Every parent, whether changing the very first diaper or what seems like the millionth, looks forward to the day when their child is completely and thoroughly done with diapers. There’s nothing fun about diaper changing. Sure, the changing table is a great place to get a few giggles – but wiping a baby’s butt is not enjoyable.
From the moment a baby starts exhibiting “signs” of being ready, the idea of potty training – or POTTY TRAINING in big, bold, neon letters – looms overhead. Is your child interested in joining you when you got to the bathroom? Is your child exhibiting signs that she wants to be changed? Does he hide to poop and tell you about it afterwards? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time! Get a potty seat! Download that potty app! Start naked time now!
Except, don’t. Because it’s a lie. The potty industrial complex has tricked us into thinking that potty trained is the dream. Potty trained will make life better. Potty trained sets you free.
But it doesn’t. Potty trained doesn’t set you free. It tethers you even tighter. If your kid is in diapers, all you need is a clean diaper, some wipes, and a flat surface (and even that’s negotiable). But a kid in underwear? Suddenly, you need a plan. Is there a bathroom nearby? Is there a bathroom nearby that my child will actually use? Can I convince her to go before we leave? By the time I convince her to go before we leave, will we have any time to play before we have to head home again? At times, calculating all the variables before leaving the house is so exhausting that you might just stay home.
Most of us have seen articles on the web about an amazing baby who potty trained at six months, making us all wonder if we’re doing it wrong. Or maybe it’s your sister happily posting on Facebook that your adorable 18-month-old niece loves using the potty (with pictures, of course). If it’s on Facebook it must be true, right? Wrong.
If your mother-in-law has told you that all of her kids were fully potty trained by a year old, she’s lying. That six-month-old definitely can’t wipe his own butt. Your 18-month-old niece probably still needs help pulling up her pants. And a one-year-old certainly isn’t climbing onto the toilet by himself.
Potty training is more than getting out of diapers. Just because your child knows how to use the potty, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to clean up poop and pee. Just because your child knows what it feels like when she needs to go, doesn’t mean she will. And just because your child can hold it while you’re out, doesn’t mean he should.
My daughter started exhibiting signs at 18 months and we thought, this is great! Let’s roll with it! We got the potty seat. We started putting her on the toilet regularly. We tried to encourage her to understand what her body was doing, to recognize the signs that she has to go. Spoiler alert: She didn’t actually potty train until she was ready, two months after she turned three. And we were 100 percent okay with that.
We didn’t push potty training once we realized that the signs don’t really mean that much in the long run. If wanting to come with me when I went to the bathroom is a sign, then my son was ready at six months old. Either that or he just really liked trying to put things in the toilet. While I was sitting on it.
My daughter started telling us when she had a poop and needed to be changed. And shortly after that, we went through a phase where she ran away screaming if we took a step towards the changing table. Knowing the health concerns related to pushing potty training too soon helped solidify our decision to wait.
When she was finally ready shortly after her third birthday, we were ready to go, too. We made a potty chart to keep her motivated and decided together when it was time to ditch diapers for good. At 3.5, she’s completely potty trained day and night. She can go to the bathroom independently and knows to wipe, flush, and wash. She even puts the lid down when she’s done.
Not only can she verbalize that she needs to go, she can change her undies and pants by herself if she doesn’t make it in time. While she still pushes back against going before we leave the house, she can usually be convinced and can hold it while we’re out.
Waiting meant that we didn’t have to go through the motions of sitting on the potty every 30 minutes until she went (which anyone with a stubborn child will tell you is damn near impossible). Waiting meant that I didn’t have to pull her pants down and back up every single time she tried. Waiting meant we weren’t stuck at home while she figured it out. And waiting meant letting her achieve this very important milestone on her own timeline, because no other timeline matters.
Parents, ignore the voices telling you that it’s time just because your child has reached a certain age. Don’t let the promise of living the diaper-free dream convince you to start potty training before your child is ready. That dream can turn into a nightmare pretty quickly. It’ll happen, I promise. But until it's time, just wait.