02 July 2011


It is often said that when a child is toilet trained earlier in its life rather than later, it is not in fact the child who is trained, but the parents.

This is entirely stupid, as I will now prove.

The first factor which must be understood is that toilet training a child is the absolute worst task in childrearing. The absolute worst. It awakens a previously unwrathful parent to her own shockingly vast capacity for unmitigated wrath. It is the task most likely to make an at-home mother long to pay some other person (perhaps the drunkard across the street or an arthritic labradoodle, any arthritic labradoodle) to take over the care of her child. It is the task most frequently begun and abandoned. It is the task most often left to fall entirely on the shoulders of mothers, as fathers simply cannot handle it.

The second factor that must be understood is that diapers are SO DISGUSTING. A child on a normal human diet excretes exactly the same thing that normal humans excrete. At some point, the horror of having her face inches from this disgustingness every day of her life outweighs a mother's doubt as to her child's readiness. She cannot continue to change diapers. The child--whether or not he can talk or has expressed interest or has attained the necessary age du jour--must be housebroken. (NB: this is why children of an at-home mother are usually toilet trained earlier in life than children whose care is divided among different persons over the course of a day. The sole caregiver wears out faster.)

So a young child becomes a candidate for toilet use. And the mother must run all day long. She must keep the child off furniture and carpets. She learns that she can no more make her child excrete than she can make him eat, sleep, or be quiet. She must clean unspeakable messes from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same. If it becomes too much, she goes back to diapers until once again she is overtaken by that disgustingness. She tilts on the brink of madness for the duration of this period. Amen, amen, no one gets it.

However, many young children succeed. They are granted the excretory epiphany. They become users of toilets and wearers of underwear, and there is much rejoicing. But still the child is young. He cannot put on his trousers in the morning; neither can he rule them in the bathroom. He is too short to climb stairs, so also to scale toilets. He is too stupid to wash his hands in the kitchen: similarly the bathroom. Thus do parents (for the fathers have begun to return at this point) RUN RUN RUN to the bathroom when the child announces his need of it, and in so doing, appear to be slaves of an untrained child.

But only to those who do not realize that if a kid too young to dress and wash himself is able to discern and communicate his need for and carry out the act of eliminating in the toilet, wizardry must almost certainly be involved.

Only to those who have never changed a diaper, or have been so long from the task that its disgustingness has somehow been forgotten.

Only to those who know neither the expense of disposable diapers nor the labor of cloth diapers.

Only to those who are unaware that a dirty diaper must be changed as promptly as a young child's call for the bathroom must be attended.

Only to those who do not understand that the greatest hero on any day of human history is not the discoverer nor the inventor nor the orator, but the child who for the first time in his life refuses to befoul himself.


Bikermom said...


Not sure you can see this but my dear daughter made this for me or dedicated it to me or....something. Diapers. Toilet training. Fun.

Heather Best said...

"...the greatest hero on any day of human history is not the discoverer nor the inventor nor the orator, but the child who for the first time in his life refuses to befoul himself."

Yesssss! We just succeeded in getting number 4 potty trained this very month. Now we only have 1 in diapers, but that can change quickly.
Thankfully my husband has as much to do with diapers and toilet training as I do. He has a stronger stomach than me.
Recently my daughter came in the house and reported that her newly potty trained brother had pooped. Daddy went outside to investigate this claim and deal with it appropriately. Come to find out, he had taken his shorts and underwear off, placed them in a nice little pile, and pooped in the yard.
Upon re-entering the house, I asked what had happened. My husband was so happy to not have to clean up the mess that he congratulated the child on this accomplishment.

Amie said...

Were you in my house 5 minutes ago??? Let's just say that I am glad that we have hard wood floors and all my furniture was free. I have no idea what made this child decide she doesn't want a diaper, but I am going with it.

Leah said...

We sort of started in the last couple of weeks, and already I've learned two things:

First, that I have no idea how to potty train a kid.

Second, that I have very little patience for children who wish to use their time sitting on the potty seat singing songs and reading books.

greatgaunts said...

The training period went so much better with the first kid. For so many reasons. Ugh.

Melrose said...

:( grrr. My first child potty trained in one day when he was 2 and 3 months. We had discussed it for months and I made a huge show of packing up the diapers one morning and announcing he was now in fact, a "big boy" and was from here on out going to use the potty. 20 min later he had pooped in the potty and he had only a handful (very small handful!) of accidents over the next couple months. He was night time trained by 2 1/2. Now my second. I began trying to train him at 2 even. I have since introduced it over and over. He is now 3 and 2 months and the child WILL NOT poop in the potty. I seriously have no idea what I will do, other than that I have taught him to take off his diaper and told him that when he decides to take it off and poop in the potty I will take him and our family to a hotel with a water park for a night!!

My 3rd is 1 1/2. I've introduced the potty by sitting him on it during diaper changes. So far nothing. My next baby I'm doing infant potty training. We'll see how it works!

Sue said...

I don't even remember training #1 son.I thought #2 son would NEVER be trained! When he was potty training age he was undergoing chemo so a whole lot of other issues came into play. He was potty trained a lot sooner than he was poopy trained - he'd run into his bedroom and close the door when he had to go #2 - my clue what he was doing! If memory serves (this boy is 29 now!) he was finally trained by the time he was 4. Anyway, I was cleaning both dirty diapers AND the side effects of chemotherapy. Ah, yes - poop and puke - the story of my life for a long time...

The Mama said...

My two girls trained easily and quickly. Despite my lack of method.

My son (16 months) is still in diapers but regularly sits (and goes!) on the potty.

I wonder if some is genetics?

Megan said...

The Mama... don't make us hate you ;P

I HATE potty training. My daughter would NOT potty train till she was 3 1/2 and I got sick of paying for diapers for two kids knowing that another was on the way. We switched to cloth. She hated them and with only a handful of accidents in about a week was trained with very little effort. My now 3 1/2 boy does great then reverts. It think I can say he is trained and then it's like we haven't even started!

I'm about five weeks now from having three in diapers. It's enough to have me pull my hair out, but I know in about 7 months it will be doing it on it's own :)

Melrose said...

now now, The Mama, child number 1 trained quickly once she started but that wasn't until she was 3! :) I remember you coming over for a play date as the birth of your second was very near and talking about how you weren't going to train her yet because you were afraid she would revert when the new baby was born...then suddenly she just did it! Megan's right, don't make us all hate you by making us think they were all potty trained at 16 mo ;D hehe

Megan, I might have to try that cloth thing. I've always done cloth but when my third moved into the same size cloth as my second, we moved the second to disposable thinking he would be training soon anyways. groan. maybe the baby will get to wear disposable while my toddler goes to cloth until he decides it feels gross enough :p

The Mama said...

She was not 3- it was 3 months or so before her third birthday! I did have big plans about that, though- it just didn't work that way.

Elizabeth said...

I LOVE this post and the ensuing comments. THANK YOU! :) I have yet to potty train my own child/ren, but I did work in a 2 year old day care for a year in which one of my main tasks was potty training. I got plenty of laughs with that voice in the back of my head saying, "you won't be laughing so hard in a few months!"

Melrose said...

lol, ok, my bad, your 3rd little guy is doing great. I'm def. trying earlier both now with my 3rd and in a few months with my baby. This whole potty training at 3 thing is NOT cool.

Anonymous said...

>> Second, that I have very little patience for children who wish to use their time sitting on the potty seat singing songs and reading books.

The legitimate (note the qualifier) occupant of the throne deserves more respect! Viva la revolucion!

Jody S. said...

Three are now potty-trained--three boys. Boy #1 started at age 2 and finished at age 3. Lots of back and forth with him. #2 refused to use the potty at all until he turned 3--and all was said and done in 2 weeks--his decision. By the time #3 turned three, I was ever-so-hopeful. But, no, it was not until I finally gave up, and Daddy found an excellent bribe, that he suddenly potty-trained at more than 3 1/2.

Girl now goes when she wants to, and maybe she would completely train if I actually put effort into it, but I just get so much more frustrated when I put effort in and fail than if I just change the diaper until she's ready. Now, if she would just be ready before December! (But I have a feeling I would have a hard time going back to changing diapers after changing none for a bit!)

Katy said...

>> Second, that I have very little patience for children who wish to use their time sitting on the potty seat singing songs and reading books.

I'm a big fan of those wishes, since it means they usually sit long enough on the potty to do something. (I'm not the sort to sit around in the bathroom with them, unless I am also doing my business....I kind of move the potty around the house, depending on what room I'm in...)

My 2 yr/9mo old completed a week of underwear-wearing (a couple of months ago he did not comprehend it at all) and we only had 2-3 accidents a day (not too bad--we have wooden floors, so it's not so bad to clean). Twice in the week he pooped on the floor (I left the room for a moment, he jumped up to play with something, and was very surprised to see the clumps behind him.) He complained to me that those "clumps" were not like the "snakes" he had accomplished in the potty chair the last THREE times he had successfully pooped in the potty chair. Maybe this is wrong of me, but I definitely encouraged him to poop in the potty so he would make more "snakes," and avoid the ugly, broke up clumps.

Friday I rolled (hopefully not cracked or broke--think just sprained) my ankle, and I've been off my feet for 2 full days (God bless my husband, and I have much more sympathy for those on strict bedrest). I think all my potty-training work is undone. Son hasn't volunteered to go once :(

(But Son2 just recently started *showing* me that his diaper is soiled, so he's aware. And I just finished dealing with a relapse with my oldest, a girl, who has technically been trained for over a year. I could start saying I'm training 3 at once, but at different stages...)

When people say it's the parents who are trained, I thought they were referring to training at 6 weeks or 5 months or whatever--the pee-in-the-sink folks (no offense to anyone who has successfully trained their infant here....)

Heather Best said...

Whenever I run into a friend from high school who has completed any measure of college degree, and she asks me what I have been doing for the past 10 years, the answer is always 'happily raising children' or some variation. But secretly, between her years of study and my successfully potty training 4 children... I think I am the more accomplished. :)

Leah said...

Anon and Katy,

I agree full well that I ought to be more patient. Usually I am pretty patient when it comes to my kid. My lack of patience surprises me.

I suppose it could have something to do with the fact that we're moving in two weeks?? Once we get settled in the new place, I intend to be more intentional about our efforts and much, much, more patient.

Katy said...

Oh, I'm not patient (or persistent); every kid so far has had 3-4 (or 5-6) "now I'm serious about this and am going to get this over with" (that's me talking). I'm sure you'll do great! I'm just too laid back (and lazy). I hope your move is a success (and maybe an empty room gated off, with nothing in it but books and a potty chair will do the trick)!

Emommy said...

Great post! Both a motivator -- Boy #2, a 15-month-old, that occasionally goes in the potty when I occasionally sit his derriere upon it, so I should act on this! -- and a reality-crasher -- why, oh why, do we have to do this AGAIN? Boy #1, just turned three, is 95% potty-trained, which, as you all know, makes some days feel like he's 5% potty-trained. Just want to throw this book out there for you book-readers (and/or moms who laugh hysterically at books purporting to "how to" any mode of parenting, ESPECIALLY potty-training): Diaper Free Before Three. Quite an interesting history of cultural expectations about potty-training in it; more academic than I thought, and more grounded in reality, too. Strange but winsome combination!

Emily Cook said...

I have thought about this post and laughed many times as I drag my feet before training child #5.

maybe when we get home from vacation.

I think he is ready to be that hero. but am I?