Sunday, January 22, 2012

Potty Training

In those years that I longed for a child, I never considered potty training.  "Had I know then what I know now...."  I still love my daughter beyond words, and she is still a phenomenal, miraculous blessing; but potty training has thoroughly tested everything I "knew" about her and about myself.  I've been hesitating in writing this blog entry because I've been waiting for a happy ending.  It's not really here yet, but I'm going to post anyway.  I hope to be able to provide a happy ending update soon!  Here's a timeline/summary of our continuing journey.

November 2010
While a friend was babysitting, Judith announced that instead of having her diaper changed, she wanted to go on the potty (and she went!).  We'd been keeping the potty chair in our bathroom just to get her used to it.  She'd been excited to sit on it (fully clothed!) whenever I was going, but she'd never shown any interest in actually using it.  I'd been reading through signs of readiness and evaluating whether Judith might be ready.  One of the main signs of readiness is uncomfortableness with being wet, and asking to have pants changed - something Judith had NEVER done.  And because she didn't seem ready, I was anticipating starting sometime in late spring 2011.  But when she was so excited to go for our friend, I took it as a sign to begin. (Oh, how sad I am, remembering that optimistic me!)  From the public library, I checked out the book "Toilet Training in Less than A Day," which my mom had recommended (and had used with success to train my sisters).  I read it, made copious notes, assembled supplies, picked a day, and started.  And Judith enjoyed practicing - especially when she got treats and "special juice" (not watered down!) in large amounts.  And she loved running from different parts of the house to the potty chair (the method suggests practicing running to the chair 10x for every accident); unfortunately, she considered running to the chair to be a reward, and it didn't motivate her to run when she actually needed to go ("if I have an accident, I get to run lots!" seemed to be her way of thinking).  She seemed to be recognizing when she needed to go, and I was hopeful that it wouldn't be very long before she was "trained".

Looking back, I can see that there were several parts of the method that really didn't fit with Judith's personality, and those should have been warning signs of her not-readiness, and her need for a different type of training.  For example, the method emphasizes the child doing everything for herself, from pulling on her panties to getting the toilet paper and emptying the potty chair into the toilet.  But Judith didn't (and still doesn't) want to do those things herself.  She wanted to have me help her - and I was sticking to "the plan" and not helping.  Rebellion came pretty quickly.  She started saying things like "no, I'm not going on the potty.  We can just clean it up."  (She stopped being allowed to clean up puddles herself because she treated that as a reward too.)  But we stuck to it, and by the end of the month she would go when asked, and even had some dry days.  One bright spot was that she did phenomenally well anytime we were outside the house.  All of her accidents were confined to our home - and it was a relief to be out of the house because I knew she'd be dry. 
I thought we were close to the end.

December 2010
My parents came to visit.  My mom was here for three weeks, and my dad was here with her for the final  week   Judith did OK going potty for Grandma, and again, I thought we were over the hump and it was all downhill.  But we went away to a condo for part of the final week, and Judith regressed completely.  It started with a #2 accident in a restaurant, and deteriorated to four accidents in an hour in the condo.  I broke down and bought some pull ups - and when we got home I put her back in diapers.  We'd try again later. 

I vividly remember the relief of putting her back in diapers.  Yes, it had been wonderful for a month to not have to spend money on diapers, but that was about the only benefit we were experiencing.  Judith wasn't happy; she was failing constantly to meet my expectations, and she knew it.  And I wasn't happy - I saw myself as a complete failure as mother, and I was sure that she could do it if she could just want to try.  And to step back and say "this isn't working" was a huge burden off both of us.

August 2011 - present
Although I had originally intended to start potty training again in late spring with the onset of warmer weather, the timing was somehow never right.  And when I looked ahead to our planned August visit to Michigan, I saw nothing but nightmare if we were only partially through with potty-training while we were there.  Diapers would be so much easier.  So I waited.  And at Judith's 3-year check up, the doctor asked her if she was going on the potty.  When we said no, he said, in a shocked voice "Judith!  You should be going on the potty like a big girl!"  (On a side note:  how completely unfair of the doctor, both to me and to Judith, to express such vehemence without even asking for reasons or explanation!)  Predictably, when we got home, Judith said she wanted to wear panties like a big girl.  We talked about how she would then need to use the potty like a big girl and keep her panties dry.  And we transitioned (without any supplies on hand for incentives!  without any planning on my part!).  Since then, she hasn't worn a diaper once (except for the first two weeks at night).

But I wouldn't say she's trained yet!  We started a "potty progress chart" where she gets a flower on the day if she's dry all day.  And looking at it shows how difficult it's been.  There are weeks of flowers followed by blank weeks, and a few lonely days scattered here and there.  (She is dry most nights - she's had maybe four or five bed-wettings total since August.)

The most difficult part is figuring out how to motivate her to want to go.  Saying "big girls have dry pants" isn't enough.  Reading books about big kids going on the potty or providing examples of all her friends isn't enough.  Providing a treat every time she goes (or every time she goes with dry pants) isn't enough.  In the beginning of November, we made candy turkeys at MOPS - and there are several days in a row of success, because she was also getting a piece of the turkey every time she said "mama, I have to go potty" and then went.  But as soon as the turkeys were gone, the motivation dried up.  She shows absolutely no inclination to interrupt what she's doing and go, even when she's assured that whatever it is will be there when she gets back.  Even now, five months later it is extremely rare that she goes before her pants are wet, instead of after she's started.  I don't know whether she has trouble recognizing the urge, or whether she has trouble leaving what she's interested in.  Either way, she's not motivated to learn.

Until our recent bout with stomach flu, I'd have said that she was doing pretty well with #2.  She didn't like to go - and she'd usually hold it for several days before going - but she rarely had #2 accidents.  And now she's had a #2 accident every day for the last five days (sometimes several times in one day).  In theory I accept that this is because her body completely failed on her when she had the stomach flu - and it's still not entirely back to normal.  But because she doesn't say anything when she does have an accident, I'm beyond frustrated - and she has horrendous diaper rash.  We're working on having her at least tell us!

So there it is - my abject failure as a mother.  Forget "less than a day" - in five months I have still not potty trained my child.  I still struggle to find ways to motivate her to want to go on her own, without a timer set or an "order" from me.  I hesitate to ask someone to babysit or to let her go on a playdate or to take her to the park, all because I am so embarrassed by how untrained she is.  I have nightmare visions of her going off to college still unable to get to the toilet before her pants are wet.  (OK, that last part is an exaggeration - I have trouble seeing any light at the end of the tunnel, though.)  I cringe when I hear other mothers talk about their potty training success, remembering past "success stories" that I shared which were immediately followed by regression.  I pray daily for patience and grace as we slowly learn this essential life skill.

(Any words of encouragement would be greatly appreciated)