There are many difficult experiences 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.
By forces much stronger than you I obviously mean toddlers. When you’re in the midst of potty training a toddler, you are absolutely at their mercy.
At home, everything may be more or less under your control, however, this changes dramatically once you go out to a store, 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 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, 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 which is full of snot, urine, poop, wiping, spills, accidents and cleaning into infinity, you tend to forget that there are other moms or dads struggling just like you.
Overhearing one of these moms inside a bathroom stall with her toddler one night literally saved a good portion of my own sanity.
The conversation between mom and toddler 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 okay, 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. Not because she didn’t trust that her child was capable of staying dry, but because she’s probably just been cleaning up potty accidents for so long that she’s trained herself to be in a state of high alert at all times.
The next mess is always lurking around the corner. If it’s a potty mess, it’s gross. I know what this mother was going through. The utter exasperation.
She was doing that familiar toddler dance. 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 world hunger and gun violence. Problems way more important than a child’s bodily functions. But when you’re in the trenches, you can’t see anything else.
When you’re 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.
To hear another mother going through the same battle as me was so comforting.
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 cleaning up more poop and pee off the floor or carpet.
Be honest and admit you look at older kids, fantasizing 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.
It’s okay. All of us with toddlers are going through it. Some more or less than others, but we’re going through it.
No matter how organized and together a mother may look on the outside, she’s still probably going through her own personal toddler hell.
So thank you to the mother in the bathroom stall, who is taking care of business in the trenches and carrying on being the best she can be. Not only is she muddling through the puzzle of toddlerhood, she’s also letting me know I’m not alone.