Have you ever cried because someone wouldn’t poop in a toilet? I am guessing that the answer for the average person is no. If your answer happens to be yes, then I honestly hope your experience was nothing like mine. I hope you have never lost all hope and sat on the floor of your bathroom and cried hysterically over someone not pooping.
My oldest son is a brilliant, funny, silly, athletic boy who loves all things reptile. People who have met him in the last few years never believe me when I tell stories of what he was like from ages 3-6. They think I am exaggerating and dramatic, and I know there have been a few people who just thought I outright made this shit up, no pun intended. But I can guarantee you it was real. I lived three years of potty-training hell and not to be glib about it, those were some of the darkest and most stressful years of my life.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the story, let’s talk about potty-training one of the hottest parenting topics. EVERYBODY has an opinion on potty-training these days, and there are a lot of views to be had on the subject. One doesn’t even need to be a parent or early childhood teacher to tout their opinion. I know people with no potty-training experience whatsoever who loved to make comments when I was going through this ordeal. But here is the thing, every child is different. Like other developmental skills, potty-training is not going to happen at the same time for everyone, there is no one size fits all approach. Now, this is the part that really gets under my skin, parent shaming. No one has the right to shame a parent because their child is not potty trained. No one gets to judge those parents or that child. Also, the parent whose kid happens to potty train so cooperatively before 3 is not a genius or a super parent who gets to lord it over other kids and their parents. Their kid is not smarter or better than the kid who doesn’t make it there until later.
You should, by all means, be proud of your potty-trained child. PLEASE be proud. BE happy, be excited, enjoy life. I give you license (not that you need my permission) to jump up and down, pop a bottle of champagne, and celebrate. It’s a significant accomplishment. Just don’t use that accomplishment as a means to think that you or your child is better than anyone else. I will step down off my soapbox now.
The average age for a typically developed child is around 27-40 months. First off, that is a big range. Also read that first part again, go ahead, I’ll wait. Typically Developed are the keywords. Turns out, mine wasn’t ready nor typically developed. Question is how do you know if your child is ready? You look for the signs of readiness. The Mayo Clinic sites these (and I agree with them which is why I posted them)
Is your child ready? Ask yourself:
Can your child walk to and sit on a toilet?
Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?
Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?
Can your child understand and follow basic directions?
Can your child communicate when he or she needs to go?
Does your child seem interested in using the toilet or wearing “big-kid” underwear?
If you answered mostly yes, your child might be ready. If you answered mostly no, you might want to wait — especially if your child is about to face a major change, such as a move or the arrival of a new sibling. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/potty-training/art-20045230
*During this process, we threw both those things in his direction.
I presented all this background knowledge so that my story makes more sense. So, after much ado, here we go. As mentioned in a previous post, my second son was born exactly two weeks after my oldest turned 3. MAJOR CHANGE in his life. Huge, wrecking ball, gorillas in the camp style change. We didn’t know at the time that he would be diagnosed with anxiety a little bit down the line. We knew he had Sensory Processing Disorder. He had been seeing an occupational therapist and a speech therapist for about a year. The anxiety was a curveball we weren’t expecting.
Until the age of three, his therapy was free through the Infant and Toddler program in the state of Illinois. After three, we became private pay for the OT, and we could not afford it at the time, so we decided to drop it and do as much as we could at home. Our income consisted of my meager salary as a pre-K teacher in a suburb outside the city and a living stipend received by my husband at the time who was in school.
The concept of potty training had been introduced but wasn’t going anywhere fast and then BAM! Regression took hold. He refused anything and everything with the potty. Ok, it’s cool, he’s barely three and has a newborn in the house. We’ll pause for now. Only the pause became almost 3 years of terror. This is where it gets rough, so hold on…
When the regression wouldn’t budge, and he was approaching four, we decided he needed help outside what we could do. The pediatrician had no helpful advice, so we took him to a multi-discipline therapy office. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to pull out the calculator and start adding up the dollars. For the next year, he visited this office, during which he received the diagnosis of anxiety coupled with his SPD. I don’t remember how often he went, but I believe it was twice a month. These visits were roughly $150 apiece. No insurance accepted, but they were good, and it was convenient to my work. So after about 10 months of bi-weekly visits, our price tag is at $3,000. The good news was that this $3,000 achieved peeing in the potty and little to no more accidents in that realm. The poop…. Well, we are about to reach a new level.
I am going to pause for a moment so you can try to understand what was going on inside this little four-year-old body and mind. Life was confusing, new brother, and less mommy time. He feared the toilet, common among young children, especially those loud flushes. Lastly, because of the SPD, he could not make sense of the urge to go. His brain was literally unable to process the message from his body that he needed to pee. On top of that, he is dealing with anxiety. I have anxiety, and I can barely handle it at times, and I am almost 40. That’s a lot to have to deal with at 4.
Now that we have fully trained in pee, we were told no more pull-ups during the day. This would be fine except he would not poop in a toilet, nor did he wait until the evening when his sleep pull-up was on to go. He would simply poop in his pants. Usually, several times a day. That meant several changes of clothing each day. Because his bladder would also often release, he would be in urine-soaked pants as well. Most of the underwear couldn’t be saved. I estimate I spent roughly $500 on underwear during this phase. New total $3,500
The anxiety created two outcomes; he would be playing and wouldn’t tell me he had gone resulting in poop being caked all over his legs and bottom, or if we were out in public, he would hide from me. Now my anxiety took over. I would turn around in Target or the park, and he would be gone. My heart jumped into my throat every time. To make it worse, I couldn’t just run all overlooking for him, I had a baby with me. If you do not know what it is like to be afraid and feel fear every time you take your small child out in public, then I genuinely hope you never do.
The multiple accidents meant that in addition to carrying the standard supplies I needed for a baby while out, I had to carry at least 2 pairs of pants and underwear for him plus extra wipes. I changed my son’s poop-filled undies and pants pretty much anywhere you can imagine, and none of them were pleasant. At 4, he was way too big for a changing table, and even if he could fit up there, how humiliating for him. I’d find the most private place I could, always grateful when a public restroom was nearby, and I would kneel on the floor as he stood so I could clean him. Each time I would gently talk to him about using the potty to poop just like he did to pee. But no change happened.
The frustration for me was mounting. I loved this child so much, but how much more was I expected to take? I often cried when I was in private. I spent hours furiously searching the internet for other moms like me. Those searches usually found those individuals who thought they were the gods of potty training, making me believe I was a terrible failure, and something was incredibly wrong with my son. I seemed to be alone in this battle. I could not find another mom who really got what I was going through. Looking back, I know this isn’t true; but at the time, my heart was bleeding.
Just after he turned 5, and was still not pooping in the potty, we left Chicago and came to Maryland. He was supposed to start Kindergarten in the fall, but he wasn’t fully potty-trained, and the move regressed him again. The accidents became more frequent. There was no way in good conscious I could put this struggling boy in the public-school system yet. I had secured a job at a childcare center as an Assistant Director, and in the fall, he would begin there and do another year of Pre-K. So now we add $7,500 to the total bringing us to $11,000.
I want to thank the amazing, loving, caring Pre-K teachers he had at both schools who never made him feel ashamed, helped protect his privacy, and loved him through those two years. Each and every one of you is amazing.
Once in Maryland, I immediately sought out a therapist, and he still sees this amazing woman. Originally it was not covered under the insurance we had, so now we tack on another $600 until insurance kicked in. So, $11,600. His new therapist got him, she still gets him, and she has been the single most influential person in this ordeal. Because of his ridiculously high IQ, normal prizes and incentives didn’t work for him. You couldn’t use reverse psychology (which is mostly how his brother was trained, him never one to lose a challenge), my older son needed more. Finally, he started to go on the potty once in a while. Dare my heart to believe this was happening? Now his therapist suggested a big prize, what was the thing he most loved in the world. His answer to her was Disney World. So even though it had been less than a year since we took a trip there, that became the incentive. I did not care at this point. I did not care that we had just had a vacation there less than a year ago. I made a huge colorful chart with Disney stickers on it, and 100 spaces clearly labeled and hung it on his door. If he pooped in the potty 100 times, we would go. And he did. So we did. Total now $14,000.
Thinking about all of this now and writing it down, for the first time, is cathartic. I’ve tried to talk to people about it, but I find most people don’t get how truly horrible this was for me. My heart still beats a little bit faster. I still feel the anguish of that poor mom dreading a trip to Target, the mom who struggled to find swim diapers that fit so he could play in the water and the one crying her heart out sitting on a bathroom floor. My son caught me one time, I thought he had gone back to his room to play, but he must have heard me and came back. He asked, very quietly, “Why are you crying, Mommy?” I looked at him, and as calmly as I could, I said, “Because you won’t poop in the potty.” He gave me a hug and went back to playing. From time to time, he will say, “Hey Mom, remember that time you cried because I wouldn’t poop in the potty?” I typically smile and say something like, “I do, I was very frustrated, but now it’s no big deal!” but inside, I am thinking, “Yes sweetheart, I do, I cried so many times. I thought I was worthless and failing you, and I stressed beyond belief on a daily basis, but I loved you so much, which is why I did what I did and went through all of it”.
He is the most amazing child, who now, like a proper nine-year-old, drives me nuts for ordinary things. I hate that his journey and mine had to be what it was, but he is happy and healthy. I have finally been able to tell someone, you, about what I went through, maybe one day I’ll even be able to laugh about it… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.