Okay, it’s time to talk about potty training. I’ve had so many conversations with other moms about this and I feel like this is a universal rough spot of parenting.
I don’t really have a specific parenting style. I read books and articles, listen to podcasts, and like all of those infographics on Instagram. I feel informed in many areas, but don’t subscribe to a specific method or style. We take what works and discard the rest (or save it for later depending on the advice). This works for us, but sometimes I think it perpetuates the feeling that I’m always making a wrong decision. So many of these methods and styles contradict each other and since I pick and choose what I use I am never following a plan to a T. I’m never getting to check the boxes on everything. All of this means that by someone’s standards I’m always doing something “wrong”. I get now that’s kind of just par for the course in motherhood.
Well potty training was going to be different for us.
Our day one potty training experience sucked. Like obviously, yeah running your kid back and forth to the potty is a lot, and cleaning up pee from every floor in your home is rough, but it’s more than that.
We decided to start training early (a little before 23 months), because there is a local preschool program that we think Maddox will love. You can start once you turn two and you are potty trained. Everyone we mentioned this to was like “wow two is early”, but we read the books, took notes, and had a plan. He could stay my little baby in diapers for another year and I’d be fine with it, but thinking about the fun I know he will have at this program motivated me.
Well fast forward to day one of getting our plan in motion. We did everything the book said, and we were proud of how well we abided by the plan. Maddox was doing a great job sitting on the potty, but was really struggling with knowing when it was time to get to the potty. We had a day mixed with success and accidents. We stayed super positive through it. By the end of the day though, Maddox started getting so frustrated with himself. He’s smart and knows he’s supposed to be doing something, but he was really struggling to do it. He’s a natural problem solver so I knew he was really trying. It broke my heart. He patiently waited on the potty, allowed us to help him, and listened to our directions. He was exhausted and upset. We were exhausted and upset. Not because of accidents or mess but because seeing our little boy so frustrated with himself was horrible.
In every potty training and behavior book I’ve read about toddlers there is a focus on the independence you are giving your child by helping them learn things for themselves. You’re helping instill confidence in them and giving them the boundaries to explore and succeed safely. I definitely buy into this and we’ve seen it work with so many other milestones. It’s how our family functions each day.
Looking at this day through that lens made me question what we were doing. We were giving Maddox the boundaries, the rules, the tools, the encouragement. The effort was there fully from us and him, but this was not giving him confidence even when he was getting it “right”. Things just didn’t feel right. We were off the rails and fumbling our way through.
I was reluctant to stray from our plan because even the books say you’re “weak” or letting your child manipulate you. I was failing by not making this happen for him. Was I failing him? Or did I feel like I was failing myself? I’m not a quitter I thought. But I also want what is best for my son. If he’s not ready then why can’t we reevaluate? Reevaluating went against my instinct to always push forward and “complete the mission”, but as a parent, my mom instinct was twisting inside of me saying “you know your child best and you know how/what he responds to best. You know how he works. You may not be a parenting or toddler behavioral expert but you are the expert on Maddox.”
As he took a nap I obsessed over fearing I was letting him down by “giving up” on our plan, but then also fearing that I wasn’t doing what’s best for him as his mom who knows him best. Either way I felt like I was making a wrong decision (which honestly motherhood feels like this a lot).
Matt and I sat down at the end of the day and agreed on a pivoted plan that felt best for our son based on what we, his parents, the “Maddox experts” think. The weight felt lifted off of my shoulders and the knot inside my stomach loosened. That should be proof enough we made the “right” decision.
Well fast forward to once everyone is in bed and I’m still thinking about our choice. This has become an entire emotional mind fuck for me. Am I weak and letting my family down because I can’t follow “the plan”. Am I not dedicated enough? Am I not wanting to deal with the challenge? Somehow my entire worthiness as a mom and a person is hinged on this stupid potty training decision. Why.
I broke it down and by pivoting to a custom Maddox plan as we call it there really are no downsides for him. He will eventually be potty trained, when he is developmentally ready. He may not be able to start preschool right away, but he can start when he’s ready. There are plenty of other ways he can socialize, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation. All is good.
All of the negatives are based on me feeling like I failed him, me feeling like weak, and me feeling like I didn’t do things “right”. Logically I know this sounds crazy, but once you read enough parenting advice that literally threatens you not to divert from the plan and you’re a type A personality it really can take hold of you.
How could I have predicted that the most traumatic part of potty training would not be accidents all over our new house, but instead the emotional weight of trying to do what’s best for your child, while also trying to figure out what the heck that is.
I guess the moral of the story here is a few things:
You know your kid best, you may not be a parenting expert but you’re an expert at being their parent
Plans, books, and advice for parents read very black and white. On paper it is nice and neat and makes perfect sense. In practice though our kids are all of the messy but beautiful colors in between so we have to figure out how to navigate that. A black and white plan isn’t always the answer.
Parenting really throws your biggest insecurities in your face and makes you face them head on. As you child grows you are growing emotionally too.
So a month out from our original potty training weekend, we are continuing to practice our “Maddox plan”. He is wearing training diapers and practicing going to the potty. He is a lot happier, we are a lot happier, and we will get this potty training thing down fully when it’s the right time for our family.
Mental health advocate.
Sharing my raw and real journey through motherhood and navigating Crohn’s Disease. CrohnicallyBlonde is a place where I serve up my unfiltered commentary on chronic illness, mental health, pregnancy, and motherhood alongside lighter lifestyle content like beauty product reviews, travel tips, and book recommendations. My hope is that by authentically sharing my story I can help others going through similar situations not feel so alone and maybe even laugh along with me.