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Is It My Fault My Kid's Not Potty Trained?

Photograph by Getty Images

One by one, all the kids in my son’s preschool class started coming to school without diapers. I knew this because my son was enthralled by the cool Power Ranger and Spider-Man underpants his friends were sporting. I refused to push potty training on him, even though he’s over 3 years old. When he raved about other kids’ underwear, I would casually ask him if he was interested in sitting on the potty. His answer? An emphatic "NO!" (in his outdoor voice).

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I laid off. I saw no reason to push him, even though he’d be required to attend school without a diaper come September. There’s no rush, I told myself.

My husband had more success with getting him to at least sit on the potty. Then our nanny reported that my son, without prompting, asked to go to the potty. With everyone else getting such successful results, I wanted to be a part of it.

But every single time I brought up the potty, my son screamed, "No!" and ran away from me. What was it about me that made him rebel and act like the potty was a private torture chamber? My husband and nanny continued to get positive results, while my son would hardly agree to walk by the bathroom with me, much less go into it.

I realized that I needed to set him free, to get out of his way.

After some honest soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that I had a part in my son’s refusal to use the bathroom. It’s painful to admit, but there are ways in which I infantilize him, giving him subtle clues that I want (and need) him to remain a baby. For one thing, we are still nursing. And I’m in no way suggesting that extended nursing infantilizes a child, but in our case, I’m overly invested in the nursing because it keeps me from facing the truth that I don’t actually have babies anymore, and I never will again. And I’ve never forced him to nurse, but our kids know. They know when we need something from them even if we never say it directly in words — it’s in our energy and in dozens of nonverbal cues.

I also indulge my son’s requests to be carried, even though an able-bodied 3-year-old child is more than capable of walking the 30 yards from his school building to the car. And these are just a few examples of the ways I am conscious of holding him back by trying to keep him in the same place.

Armed with my new insights about my own desire for my son to remain my baby forever and ever amen, I realized that I needed to set him free, to get out of his way. I wasn’t sure how, but I started with a conversation.

“Mommy will always love you, even as you become a big boy. I don’t need you to be a baby. I support you becoming a big boy.” I held his face and said those words as I looked directly in his eyes. For a beat, he looked at me with a quizzical expression and then ran off.

What happened next could not have shocked me more than if he’d started speaking Mandarin. He grabbed my hand and asked me to take him to the potty for the first time ever. I had chills as I watched him proudly take care of himself like a big boy.

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Now, of course, I am convinced that he needed to hear my sage words to know mommy would be OK if he went ahead and grew up. I may never know, right? But it felt like magic in the moment, and in retrospect, I feel awed by the prospect that when my children are struggling to reach a milestone, I may be their biggest block. The good news is that if that’s true, then I have the power to get out of their way.

Image via Getty

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