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Wait ‘em out: Why I potty-train the easy way

There's really no hurry.

A few days ago my daughter Clara came to me and announced, “Mommy, I think I have to go pee.” I rushed her to the bathroom, ripped off her diaper, popped her up on the toilet…and then did a mad celebratory dance while she beamed with pride. It was the first time she’d gotten the idea to use the toilet all on her own, after months of my making gentle suggestions.

That was Wednesday. Today is Saturday, and Clara has gone from all-diapers-all-the-time to all undies during the day with a precautionary Pull-Up at night (which has remained dry the last two nights.) There’s been surprisingly little stress, no resistance, and just a few puddles and midday clothing changes.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, considering all five of my kids have potty-trained in much the same way, I’m here to tell you it really can happen like that.

There’s just one trick: for potty-training this stress-free, you have to wait until they’re ready.

And by “ready” I don’t just mean “exhibiting signs of interest in the toilet.” (Clara got interested in the toilet around age 14 months, but it turned out she just wanted to throw things in it.) I don’t just mean “Will sit on the toilet when asked and eventually pee (maybe).” My personal definition of potty-training readiness is “So ready they practically do the job for you.” With each of my kids, that hasn’t happened until about 3 years old (sometimes longer.)

I don’t have any issue with moms who start earlier. But after a few frazzled false starts – full of tears, frustration and a lot of mess for both child and Mom – when my oldest kids were little, I adopted the philosophy that potty-training is a lot easier and less stressful when it’s the kid’s idea. In the words of my friend Micki: “You can either potty-train the hard way for a year, or the easy way for a week.” And my experience has definitely born that out.

Of course, that means that I have had to wait past an age that can make things inconvenient. Having a child still in diapers can be limiting. No free drop-off child care at IKEA, no Vacation Bible School.

And not everyone is going to understand your wait-it-out approach. Your mother might lay on the pressure. Your grandmother might look askance at your “big kid” still wearing a diaper and will try to tell you that all of her kids were potty-trained by one year of age.

Yes, when your very articulate two-year-old walks up to you in front of a room full of people and announces “There is poop on my butt!” it can raise a few eyebrows. I’ve heard people (well, mostly nasty Internet trolls) call moms who put off potty-training everything from lazy to coddling…to even abusive.

Abusive? I beg to differ. Lazy? No doubt about it.

On my personal “mom meter”, diapers have always registered as a mere “meh,” while grocery-store emergencies and crumpled up wet undies on the floor raise my blood pressure a good ten points. And the toddler years are stressful enough for me (#1 on my list of kid stages I could do without), so it’s just never made sense to throw an additional complication in the mix during that intense time.

And when push comes to shove, I’d rather deal with diapers and the occasional critic than wet clothes, carrying potty chairs and changes of clothes, and having to leave a full cart in the aisle while I darted for the bathroom with a toddler under my arm. So yep, putting off the potty wasn’t just to make things easier on my kids, but on me, too.

But why should choosing the path of least resistance be a no-no for moms? The way I see it, sometimes “take the easy way out” should be part of a happy mom’s philosophy. Let’s face it, there are some things you just can’t phone in or put off. Slacking off on stuff that isn’t such a big deal leaves me more emotional and physical energy for dealing with life’s biggies.

Maybe you hate diapers more than puddles, and are eager to get your toddler sitting on that toilet ASAP. You won’t get any arguments from this mama. But if you’re a mom like me who would rather wait it out until your child practically take care of the matter herself – or you just want to put off the potty until a time that you feel more ready to tackle it – then I say “good for you.”

Hold your head high and try not to feel sheepish about the fact that the other kids at playgroup have been using the potty since they were sixteen months old. I promise, they’ll never notice that your kid is a diaper holdout. And the chances are very, very slim that your kid will start diapers in Kindergarten. (I’ve never personally known a developmentally-typical kid to hold out past 3 1/2.)

And who knows? You may just become the envy of your mom’s group when your child walks up to the potty one day, climbs up, and “trains” herself.

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