Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Parenting is Hard: Bathroom Edition

I am worried that I am turning into a cold mother, the kind that withholds approval and affection to get what she wants. I am not there yet, but when my daughter is wailing and I am sternly responding that the horror of the moment is the result of her own choice...well, it is hard not to just take her in my arms and tell her she can have whatever she wants if she'll just stop sobbing.

Right now Ada is upstairs with Chris getting ready for bed. No matter who does her bath, Ada always wants me there for pre-bed books. I heard Chris tell Ada to let me rest, that he and she would read books together tonight. But Ada traipsed down the steps to ask: "Mama, are you available for reading books?" How can I look at her and say "nope, actually I don't want to have anything to do with you right now" - even when that is exactly what I want to say?

A few days ago I started writing a post about Ada's (utter lack of) potty routine. I wasn't sure I was going to post it. Several times I have dealt with my frustrations by writing a post that never goes anywhere beyond personal catharsis. But I need to write about this. It may be a stretch to connect potty woes to this, but part of why I blog about infertility is the hope that others suffering similar problems will take heart that they are not alone. I need to write about what we are going through now, both to unburden myself of the frustration, embarrassment and anger, and to hope that my words can let someone else know that it is not just them.

So here is what I wrote on Sunday. Nothing has changed, except that my bile keeps rising with every wet piece of clothing and smelly load of laundry...

I have started this post a dozen or more times, while the drafts get dusty in my files. How do I write about something that embarrasses and angers me, even as I have no control over it? Even worse, when I write or talk about this, well meaning people feel compelled to give me advice. This would be great, but none of the advice (really, none of it) has worked.

Ada is less than 4 months from her 4th birthday. She has not peed in any kind of toilet or potty for over six months. That most recent time was under great duress, and caused her to sob uncontrollably even as I hugged her and told her how proud I was that she'd used the potty. Before that it was over a year since she peed in a potty. Overall she's done it maybe 4 times ever.

My child wears underwear. She only wears diapers at night, and that is because after a few weeks of trying full no diapers, we decided that it was irrational to wake her every night at 11pm to change her sheets and clothes. She sometimes wets the bed at nap time, mostly if she's gone all morning without peeing and her bladder betrays her while she sleeps.

In December, out of frustration and anger, I consulted a social worker who suggested we eliminate the power struggle by letting Ada be completely in charge of her elimination. This meant that she was free to pee or poop in her pants, but that when she did she had to clean it up on her own. Which she does, with very little complaint. The downstairs bathroom is equipped with extra clothes, wipes and plastic bags, and we've placed a mirror at her level so that she can see where she needs to clean up.  The underwear has to be washed out in the toilet before it can go in the wash, and all wet clothes are bagged and taken to the washing machine. Is she efficient? No. Does she do it? Yes. Does this satisfy me? No. On the up side, I am not cleaning her up any more.

Many of Ada's toys are potty trained. She spontaneously talks about her stuffed animals or dolls needing to use the potty, and dutifully takes them to the toilet to help them deal with their "need". Before we got to where we are now, we tried progressive rewards. We tried promises of big rewards. We tried cold turkey no diapers. We tried cajoling and questioning and all manner of techniques. Once or twice we forcibly held her down. (the result was so horrifying - arching, crying resistance - that we gave that one up pretty quickly.) We potty trained all her dolls, using a water spritzer to shoot "pee" into the potty while the dolls sat there. She loved that, was happy to train every toy she owns. But she wouldn't sit on the potty herself.

Recently Ada spontaneously started sitting on the toilet. As she describes it, she is "practicing" using the potty. My parents are thrilled. My sister offered congratulations. I want to be hopeful, but this is not the first time that Ada has shown some interest, only to pull back at a crucial moment. I have no idea why this is an issue for her, beyond my general understanding that toddlers often seize control of the few areas in which that is possible. (usually: what goes into and out of their bodies.) For whatever reason, food is not a big issue for Ada. As I have mentioned previously, she will actually eat a wide range of vegetables (as long as there is no sauce in sight) and the list of acceptable foods grows whenever a dessert is likely. But toileting is her control area. She is impervious to peer pressure.  There are plenty of 2 year olds at her school that use the potty. She doesn't care. Some of the kids have tried to show her how to use the potty, encourage her to do so, tell her she does not have to be afraid. No dice.  Ada is as resistant to peeing at school as she is at home, so it isn't just about controlling her parents.

This is the parenting area (ok, this and whining) that feels the most challenging to me right now. I had kind of promised myself not to write about it until Ada actually used the potty, but I don't know when that might be and I am routinely forced to walk away from her so that I don't express my frustration about this directly to her. Sometimes I fail. Today while plunging the toilet (a tale for another time) I told Stephanie about my frustrations, with Ada standing right there. It was a pretty crappy parenting moment, but it was all I could manage given the circumstances.

I don't really want advice. I mean, I want a magic bullet, sure, but I don't actually believe there is one. My electronic friend Mayberry Mom recently posted about all the things that have not worked with her son.  I see my family in her list and share her frustration. I am with her in asking "what the hell?"

And if anyone else says "I'm sure she'll be potty trained before she goes to college" it really is going to come to blows.


  1. Ugh! I haven't had to go down this path yet so I wouldn't even have any advice to offer. I can only offer my sympathies and hopes that it sorts itself out soon. Big hugs!

  2. Nora
    As I said yesterday, just when it seems like you're at the end of your rope, look! More rope! That's less exciting since it seems like it's just saying, "Look! More shit to eat!" but really, you can do this. We love you and Chris and Ada very much, and if we had a magic bullet, you know we'd share it. And if chocolate and bacon would help, we'd bring it.

    But all I can say is that while Motherhood shouldn't be about keeping score, you should feel free to remind Ada of this when she's 15 and refuses to do the yardwork.

    Hang in there.

  3. ugh. Ugh! That would frustrate the living hell out of me too. We have certain bedtime issues -- our 2.5 year old STILL wakes up at night. STILL. And what works one week tends to "wear off" over time too, and that's also frustrating.

    We've had to do the cold mommy and cold daddy thing too. Miraculously, our child does not seem scarred for life. I may be, however.

    I hope the potty trials come to an end very soon.

  4. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE potty training. I HATE that everyone tells me he's a boy and he'll take longer. I HATE that the doctor tells me it's a power struggle and he'll do it when he's ready. But I'M ready. I have THREE in pullups or diapers. Thats at least THREE poops a day to wipe up off a butt. And four year old poop has no business being anywhere other than in a toilet. His daycare yesterday wrote a note home to PLEASE bring him in underwear. He was SO good about staying dry all day. So I did. They have the time to take him every hour and I just don't.
    There. There's my vent right along with yours. You're not alone.

  5. Potty training is poopy! No advice, just empathy for a poopy situation. My hope is that this too will come to an end at some point!

  6. This kind of post is cathartic for me because it makes me feel better that such obviously great parents as you and Chris have crisis issues that you have to deal with, just like those that happen in my family that seems far less well-adjusted.

    So as much as I hope for your sake that things improve, I appreciate your letting us in on your struggles.

  7. and he stayed dry at school all day in underpants. came home and within 15 minutes peed all over himself and the livingroom floor

  8. you have more control than me. i would chase her around with a dead octopus saying "it's going to get you, ada!"

    i'm sorry for the frustration and anger and tears. so sorry.

  9. I'm sorry, that is really frustrating. I remember my brother's potty training years since he's 15 years younger than me, and we had issues for many years, much longer than we'd been led to believe it would take. Finding messes smeared where they shouldn't be was no fun. I hope there's a breakthrough soon.

  10. *sigh*

    Yeah, that magic bullet can show up any time now. ANY TIME.

  11. good mother. good blogger.

    It is so worth it to have the exchange.. Hey maybe you want to play this one:

  12. Just wanted to say that I'm so sorry it sounds like hell. ugh.

  13. hey there. i left a comment yesterday that appeared but is now gone. hmmm. in case it doesn't work again, i will keep it short. i am thinking of you and hoping it gets easier soon! you are far more patient than you would have us believe.

  14. I'm sorry. I have no suggestions, but I feel for you.

  15. Standing here in solidarity with you, nodding my head.

    It sucks. It does.

    And I think you are being remarkably patient and loving under the circumstances.

  16. There's a reason that potty training is consistently ranked as one of the toughest parenting challenges.

    I don't fault you for your frustration. Far from it. I completely understand it.