The Thing No One Tells You About Potty Training

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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Congratulations! Your kid just graduated to underwear! No more buying diapers. No more laying down unwilling toddlers on the floor and wiping butts. No more having to pack like you’re going on a monthlong vacation every time you leave the house. No more having to change diapers in horrific public restrooms or in the backseat of your minivan.

You survived potty training: sticker charts, cleaning out dirty underwear, bribery, begging, pleading, taking a break for a while, starting again, dashed hopes, raised fears, unwanted advice. Close the book on that chapter of your life. You don’t have to think about the poop or pee exiting your child’s body ever again.

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Except no, no way. Those of us what have gotten past diapers know that potty training is only the beginning. In fact, you are now a slave to your kid’s bathroom habits for the next, well, quite a few years. The fact is, kids still have much learning to do about peeing and pooping successfully, independently, and most of all, neatly.

In fact, this time around, I have been sort of reluctant to potty train my toddler—not just because the potty training itself is a bitch, but because of the Pandora’s box of new problems it opens. Honestly, I would be happy to keep him in diapers as long as humanly possible (but you know, raising independent children, preschool, and all that).

Here’s why:

1. The Endless Need for Accompaniment to the Bathroom

You think once they’re out of diapers, they will just go to the bathroom whenever they have the need to go. Nope. They often need bathroom reminders for years, and for a long time, they need company (especially for poops).

2. Navigating Public Restrooms

If you thought changing them on a germ-infested public changing table was bad, think about having them use public toilets. Ewww and ughhh. And ewww some more. More than once, I have thought about putting rubber gloves on my child as he enters a restroom.

3. Having Others Deal With Pottying

My kids get pretty comfortable with me helping them in the bathroom—perhaps too comfortable. They don’t always want a babysitter or another family member helping them. I get it. It’s an intimate act. But Mama needs her freedom! So please let your grandma wipe your tush just this once.

4. Accidents at School

There is a very good reason why they make you bring a shoebox with a change of clothes to school from preschool through kindergarten. Even 5- and 6-year-olds have accidents sometimes, especially when they are sitting in a classroom all day. Many don’t have a sense of time and will put off pottying until the end of the day. Others would just rather wait till they get home and don’t realize six hours is a really long time to wait, especially for a tiny little person with a tiny little bladder.

5. ‘The Potty Dance’ and Other Withholding Shenanigans

Oh, the famous potty dance. My third-grader still does it on occasion. My favorite part about it is that no matter how many times you ask them if they have to go, they flat-out deny it, even though they are prancing around like fools with their legs crossed and their butts shimmying up and down.

6. Nighttime Accidents

Daytime potty training has no bearing on nighttime for many kids. I will say that I have been very lucky in that department, with my kids being dry most nights soon after daytime potty training begins, but I know how very, very common it is for kids to need diapers, pull-ups, or mattress covers for years. It’s real, it’s common, and it can really suck.

7. Wiping Butts Forever

Soon after potty training, you totally get why your 2- or 3-year-old needs a grown-up to wipe up after a poop. But many of us will tell you that this can last for quite a few years. An informal Facebook poll put the average at about five years of grown-up assisted butt wiping. Delightful, huh?

8. Bad Aim

No matter what I do, my boys seem to have a time or two each week where their pee mysteriously ends up in a little puddle on the floor. When asked, they flatly deny they did it. Hmmm…

9. Kids Think Hand-Washing Is Optional

Or, when they do it themselves, there is a big puddle of water on the floor, and they’ve emptied out the entire soap container. You will need to be supervising hand-washing for a very long time if you want it to happen at all, or if you want it to happen without causing a torrential flood in your bathroom.

10. Car Emergencies

No matter how often you ask your children if they need to use the toilet before leaving on a car trip—and even if you force them to go beforehand—there will always be a time during the trip when someone will desperately need the bathroom. Often, it happens just as your baby has finally fallen asleep (and stopping the car would end the precious nap) or when you are miles away from an exit.

The silver lining is that it really does get better. I don’t remember the last time I had to remind my 9-year-old to use the bathroom; he can navigate public restrooms beautifully (though I have to beg him to wash his hands properly), and I haven’t wiped his butt in years (shhh…don’t tell him I ever did!).

My 3-year-old is a few weeks in to potty training and is doing a great job (believe me, I know that could change at the drop of a hat). I predict I’ll be throwing the last diapers away within the next few months, and I’ll have a newly potty-trained child in my life.

But then the next few years of fun misery will officially begin again, and I’m dreading it.

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