For months, my husband and I – along with our parents, pediatrician, friends, and some random strangers – have been telling our son (who recently turned 3) that “big boys use the potty” in an effort to get him on board with potty training. We do not believe in using force, coercion, or shame to get our son out of diapers. Professional and anecdotal advice suggests that such techniques are generally ineffective anyway. Instead, we have been trying to motivate our son – pointing out how his friends don’t need to stop playing to get their diapers changed, buying him super hero underwear, and most of all, emphasizing that big kids listen to their bodies and use the toilet.
To be fair, this campaign has been lackluster at best. There’s no reason our son needs to be potty trained any time soon. He is not yet in preschool (and the crunchy, free-spirited school he will start in September does not require kids to be out of diapers at any age) and his sister will be wearing diapers for at least another year. It is actually much easier for my husband or I to do two quick diaper changes and be out the door than to deal with last minute potty requests (or worse, find out he has to go when we are already in the car, on a bus or train, or at a store or playground).
Still, I cannot shake the sense that my son’s diaper peeking out of his jeans is an advertisement to the world that his parents haven’t managed to get him to use the toilet yet. My friends try to console me by saying that it must be hard for me to potty train because I work full time, or they remind me that my son was an early walker (as if that somehow compensates for him being delayed in the self-relieving area). Everyone assures me my son will decide to use the toilet when he is ready, but I cannot escape the feeling that I should be doing more to accelerate the process. [This turmoil is uncomfortably familiar to the guilt I felt about my son being a late talker. And although he is still not the most articulate three year old I know, he is definitely developmentally on track now.]
A few days ago, as we were sitting at the dinner table, my son announced: “I am pooping in my nappy.” My husband and I both looked dismayed. “Why didn’t you go use the potty?” we asked, “Remember, big boys use the potty when they have to pee or poop.” My husband went and changed the diaper and then we continued our meal. Later that evening, sitting on the couch with my son, I asked him flat out why he didn’t try to use the toilet. My three year old looked me straight in the eye and confessed, “I’m not ready to be a big boy, Mommy. I still want to be your baby.” Heart. Melted.
As it turns out, my husband and I were approaching potty training all wrong. We had been pitching it as the gateway to independence – a step towards not needing mommy and daddy anymore. But my son is very clear that he is in no hurry to grow up. When I explained to him that he would have to give up his diapers and use the potty eventually, my son agreed, “I will, when I’m ready. Maybe next week.”
It may not be next week, or the week after that, but one of these days my son will begin using the toilet every time and then he will go off to school and want to spend his free time with his friends instead of with his parents. Far be it from me to rush that process. I too wish he could stay my baby forever.
Although my son still only uses the toilet sporadically, I have learned a lot from my potty training efforts to date. Rather than push them in an effort to conform to some externally-imposed timeline, I need to listen to my kids and allow them to set the pace for their own development. Time flies fast enough without hurrying things along. So if you see a diaper poking out from my son’s waistband, it means he is a confident kid who knows what he wants with parents who do their best to respect that.
[Post-Script: Today, my husband made a big point of going to use the bathroom. When my son followed him in, my husband explained that he wanted some privacy. My son nodded, left, and returned with his little sister. He crowded her into the half-bath and shut the door, proudly announcing, “Now we can all have privacy together!” Fortunately, common advice suggests that letting toddlers come to the bathroom with you is one of the best ways to get them interested in using the toilet themselves.]