The Day I Failed at Parenting

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It was the day after Thanksgiving—also known as “Black Friday”—which means we had committed to staying indoors to avoid the shopping chaos. The Carolina Panthers had just gone 10-0 the night before, so we were feeling pretty confident…

We thought that since it was a long weekend, now was the perfect time to potty train Indie. With another baby on the way, we had repeatedly heard this quote from family members and friends (specifically my wonderful, well-meaning mother):

“You’re not going to want two kids in diapers at the same time. Better potty train her before baby #2 arrives. Trust me, I had your sister potty trained at 18 months. Girls learn quickly…”

As I’m sitting down to write this, Indie is officially 20 months old today, and she’s pretty smart for her age. Of course, we don’t take her to a pediatrician every month to find out how she compares to other kids in terms of her development, so that’s entirely based on my own assessments as her admittedly biased mama.

She has already begun showing signs of being ready to potty train. She requests to have her diaper changed when it’s wet or dirty. She tells us when she’s peeing and pooping, or immediately after she’s done it. And she recognizes when mama and daddy are “going potty.” (We make it a point to take her to the bathroom with us whenever we go, so she can see how it’s done—as all the potty training experts out there suggest.)

Even though she’s been showing signs, we figured this might be a somewhat difficult effort, but not impossible by any means. I had researched and read up on the three-day “bootcamp” potty training method, stocked up on big-girl undies, and decided that she was going to be well on her way to being accident-free before I had to go back to work on Monday.

Enter: the worst Friday of my entire existence as a mother so far…

She woke up and ate breakfast in her high chair as usual, wearing nothing but a diaper, which we proceeded to take off as soon as she was finished eating. Our chiropractor had suggested we try naked potty training, since she wouldn’t enjoy the feeling of pee running down her leg, so we did. (Plus, the undies I had ordered online had not arrived yet.)

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After breakfast, we asked her if she had to pee and she said “uh huh,” so we sat her down on the training potty. It took a while, and she was somewhat reluctant, but she peed.

Words can not explain the unspeakable joy I felt during this moment. “One for the win! It’s going to be a good day,” I thought to myself.

Little did I know, that joy was fleeting—never to return again. At least not that day…

The rest of the excursion is kind of a blur. I remember lots of fluids being expelled, both from Indie’s urethra and from my own tear ducts. Every 5-10 minutes, one of us was wiping up fresh pee from the carpet, the couch, or the floor in the kitchen, while the other one of us was hurriedly carrying our crying, confused child to her potty, which she absolutely refused to sit on. Instead, she’d run away to another room of the house where she proceeded to expel more urine.

At one point, I had a complete emotional breakdown. I was sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor, hugging my screaming child while sobbing uncontrollably and apologizing profusely for my failures as a mother.

“She’s not ready for this,” I finally told myself—after hours of relentless persistence. Evening came around, and I gave up. I grabbed one of the Pull-Ups we had purchased for night-time use, and pulled it up over her naked tush. I then sent a text to several of my friends and family members announcing defeat.

I was sad, angry, exhausted, and very, very frustrated. I felt somewhat guilty for giving up so easily. But I felt most guilty for expecting my child to accomplish this very important milestone in her toddlerhood, before she was clearly up to the task.

I had ignored my instincts as a mother. The same instincts that have led me to take a relaxed approach to other areas of parenting were telling me to slow down here too, and I wasn’t listening.

Sure, I might have to deal with a few months of having two kids in diapers at once. Since Indie is not fully weaned, and I plan on nursing Kale, I might have two kids asking to breastfeed at once too. Here’s my response to anyone who tries to scare me into pushing my children past milestones they’re not yet ready to achieve (myself included):

It will all be okay. This part of their lives will pass too soon for my comfort. I’m going to relish and enjoy these moments while I still can. Before I know it, Indie will be a teenager, and I’ll look back on the days when people were pressuring me to wean and pressuring me to potty train, and I’ll be glad I waited until she was ready.

I failed at parenting the other day. But not because I couldn’t potty train my child in three days. I failed, because I tried to rush her into growing up too fast.

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One day soon, she’s going to pull down her diaper for the first time and say “mama, I need to go pee-pee in the potty,” and I’m going to feel the same rush of joy I felt when she sat down on her potty the first time. I’m also going to feel a wave of bittersweet nostalgia, as I realize that this moment will never come again.

Until then, diapers it is.

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  1. Trust me, two in diapers is better than one in diapers plus a new potty user. My sons are 4 years and 2 months. My older son has been fully potty trained, including nights, for over a year. Potty training was painless- he woke up one morning just before his third birthday and announced that he needed underpants. I am a big fan of waiting till they decide they are ready.

    The problem is that there is really no lag time between needing to go and going at this age. We will be out and he will need to go and we just have to drop everything and run to find a toilet. This can be tricky now that we have his newborn brother in tow as well. There was also the delightful toilet use regression that happened right after his brother was born… There is nothing quite as fun as cleaning poop out of the 4 year old’s underpants while the newborn screams in the background!

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