When it comes to toilet training, less is definitely more. That is, the less time and effort you have to spend on it the better. Nappies are a nuisance, but following your child around with a potty and a bottle of carpet shampoo is far more tedious.
After watching one friend take almost six months to toilet train her child – including popping the potty in her handbag for trips to the supermarket, just in case nature called in aisle three – I was determined to do it differently.
My ‘What to Expect’ book suggested I wait until we had a few quiet days to spend at home and to start training then. A few days? I was horrified by the thought of being home with my kids for a morning, never mind half the week.
My mother-in-law laughed at the idea and insisted (as mothers-in-law are wont to do) that all three of her boys had trained overnight, and before they were two. Such swift scatological success sounded OK to me, and I pressed her for more information. Unfortunately, she was vaguer on the actual methods employed, but thought that she might have simply hidden the nappies, produced a potty and had a few words, after which they were all magically continent.
Sick to death of disposables and with a second baby on the way I was desperate enough to try it.
And so it came to pass that I explained to my barely two-year-old son that nappies were out, big boy pants were in and I’d buy him a new toy car for good measure once he’d learned to use the toilet. He gravely absorbed the information and promised he would try, whilst at the same time urinating all over my feet.
We had another little chat the next day, and the next, with the same outcome each time: solemn promises and sodden pants. Lumbering through my third trimester, with an international move looming soon after I’d given birth I decided that nappies weren’t such a bad idea after all and promptly abandoned the whole plan.
And then a strange thing happened. Twelve weeks later, having shown no intervening interest whatsoever in regulating any of his bodily functions my son awoke one morning and announced that he was ready for the big boy pants.
Unfortunately this was also the morning that he and I were to fly to Canada, along with my newborn daughter, their father having sensibly jumped on a plane pretty soon after I’d left the delivery suite. I reminded him that we would be going on a looooong trip and perhaps he could wait until it was over, but he was having none of it. As he proudly informed every flight attendant, customs official and taxi driver we encountered in the 38-hour journey, he was wearing big boy pants now.
Travelling as I was without my husband, I’d had visions that both children would sleep all the way to their new country, waking only for transfers. Uh-uh.
Instead I spent the best part of a day and a half negotiating the confined environs of airline toilets on at least an hourly basis, daughter permanently strapped to my chest, son constantly with his pants around his ankles, insisting he could wipe by himself.
To his credit by the time we arrived in Montreal he was actually pretty much done. I think of it now as the shock and awe approach to training: I was both shocked and awed that he could do it so quickly once he’d made up his mind. So too I suspect was my husband’s boss, who when he came to visit us on day two was greeted with the news, “I just did an enormous poo. It was terrific!”
A few years later it was my daughter’s turn, but I decided to play it cool. I’d learned my lesson: when it came to ditching the diapers there was obviously no point pushing, threatening or cajoling. She was a bright girl and a quick learner – surely it would happen soon.
Only it didn’t. Approaching three she was still gaily ploughing through the pull-ups. She always knew when she’d done the deed and whined to be changed, but seemed quite incapable or unwilling to cut out the middleman (me).
In hindsight I wonder if given the princess she was and remains I should have tried a different tack. Quite possibly our red plastic turtle potty was beneath her dignity, and maybe if I’d been able to find one in pink, with a sequin trim and a mirror plated bottom so that she could see herself at all times she would have been much more compliant.
So again I begged and I bribed, desperate after five uninterrupted years of nappies never to see another bare bottom unless it belonged to George Clooney. Alas, once more to no avail. She continued to merrily soil herself with both abandon and glee, apparently oblivious to the fact that she had actually had any control over the whole process.
But just when I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to label her nappies for school things changed. The turning point came when we were over at the home of her best (and younger) friend April, who had recently obtained bladder control and was keen to strut her stuff on the potty in the middle of the kitchen whilst her mother and I had coffee.
Fiercely competitive and just a tad driven, my daughter noted the praise bestowed on April, peeled off her nappy and sat down, concentrating fiercely, on the same potty for 20 minutes until she too had something to show us. Then she stood up, asked for a pair of pink panties, and we never looked back.
Those days are well behind me now, but I’m still unsure if this form of abrupt toilet training applies to all children. I really have no idea how it happened and whilst extremely grateful can’t honestly take any credit for the fact that, once they decided they were ready, both my kids nixed their nappies within a day, including overnight.
As soon as I’m a mother-in-law myself though I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say on the topic.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem