Tales from the Potty Training Battleground


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For a while, I thought potty training would break me. For two and a half years, I found myself fighting a constant battle with my strong-willed daughter over her sitting on the toilet to go to the bathroom. If there is a silver lining to come out of this experience, it would be that my daughter will easily be able to take care of herself when she grows up. She does not bend for anybody.

The month before she turned two, I knew she was ready. Penelope could easily communicate with me and others and was informing me often as to when she needed to use the bathroom. Another reason was because every diaper change had turned into a wrestling match filled with tears and screaming. I was done with diaper changes.

So, one day I decided the seize the opportunity. I used an e-book that other friends were using that promised to have a child potty trained in just a few weeks, or less. It sounded amazing. And it worked, for other kids.

Not Penelope.

There is not one single toy, activity or reward that would persuade her to make it to the toilet on time. Telling her that her other friends were staying dry didn’t matter either.

Luckily, our issue was just potty, not poop.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I experienced a wide range of emotions. At my most compassionate, I would remember that she was so young and still learning, and that I am far from perfect myself. At my worst and most grouchy, I would nag and sigh loudly and throw fits over her fourth underwear change of the day. These were not my best parenting moments.

This summer, after talking it over with her pediatrician, we decided that it was time to take it to the next level. We had her bladder, kidneys and ureters examined via ultrasound to check for any physical abnormalities and visited with a care provider that specialized in toilet training children.

The nurse practitioner helped us formulate a game plan to have her eliminate every two hours with the help of a neat watch. This watch would go off at a programmed time, and the device was specifically a potty-training aid for kids. What a genius idea – I totally thought it would work and make Penelope feel special.


She liked it for a few days, but soon we were just prodding her to pay attention to the watch. It was incredibly frustrating to feel like we weren’t any closer to being “done” with potty training.

When it came time to go back a month later to the specialist, I canceled it. We were so emotionally miserable at our house. There was so much tension surrounding potty training, and I was feeling like a cruel mom. I was becoming very concerned about the message that I was sending my daughter.

And so, for what seemed like the hundredth time, I decided that I just wasn’t going to care anymore. I would either ignore accidents or just respectfully suggest to Penelope that she change her pants. It would just mean extra laundry for an undetermined amount of time.

An email from her preschool teacher really helped settle the concerns I had about this long process. She told me that this time would not last forever, that Penelope was an intelligent little girl who has a little quirk that she will eventually outgrow.

The respect and kindness have made more of a difference in this whole experience than anything else. Our house’s energy is calmer and more content, even though there are still sometimes lots of pant changes.

I still quietly worry about her readiness for kindergarten next fall. I don’t want her to be the butt of bullies’ jokes. But Penelope, my husband and I will cross that bridge when we get there. Right now, we are just working to rebuild any harm we may have done to her self-esteem and spirit. I am so thankful for young children and their willingness to forgive their parents’ bad behavior.

Like mother, like daughter. Penelope and me paddle boarding together this past summer at Lake Lanier in Georgia.
Like mother, like daughter. Penelope and me paddle boarding together this past summer at Lake Lanier in Georgia.

**As a side note, I’d like to include that I had a major revelation while writing this piece. When I was writing about the watch that we gave Penelope, it reminded me of an app I downloaded a month or two ago to remind me to do kegels. I hate doing kegels – I really, really do. The app sends you two daily reminders to do kegels for one minute. Just one measly minute. Two days after downloading it, I totally ignore it.

We are more alike than I fully realized. (Gulp.)

What was your potty-training experience like? What worked for your child?