This Potty Training Business

It’s no secret that my older son, Nolan, has been incredibly difficult to potty train. While we’ve been at it for over 3 years now, he’s only recently started pooping in the toilet regularly. It was a frustrating, never ending, exhausting time, scraping turds out of my 4 year olds underwear after he hid in the corner to poop. It didn’t matter how many times I had him sit on the toilet, or reminded him to go in the toilet and not in his underwear, he would wait until I was otherwise occupied (usually cooking dinner) to hide and drop a deposit in his pants. Then he’d deny doing it, as if I couldn’t smell it.

I tried every technique out there. I tried sticker charts, candy rewards, bribery and even making him clean his own dirty underwear and bottom in the tub. Nothing worked. Nolan just didn’t want to do it, even if all his friends had been regularly pooping in the toilet for nearly a year (or two, in some cases).

But, over the course of the last two weeks, he started telling me when he had to go, and he started sitting on the toilet, on his own accord, without crying or complaining. Every single time he’s told me he has to go, and every time he sits on that toilet, he goes.

I guess it’s true what the wise ones say; they’ll catch on when they want to catch on. No amount of stickers or new toys will prompt a child that simply doesn’t want to do it. They have to want to.

I spent over 3 years learning this painful lesson, wondering what I was doing wrong. I felt embarrassed that my 4 year old seemed to be the only one in his age group still crapping in his pants willingly. It wasn’t like he was having honest to God accidents, he was off hiding and was fully aware of the fact that he was pooping in his underwear. I couldn’t stop asking myself (and others), what am I doing wrong?

The answer, of course, was nothing. Somewhere in the past month, I gave up. I made sure Nolan always had a massive stack of underwear on hand, and made my prominent request that he kindly not do it in public or at a friends house, simply because it’s such a pain to clean up. I’d rather it happen at home. I cleaned up his messes like a robot and still numbly reminded him that big boys poop in the toilet, not their underwear. I didn’t tell him to go in his underwear, of course, but I stopped putting pressure on myself, I let go of the maniac drive I had to ensure he was fully potty trained by September. All this happened after I had a conversation with a fellow mom who’s 5 year old still had very regular poop accidents at school.

There’s strength in numbers, even when it comes to this kind of battle.

You see, hearing from all the other moms about how they potty trained their kids at 9 months and had no issues, and couldn’t imagine why I was having so much trouble, I didn’t feel any better. Hearing that another mom had tried every trick in the book with little success made me feel better. It made me stop questioning myself.

It made me think that maybe, just maybe, all kids truly are different and maybe some of them take longer than others to potty train because they’re just different. They’re just marching to the beats of their own drums. They just want to do things in their own time. Screw what some parenting book says, they’ll do it when they do it and how they want to do it.

And that doesn’t mean the mom is doing something wrong. My friend with the 5 year old who still has accidents, she’s a great mom. She works hard, she provides a great life for her son, and she’s loving and nurturing.

I’m a great mom too, even if I didn’t have my son potty trained by 9 months and playing kick ass guitar solos by 18 months. You can teach someone until you’re blue in the face but if they don’t want to learn it or aren’t ready to learn it, they won’t retain the information. It’s like math and I, really. I’ll never be ready to learn math…you know, aside from adding and subtracting and multiplying. With a calculator.

What we all need to do is stop with the “well I had my kid doing that so long ago” comments. Are they truly necessary? When a friend is clearly questioning their parenting ability based on how many turds her kid drops off in the toilet?

A more uplifting thing to say is “all kids do things in their own time“. Yes, props to the ones who potty trained their kids super early — that’s great, it is! Go you! But we’re all moms here, we’re all doing the best job we can. Your awesome mom status isn’t dependent on whether or not you have a kid potty trained easily and early, or whether your kids sleep through the night right away or still wake up multiple times at 2. Your child who may have easily caught on to those things right away is exercising that basic rule; all kids do things in their own time.

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  1. I loved this! You empowered yourself, which is awesome. You accepted where Nolan was at, and with that change happened. What’s up super mom?! 😀


    1. Thanks Sarah! I feel empowered too! Funny that feeling empowered came from letting go. 😉

  2. mscat

    My advice to new moms is always that every kid is different. They all have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. My kid is a terrible sleeper (at 2 1/2 he still ends up in my bed most nights) but he has a really sweet, kind personality and he’s really chatty. In spite of the interrupted sleep, I’ll take it. He hasn’t expressed a ton of interest in potty training, but I know we’ll get there at some point. No typically developing kid ever went to college in diapers. Sometimes you just have to let it go and see what happens.


    1. Exactly! Unfortunately with all the propaganda out there, that message gets mixed up with the other ones of “you should be doing this”.

      I’m glad you are one of the moms that focuses on the fact that every kid is different, that’s an encouraging message to relay! 🙂


  3. Tristan

    Thank you for this post. Its good to know we’re not alone in the later pottie training age. My son just turned three,, we’ve been trying to train him for a few years and we swore by his third birthday , he would be pottie trained. His birthday was yesterday, and were still cleaning up dirty filled underwear. He’s got the right idea, but often he’s just a little too late, and it usually comes without warning. Other days he does a pretty good job. Im still not quite ready to take him on outings yet without pull-ups, but i so look forward to the day i can leave the pull-ups and extra clothes at home. I know what you mean though ,, ive been watching all the others at his daycare taht are even younger than him become pottie trained and we’re still cleaning a mess.


    1. I’m sorry you’re also on the later potty training train, and not by choice. It’s frustrating and even though people tell you not to feel frustrated, you still feel it and that’s ok. Yes, all kids learn in their own time, but it’s ok to feel exasperated 😉

      Nolan’s just catching on now with the poop business. It’s been 3 years of training, so I feel you!

      Luckily Nolan never had any accidents at stores or anything. Twice at play date, but typically he was and is uncomfortable pooping in public. Even when he was in diapers, he’d hold it in til we got home. But I understand the hesitation to go out without a pull-up!


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