That Time I Tried to Potty Train an 18-Month-Old

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 2.59.53 PMWhat you need to know is that she was my first. I was terrified of making mistakes with her. So when I stood in line for her class that Sunday at church, I was stunned to see a man in front of me hand his toddler over the door–under her dress, no big, poofy diaper cover, but instead, tiny big-girl panties. Right there in line, I panicked.

Were there other kids her age that were also potty trained? Was she the only one her age still in diapers? Why hadn’t anyone warned me this was coming? I hadn’t even thought about that yet and now we were already behind. It was official: I was a terrible, neglectful mother.

That weekend, or maybe the next, I went out and bought training pants and a tiny princess potty that played music when you flushed. I read an article online about potty training in a weekend. Fantastic! We’d check this off this weekend. I thought about what to write in her baby book. Better take some pictures, too! I scrapbooked success vignettes in my head.

I set my watch and took her to the potty every 15 minutes when we were at home after work and on the weekends. We talked about what to do on the potty. We gave her rewards. We celebrated. She had accidents everywhere. She never asked to go, and said she didn’t have to every time I asked. Honestly, I don’t even think she knew what the question meant. We finally managed a few trips out with successful trips to the potty. It looked like it was all coming together.

When my oldest was just a little over 2 years old, just when we had got potty training semi-down, I started to show with my second pregnancy. And then we learned about regression.

You see, when you’re pregnant, everyone makes a big deal how awful it would be having two kids in diapers. But when your kids are in diapers, the mess is controlled and you kinda/sorta get to choose when to deal with it. When they are not in diapers, you get a big mess everywhere that has to be dealt with NOW. And you’re pregnant. And maybe a touch sensitive to smells. Let me also add, when kids learn to go to the potty, they master number one first and then number two. When they regress, it goes backward in that order. It’s not pretty.

Then, when this child was just older than 4, I got pregnant again. The older two both regressed as soon as I started showing.

During this horrendous experience, a friend of mine who had three kids mostly older than mine reminded me of everything that goes into a trip to the potty for a child. In order to be able to go by themselves, they have to be mature enough to stop what they are doing to take a break, be tall enough to turn on the light, strong enough to lift the toilet seat, and be dexterous enough to undress themselves. That sounds much more like a 3- or 4-year-old than a 2-year-old. Yet as soon as most kids turn two, you have daycares, churches and grandmas bugging you about potty training.

What I forgot about potty training, in my rush to be an amazing mom and fulfill everyone’s expectation of me, is that it’s one of those things, just like sleeping all night and eating solid food, that will happen on it’s own no matter what you do.

All normally functioning kids—all of them!—learn to eat solid food, sleep through the night in their own bed, and use the potty. It may not be on my timetable, it may not be when I think it should happen, but you don’t ever have to sweat these milestones. They happen.

I do still run into smug moms of prodigious toddlers who WILL be potty trained by age two. Good for them. But occasionally I run into an exasperated mom who can’t understand why this totally normal thing is just not working for them and we commiserate. It’s not us, I tell her. It’s them. They have to do it on their own time, and that may mean we suck up some criticism from a few boneheads for a while, but don’t you worry about that because it’s not worth our sanity.

My 4-year-old is 100-percent potty trained now, while my oldest still wears a pull-up at night. I don’t get it, and I probably will never understand what mistakes I made if there is a secret to this thing that I completely missed, or if it’s just biology and physical development that I never could have influenced anyway.

After these last years of potty training hell, my youngest has yet to sit on a potty. I ask her every day if she wants to, and she says “Nope!” Then I ask her, “When do you think you’ll start using the potty?” and she says, “I don’t know.” I don’t know either, and that’s fine with me.

Erin Hayes Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three who doesn’t know shit about pottytraining. She lives and writes in Oklahoma City. 

Tags: biological, development, milestone, potty training, pregnancy, regression

Comments are closed.