Hear Me Out: Potty Training Actually Brought My Family Closer Together

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Long before I ever had a kid, and even before I seriously considered going on this parenthood journey, the idea of potty training loomed in my mind like a messy, stinky bridge that I never wanted to cross. Poop contained in a diaper? Sure, I could handle it. A little rogue pee on the pants? Fine. But a free-for-all of bathroom activities all over the house? Nope, not for me.

The thing is, after two-and-a-half years (and change) of wrestling my wild crocodile child onto a changing pad, I knew it was time to ditch the diapers. And yet, removing all excrement-catching barriers on a toddler who’s favorite word was “NO!” seemed like a bad idea.

Worst case scenario? It was going to be a literal sh*t show. But like many things in life, sometimes you just have to rip off the bandaid (or in this case the diapers). Spoiler alert: It was messy, there was crying (mostly from me), but it was also, dare I say, fun?

Preparing for Life After Diapers

After watching an entire potty-training video course and reading a 274-page book dedicated to this topic alone, I’ll be honest, I still felt unprepared. As a person with anxiety, the messaging around potty training can be a lot. It can feel like, if you don’t follow certain steps to the letter, your kid will wear diapers for eternity. (I can confidently say now that’s not true!)

All of it is hard and amazing and the best thing ever, but it’s still, well, hard.

After doing my research, the next step was enlisting my husband in this operation. Up until this point, we’d managed to get through some dark stuff – becoming parents in a global pandemic, a year of no sleep, nannies quitting on a dime, picky eating, epic tantrums, and a whole lot of figuring out how to interact with each other in this new chaos of family life. All of it is hard and amazing and the best thing ever, but it’s still, well, hard. And like so many parents, my husband and I have a tendency to slip into the habits of exhausted people. We’ll stare at our phones instead of talking, or take turns entertaining our kid to give the other person a break, or zone out in front of the TV during the precious few hours of adult time we have at night. But potty training was going to require us to work together and be super present and engaged for hours (and days) at a time.

Related: 7 Tips and Tricks For Potty Training Success

Here’s why: most modern day potty-training advice will tell you to set aside a three-day weekend for the process. As you go through the phases of naked, commando, and short outings with your kiddo, experts will tell you that you need to be laser-focused on every wiggle, toot, or potential pee-pee dance that could indicate your kid is about to unleash everywhere. Practically, that means you can’t be scrolling TikTok and watching your kid. Read: no phones, no TV, no distractions to get through the hell that is Day 1 of potty training.

So, with that in mind, we set a weekend.

Embracing the Mess

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a catastrophizer. I imagine the worst, but still secretly hope for the best. Needless to say, I had a pretty robust idea of what the worst case scenario looked like as we woke up for our first day of no diapers.

Unfortunately, the first few hours of Day 1 were exactly as hard as I imagined. Without going into too much detail, I was ready to throw in the towel by lunch. But, by the afternoon we’d made a crucial decision – take this show outside. We set up the training potty in a shady spot, brought out some toys and lounge chairs, and let the party unfold. Turns out, that was exactly what we all needed. It took the pressure off and allowed us to relax, which is when the potty learning really began. As soon as I stepped out to run an errand, my husband texted me: Pee in the potty success! From that moment, I knew we could do this.

We didn’t have to have it perfect in one day, or even three. There was progress, and that’s all that mattered.

By Day 2 we were potty veterans. We immediately set up outside, broke out the bubbles, and cranked a summer playlist on our wireless speaker. It was a backyard barbecue for three. I brought out snacks and had a picnic, we squirted each other with the hose, we laughed, played, and ran around. But most importantly, we put our phones down and enjoyed the moment- soaking up the summer and relishing in each other’s company. I felt like my husband and I became a team again, cheering on our son’s accomplishments.

The potty training moved in fits and starts, but the beauty was in our mentality shift. We didn’t have to have it perfect in one day, or even three. There was progress, and that’s all that mattered.

Related: I Potty-Trained My Daughter by 17 Months, and Despite the Naysayers, I Have No Regrets

On Day 3 the backyard party continued, with short walks around the neighborhood thrown in. We picked up pinecones and pretty leaves, sat in the grass and giggled, and ate popsicles on the front step. I’d never felt more connected to my family. By the end of the long weekend, I could feel little waves of sadness bubbling up. The next day meant back to reality – my son would go to preschool and we would go back to our busy lives. I wanted to hold on to the closeness of our technology-free bonding. Then it dawned on me that there was nothing stopping us.

We may be on the other side of potty training, but we can still recreate the magic of those days. All it takes is a few hours running free in the backyard – without a phone in sight.

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