By: Amber Leventry
Two of my three kids are potty trained. I should consider myself lucky, because my first two children were relatively easy when it came to working through the stages of potty training grief. But this last diaper wearing wildcard has found new ways to kill my patience. I shouldn’t be surprised. The starts and stops of his willingness to raise his standards high enough to stop pooping in his pants fall right in line with his personality.
He said he was ready. I bought the undies. He said he wasn’t ready. I put the undies away. He said he wanted the undies over his diaper. I told him that’s not how it works. He had a tantrum. I squeezed Lightning McQueen over his Huggies. I clutched my last bits of sanity and began to mourn the loss of what was.
Let’s examine the grief process.
Shock and Denial
If this is your first child you will equally be shocked and in denial when your child asks to use the potty. Is this really happening? How did my baby grow up so fast? I will miss that diaper butt so much. First underwear, then college. Cue ugly cry. If this is your second potty training rodeo, you will likely jump to other forms of denial. He’s not ready. I’m not ready. I can’t do this again. We won’t be leaving the house for the next three months. The accidents. The laundry. No. I can’t do this again.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Christina Hibbert, “part of the denial stage is also to tell our story over and over—one of the best ways to deal with trauma, and also a way for us to make it real.”
Be prepared to tell everyone everywhere that your child is in big kid undies: “He has been potty training for three days, four hours, and 17 minutes. He still needs a diaper at nap and bedtime, of course, but he is doing it! He still hasn’t figure out how to poop on the potty yet, but he’s peeing like a champ. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with all the money I’ll save when I don’t need to buy diapers anymore!”
Once you stumble through the shock of it all, you will dive with the grace of a belly flop into the next phase of the potty training process. You will be angry. Mostly unreasonably so, but the quicker you accept the anger, the easier it is to let it go. You will experience anger on many levels starting with the annoyance of cleaning pee off of all floor surfaces, the toilet seat, the space between the seat and the toilet bowl, and the bathroom wall.
The anger will build to a full rage as you progress through cleaning poop from undies, fingernails from children who think they can wipe their own bottoms, and tearing apart car seats because your child has an accident as you pull out of the driveway. After they JUST PEED ON THE POTTY.
Anger may turn to guilt then anger again as you sigh loud enough for your child to request a diaper after sensing your irritation.
Again from Hibbert’s website, “With bargaining, there’s a sense that we just want life back to the way it used to be.”
This is the phase where anxiety and second-guessing can hold you hostage. This is where you decide you are fine if your child wears diapers for a few more years. You will think, my child will never get it and I am done trying. You will be on a constant mission to determine if a puddle on the floor, couch, or stairs is water or urine. You will be consumed with finding the best way to remove the smell of urine from sneakers, carpets, and puzzles.
By trying to make yourself feel better, you will think you can control the bodily functions of your child. But things will only become worse with bargaining.
If only I hadn’t let him drink that juice box.
If only I hadn’t given him those few ounces of water at lunch.
If only I had kept him dehydrated.
If only I had asked him 25 more times in an hour if he had to pee.
If only I had seen the signs of an accident about to happen.
If only he would accept my offers of an unlimited supply of M&M perhaps, just maybe, he will piss on the toilet and not the train table.
The feelings of emptiness and sadness are real. The laundry is no longer manageable. The decision to throw away a pair of soiled underwear makes you feel horribly guilty and not like the environmentalist you aspire to be. You will think, I’m killing all of the polar bears, one shitty pair of undies at a time. Bathrooms will never be clean and may never be again. The constant smell of urine is a pretty good indication of what the rest of the house will smell like as your kids get older. Attempts at praise, timed requests to use the potty, super cool new big kid undies, lies and bargaining have failed. The reality of your child not being out of diapers in time to attend preschool is looming. That has been the light at the end of the tunnel. There is still time, but the clock is ticking, the light is dimming, and you will be depressed. It will feel like all of your effort has been for nothing.
Just when you think you can’t go on, you realize it has been an hour since you asked your child to pee and his undies are still dry. You made it to nap time without an accident. And sweet Baby Jesus, he pooped on the potty. You may just have been lucky because you refused to put a diaper on your child after he requested one so he could poop, and the stars were perfectly aligned so that when you placed him on the potty the feces practically fell out of him, but you were not using doggie poop bags and Clorox after he was done. You are making progress. You are so close. You are moving on.
It’s important to remember that everyone grieves in different ways. You may cycle in and out of each stage in any order and usually more than once. Mourn the loss of the diaper, be angry at the process, but accept it. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be free to live a happier life.