By TMoM Team Member, Ashley Quinn Kibby

If I had to identify my biggest parenting fail over my three-year tenure, it would have to be potty training. It was an insidious failure, sneaking up on us over days that became weeks that became months. In the beginning, I thought we were on track for success. By the end, I felt defeated, desperate, overwhelmed, and burnt out.

The Beginning of the End

When my mom offered to train the twins over a weekend visit, it seemed like a good idea. After all, she’d potty-trained my sister and I, so she knew what she was doing. I hadn’t made a potty-training plan, but I’d purchased the training toilets and set them out several months prior. I believed the twins were ready. “Let’s do it!” I agreed. There was no harm in trying, right?

As Mike and I enjoyed our weekend away, we were even more delighted to receive the reports from home. At thirty-months, our twins were going pee-pee and poo-poo on the potty! Best of all, we didn’t have to lift a finger during the process. It was too good to be true!

I’d heard about kids getting potty-trained over one intensive weekend. Now we could join the club, ditch the diapers, and rejoice! When we got home, we continued to cheer for every tinkle and plop, marveling at how our kids even emptied their own training toilets into the big potty.

potty celebration

They Understood the Assignment

The girls got it. They were capable. But they weren’t always consistent. So, we upped the ante with rainbow tic-tac rewards, and I watched them like hawks. Soon, I began to feel like the worst mom stereotype — a relentless nag! The twins were annoyed with my constant reminders, and I was equally frustrated by their accidents.

To protect the floors and furniture from spills, we purchased pull-ups. “These are like underwear,” we told them. “Just pull them down when you have to go potty!” But when they were preoccupied with play or distracted by a TV show, they just couldn’t be bothered.

Ten days after initial training, we took a road trip to visit family for the holidays. “I have to go potty!” the girls told us from the back seat. Mike and I looked at each other, imagining the prospect of stopping fourteen times on a fourteen-hour drive. “Uhhh, just go in your pull-up,” I told them. “We’ll use the potty again when we get to the house.”

We Flunked the Potty Course

Fast forward three months, and we were still potty training. By this time, I was exhausted from the vigilance. For preschool and bedtime, I put them in pullups. At home during the day, they wore underpants. When I wasn’t wiping butts, I was changing pull-ups, doing laundry, and spraying my kids down in the sink. We were one foot in and one foot out, straddling the worst of both worlds. I could feel it in my bones. We were failing.

Before I had a nervous breakdown, I did what any reasonable mother would do and hopped on a parenting support thread to seek help. Here, under the careful tutelage of mothers much wiser than I, I was instructed to get a travel toilet for the car, and a book: Oh Crap! Potty Training, by Jamie Glowacki.

It’s Never Too Late to Turn Things Around

Here’s the good news. Within a week of reading the book, my twins were potty trained! Not just during the day, but at night, and at school too. According to Jane, potty training is an all-in endeavor, not just something you “try.” (Silly me!) I couldn’t agree more.

The bad news? We made just about every mistake possible before getting there. Of course, mistakes are part of the learning experience, but it really didn’t have to be this difficult, or disgusting. If you know what I’m talking about — or better yet, if you don’t — and your kid(s) are twenty months or older and not potty-trained, please read on to learn from my mistakes!

potty training

Mistake # 1: We were inconsistent.

This one is obvious by now. We started and stopped. We traveled long distances. We used different methods during different parts of the day. Don’t do any of these things when you start to potty train! You are teaching your toddler a new skill learned through consistency and repetition.

Mistake # 2: We used pull-ups.

This goes with number one. The feeling and sensation of a pull-up is just like a diaper and muscle memory is a real thing. Jane also recommends going without underpants for the first three weeks because even those can connect your child to their prior potty experience.

Mistake # 3: We didn’t announce the plan.

We made a half-baked decision to potty train our twins. We didn’t prepare them that it was coming, like we typically do with a holiday, vacation, or other notable event. Remember, this is a big shift. Your child is learning to control their bladder and bowels for the first time ever. Orchestrating a complete change in bodily function requires clear communication.

Mistake # 4: We didn’t do it all at once.

In line with mistake number one, we also did not create a clear demarcation between pre- and post-potty life. (This is such a big deal that it requires its own place in this list.) In the best-case scenario, the day you start potty training is the day you announce you are “throwing away the diapers.”  And get this — you should also start potty training for nighttime from day one!

Mistake # 5: We started too late.

This one is completely from the book; I do not know this firsthand. Jamie says that most toddlers are ready to learn by twenty months — and not just learn but learn quickly and permanently. Now it’s hard for me to picture my twins completing this journey at that age, but it could just be my denial talking.

Learn from Your Mistakes, Celebrate Your Wins!

By no means is this an exhaustive list. (It’s worth mention that my nagging and tic-tac incentives are highly suspect for additional “mistakes.”)  What I’ve shared represents the biggest pitfalls my family encountered. For step-by-step instructions on how to potty train your toddler, I highly recommend Jane’s book. More than helpful, it is truly a delightful and humorous read.

Now that I’ve come clean with my biggest parenting fail, I’d also like to mention my biggest win. Drum roll please. Without a doubt, my biggest parenting win was dressing my toddlers like Wayne’s World characters for Halloween. And since this is a much better picture than potties, please enjoy:

waynes world

Bonus! The twins and my favorite potty training songs and phrases:

I use this one throughout the day as a friendly reminder. Using this phrase, I feel cool and casual (read: not a nag) while empowering my kids with body communication and autonomy.

+ Check with your body! Does it have to potty? 

I use this one to sing (or rap) them through the steps as they go potty.

+ Pull down your pants
Sit on the seat
Scoot back, lean forward
So its nice and neat

{tinkle tinkle tinkle}

Wipe your buns and
Pull up your pants
Close the seat
Do the potty dance!

{feel free to join in on the celebratory dance, ours kind of looks like The Carlton}

I just made this one up because three’s a charm — use this whenever!

+ When you have to poop
When you have to pee
That’s when we use the pottyyyy!

Do you have to go?
Quick, follow me!
Let’s go use the pottyyyy!

potty dance

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