter is not potty trained. There are days, even stretches of days, where I think she’s got it, and I’m optimistic we can finally put this nightmare behind us. Because yes, it’s been a nightmare. But each and every time I’ve celebrated having one of my three children out of diapers, she’s regressed.
I’ve tried it all: character underwear, naked time, candy rewards, bribes, the three-day method, and most recently, the cry-in-my-pillow at night with a glass of wine method. Nothing has worked permanently.
But I write this not as a piece to shame my daughter or even for potty training advice. I write this because although this particular parenting issue has been more than challenging and frustrating, it has revealed things about myself that I’m not proud of, and is hopefully molding me into a better mother as a result. In the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better,” and nothing forces us to “know better” more than learning from our failures and imperfections. Through this process, I’ve learned and am working on four important lessons that I know will strengthen the bond between my daughter and me, instead of tearing it down.
I cannot control my child’s body, nor should I be able to.
I think sometimes I subconsciously believe that because I carried her inside my own body for nine months and am responsible for teaching her about her body and how to take care of it, that I can control it. I’ve realized that part of raising a confident daughter is showing her that she and she alone controls her body and what she does with it. After months of cheering, begging, and yes, sometimes yelling, I now know that I cannot make her do this. It’s her body. And in ten years, when she’s a teenager, it will be her body. I hope that by that time I will have instilled our family’s values and given her the tools to make good decisions about what she does with and puts into her body, but ultimately, the choice will be hers.
My pride is damaging our relationship.
It’s so easy to see our children as a reflection of ourselves, and to use their successes and milestones as a measurement of how well we are doing as mothers. Don’t we all secretly give ourselves a proverbial pat on the back when our children achieve something? I know I do. Conversely, when those same wonderful, achieving children struggle with something, we often blame ourselves. This surface, performance-based shift in how I measure my overall parenting competence is nothing more than pride, and it’s getting in the way of forming a genuine, close mother-daughter relationship based on unconditional love and acceptance.
Lessons in forgiveness.
I’m not proud of this, but there have been days where my frustration with our potty-training struggles has turned to outright anger. I’ve said things to my daughter in anger that I absolutely regret, and I fear it has set her back with potty-training even more. There is no good excuse for ever lashing out at a child in anger, especially about her body. However, each time my anger and frustration has gotten out of hand, I have apologized to her and asked for forgiveness. I hope that by modeling this process, I have taught her that while none of us are perfect, we always have the opportunity to repair any hurt we have caused.
Patience in this season.
Yes, my daughter is 3 ½. Most children her age are fully potty-trained, but she is still well within the acceptable developmental range to still be working on this. She was an early talker but a late walker, and exactly zero of these facts will make a difference when she starts kindergarten in a few years. It’s a season, and I have to remember the struggle will not last forever. There are times when I sit back and just watch my daughter as she plays. She’s smart, she’s feisty, but she’s still little. I know sometimes I expect way too much out of a tiny human who has only been on this earth a little over three years. Parenting is a daily challenge to work on patience and acceptance for where are children are right now, in this moment.
Tomorrow, my daughter will wake up with adorable bedhead, wearing a princess nightgown and most likely a soaked Pull-Up. We will keep trying for accident-free days and a willingness to sit on that toilet all on her own. And I know that my parenting won’t be perfect though the rest of this process, but I hope from here on, I can guide her with more patience and compassion. Our relationship depends on it.