Potty Training, Daytime and Nighttime: Secrets Revealed

Black bear and cub in YosemiteI don’t want to write about potty training. I’ll have to type the word “potty” too many times, and my true potty humor will be revealed, like a dirty diaper that manifests itself through multiple layers of clothing, in a restaurant, at the back of a plane. Plus, I don’t want to unwrap any disturbing memories for parents who suffer from potty training stress disorder (PTSD). But, I feel an obligation to share my experiences, successes and failures, with one of the stinkiest stages of raising a human.

I should clarify that I’m not going to touch number two. OK, I will share a quick story. We were on vacation and staying with family at some point in the past, I think it was last summer, or before that. I know it was before today, and I do remember that the perpetrator was our fourth child. He was probably one at the time, and I had just released him from the bathtub, when he escaped into the hallway and immediately doo-dooed on my sister-in-law’s new hardwood floor. I heard some commotion and peeked from the bathroom to see what was going down. C®@p. You guessed it.

I ran to the scene, and without really considering the ramifications, I grabbed what I could with my bare hands and carried it to the toilet! No one was there to witness it, so I announced to the rest of the house, “Um, I’m carrying poop, in my hand!” That was not a proud exclamation. I wasn’t triumphant or happy, looking for congratulations. I was scared. It was more like an urgent distress call. It was a state of emergency. All hands on the poop deck.

On the bright side… no, never mind, there is no bright side.

I should also clarify our current urination situation. We now have children at all stages of bladder control, from zero to almost fully functional, from diapers all the time, to diapers at night, to only occasionally needing a diaper at night. That’s the gamut. That’s a ton of diapers. Really, if you add them all up, it might be a ton. Gross.

OK, I’m tired of writing about poop and pee already, so I’m just going to list a few of the things I’ve seen and learned so far:

  1. Like most of the unpleasant challenges in parenting, potty training is just a stage of life, and it’s usually successful. We’ve got four down and one to go. Most days I can look back and laugh at how absurd it was to go through ten or more diapers in a day. It’s like that canoeing trip where the lake was so turbulent and there was so much snow we had to portage for three miles. Though it was grueling, and produced many aches and blisters, in hindsight, it was a good experience. Actually, potty training is never a good experience, especially in hindsight, but, it does come to an end (sorry).
  2. Potty training can be a battle, and your kids have considerable leverage. With ease and without shame, they can ruin your carpet, and bring any event to a screeching, smelly halt. Their bowel movement can become a weapon of mass destruction. As in any parenting conflict, you have to stay calm and keep emotions out of it, or at least hide them until later. Disappointment is OK. I don’t think anger or frustration are, though sometimes they can’t be avoided.
  3. Every kid is different. Our first was brilliant. At 20 months, he abandoned the diaper like a bad habit and has never looked back. Others have struggled with it, and have required reward systems, encouragement, and months of patient and sometimes not-so-patient reminders. So, you have to be flexible. The potty boot camp may work well for one kid but not another.
  4. Before the days of carpets, and houses with floors, and super-absorbent diapers, I imagine that kids just roamed free and learned quickly about the consequences of their actions, so to speak. Today, the diaper takes care of it before the kid can realize what’s happening. I think potty training could be a lot easier if it weren’t preceded by diaper training. But I’m not sure there’s any way around it.

If you’ve made it this far, I will share with you my greatest discovery in potty training. The nighttime was a mystery to us. All of our kids have needed pullups at night for at least two years after they’re trained in the day. That just seemed unreasonable to me. But, based on parenting advice, nighttime training is really just a matter of time – some kids aren’t ready, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Suspecting that was a myth propagated by the diaper companies, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Two of our kids were in diapers at night, as of last year. I set my alarm to go off at two hour increments, from 10PM to 6AM, and took them both to the bathroom five times a night, every night, for about two months. It was grueling, like a three-mile canoe portage, but at night. I lost some good somnia, and my REM are still cycling. But it worked. After two months, the older of the two was a pro, either holding it or waking herself up. The younger still had an occasional accident, so I gradually reduced the number of sleep disruptions, and now, a year later, she’s a champion.

That’s all I’ve got, for now. I have to give props to my wife, who does the majority of the potty work. It’s a thankless task and my contribution has been a fraction of hers. To all you parents out there, keep your nose plugged, keep your kids in the bathroom till they’re dressed, keep your emotions in check, and you’ll pull through.