Potty Training Power Struggles: Part 1

You know that old expression, "it's not you, it's me?" I have reached the conclusion that when it comes to my children and potty training, I can honestly say to them, "it's not me, it's you."
After 3 children and 15 different tactics I still haven't seemed to master the art of potty training, but upon reflection I realized, it's not me.
The Husband and I are both so, so over changing diapers and pull-ups! We have been changing our children's diapers almost continuously since the end of 2005. Except for a small six month break, I have been changing diapers for over NINE YEARS!!! Yes, you heard that right, I have 3 children and I have been changing diapers and cleaning up crap, literally, for almost a decade of my life and I am over it!
If you just did the math you will already know what I am about to say, which is that each one of my children has potty trained WELL past 3 years old. Snowflake finally got it at 3 1/2, Raindrop at 4 (FOUR!!!!), and Starman.....well, *sigh* let's just hope it is sooner rather than later (but, we will discuss that in Part 2). But truthfully, I really don't feel like I can do this much longer. I am ready now.
Some smug parents out there will be reading this, chuckling and patting themselves on the back about how amazing they are, and how amazing it is that they potty trained their child at 18 months, or 2 years....or even before 3. I am here to burst your bubble. It wasn't you. Your child made that choice. Children do it when they are ready and no amount of parental desire or creative tactics will work. In fact, I suspect that this may simply be a nature over nurture thing. Some kids are more inclined than others.
I am basing that conclusion on the fact that we have had the exact same results with all three kids despite the fact that we have tackled the problem very differently all three times:
With our first we did what every first time parents do, we researched the holy heck out of the subject. I painstakingly filled out the checklists, such as "Is your child ready?," and we purchased everything we needed in preparation. At 2 years we started mentioning the potty and taking her with us when we went so we could model.
At 2 1/2 we did the three days program, and taking two days off of work, I made sure I was home for 5 straight days to accomplish this. At the end of the 3 days it was a miracle! She was totally potty trained.....right up until a week later when she said, "Mommy, me no like the potty. Me all done, K?"
Ummm......no, it is very much NOT ok.
But true to her word, despite being in underwear (and me on my hands and knees cleaning), she refused to budge. Four weeks later I finally caved and put her back in pull-ups. Back to research mode. This time we had the family over and we threw a "potty party" (you can roll your eyes now, I usually do) and celebrated throwing away her diapers. We hung up a sticker chart and bought a giant train and put it up where she could see it, but couldn't touch it. She used the potty and we all cheered. The party was over and she stayed dry for a whole 3 weeks right up until the day she completed her sticker chart and got her train. The next day she had an accident, which was chalked up to the learning process....a week later, she had stopped going in the potty completely. Repeating the whole process from sticker chart, to reward (Chuck-E-Cheese this time) to regression, our frustration level was rising.
I took the train.
I was so frustrated at this point. She COULD do it. She just WOULDN'T. They say don't do negative consequences but after 3 months of regression and refusal, I tried taking privileges or putting her in her room after accidents, making her clean herself up, changing her less often. Nothing worked.
It took a year, but one day after we moved into our new house she woke up one day, just shy of 3 1/2 and said to me over breakfast, "Ok Mom. I think I will use the potty now." And that was it. Just like that it was all over.
Along comes Raindrop. We decided to change tactics, saying we weren't going to push potty training at all until she reached 3. Figuring that maybe by changing tactics, we would have more success the second time around. Oh, how foolish we were.
Right before her third birthday, Raindrop started using the potty to pee. Yay! Success! I did nothing, She figured it all out on her own. I finally had one that got it right!
Then I found out I was pregnant and became violently "morning" sick from sun-up to sun-down. Raindrop stopped using the potty, but since we were in underwear by this point I wasn't willing to backtrack. I was committed and we were going to press on. 
From April to August I kept that girl in underwear. I was NOT giving in. I was on anti-nausea meds and even with them I was vomiting 2-5 times a day and miserable all the time, but still spent hours on my hands and knees steam cleaning poop and pee out of my carpet EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
This went on for four months. Right before she started preschool I put her back in pull-ups. I gave up and waved the white flag. At seven months pregnant, I couldn't take it anymore. I put her in underwear to send her to school and hoped for the best, but as soon as she was back home she was back in a pull-up. She actually made it to February before the truth came out at school that she wasn't in fact truly potty trained (which we promptly blamed on the new baby).
The thing with Raindrop's journey was that the previous May, because she was pooping daily in her underwear (when it wasn't on my floor, which she did purposefully), she developed a horrible, horrible staph infection from a diaper rash. Despite multiple rounds of different antibiotics, it spread. It spread and spread until by August it went from the backs of her thighs all the way up to her mid-back. She was missing huge chunks of skin. (I still have pictures, but they are way too graphic and horrible to post on this blog.) Our church put our family on their prayer chain. It was bad. It was really, really bad. Every time I changed her diaper she bled....profusely. I cried a lot. I pleaded with her. I offered her the world if she would just go in the potty. Nothing worked.
In September (around the start of preschool and while I was still pregnant) we took her to a specialist and a dermatologist. They told me if she didn't potty train and soon, that the staph infection could spread to her bloodstream and she could be at risk for a fatal blood infection. (Two more churches added us to their prayer chains.)
Potty training had suddenly turned into an all-out battle to save my daughter's life. But, despite the doctor's dire warnings to her that she would be hurting herself if she didn't potty train, she remained unmoved. We went back to the pediatrician. We established that she had a food dye allergy, and that helped us clear up the staph infection a little bit, but it continued on in a milder form. Then she got a strep infection in her open sores. We managed to clear that up quickly, but the damage was beginning to leave scars.  
The pediatrician commented in January that she had been practicing for decades and had never seen a child as stubborn as my daughter. We were recommended to get a counselor. After that she worried that there was something physically wrong and we were referred to a special department at Children's Hospital.  Miraculously, a week before her fourth birthday, and two weeks before our appointment at Children's, she woke up one day and said "Mommy, I am going to use the potty today." And with that declaration we never looked back. We cancelled the appointment at the hospital 5 days shy of the appointment. The staph infection cleared up, and her scarring has almost totally faded now.

Both girls potty trained on their own time, regardless of anything we did. Tips and tricks may work for some kids, but only if they are really truly on-board. Much like sending an addict to rehab, unless they are absolutely committed to the process they may succeed for a while, but inevitably they will relapse.
Next Week 
Here ends Part 1. Look for Part 2 on Friday. Find out how Starman's potty training trials are going, what tips and tricks we have found worthwhile, despite our lack of success with them, and why you shouldn't ever hand out unsolicited potty training advice (or judgment).

New Endangered Species: Elementary School Libraries

Anthropologists and archaeologists often use the term material culture. The idea is basically that we can analyze a culture by looking at the relationship between people and their materials or things. In other words, the things we surround ourselves with, the buildings we construct, and the items we ascribe importance to, all say something about our values and our beliefs in what is important. This can be easily seen in the evolution of American architecture over the last 100 years. We have moved from living room/dining room/ family room designs, where formal and informal living spaces were separated, and instead we have opted for an open concept/great room style which focuses on informally gathering all members of the household together as often as possible. This shift in architecture design reflects a change in values within our culture, moving from more rigidly traditional to much more relaxed.

It is with this lens that I wish to raise the red flag on the new school design being proposed for a future elementary school to be constructed in Douglas County, Colorado. While this is a story primarily about a local issue, the implications are far more wide spread. I would posit that the change in architecture reflects a cultural shift in priorities, and one that I personally find alarming.

The following transcription comes from the Douglas County School Board meeting on January 20, 2015. It is the explanation of the architectural plans for a new elementary school that is to be built. The new school is to be built into a hillside and contains plans to use green technology and state of the art energy saving ideas. Apparently, what it will not utilize, most likely, is a school library. Here is one of the team members discussing the project plans:
One last thing that I want to point out in the plan is that there is program for a library, and you know, that's another heated discussion these days about whether libraries are really relevant in today's educational models. What we opted to do was to perhaps take the square footage of the library and decentralize it so that each one of the neighborhoods could have its own little moment in time that looks out to the mountains, but then allow for some of that square footage to remain at the very north end of the site, which happens to be the highest point of the site, and just moving to this last view, becomes the kind of pinnacle of the school where it becomes everything from an additional classroom for the building to special projects moments in time for the kids as well as a professional development program for the school. Getting up there, you know, takes some time, but that's the whole point with the concept is that there is a correlation between how you live with your body and with your mind. I'll close by saying we can probably speak for another three hours about what we've done and with all that said, this is just the beginning. I mean, this intended to initiate a discourse on how we can move forward with developing a wonderful school for your community. Thank you for your time. (the full video of the meeting can be found here, The specific section quoted can be found at 54:45.)
Plan for the new elementary school, broken down into "neighborhoods"

 After the presentation they opened up the floor to questions and comments. The response to one unheard question was, "...it will be contemporary and progressive which is, I think, where the district is really headed in thinking about  how to educate their kids." Another member thanks him for his team's work and then comments, "it really speaks to what our vision we want education to be, you know, there is definitely a lot of thought provoking ideas that you have had."

I will tell you, it certainly doesn't speak to my ideas of education. My two girls, who attend our local public school, wake up early every Tuesday morning and triple check to make sure their checked-out books are in their backpacks. They do this because they don't want to miss library day. Just recently my first grader told me, out of the blue, that library day was her favorite day of the week. She told me that just being in the library made her happy and that it was so much fun to look through the books. What kid, raised to appreciate the written word, wouldn't want to embrace a giant room full of them?

The idea of taking libraries out of elementary schools is appalling to me, but there is an entire school of thought which argues that with the increase in technology and the ease and convenience of research on the Internet, libraries are basically irrelevant at the elementary school level. Not only do I believe libraries are still important, but librarians are even more important. And yet, in Douglas County, it is my understanding that the hiring of a school librarian is optional.

In today's plugged-in world, we need gathering spaces and information repositories regardless of whether that is a room full of computers and devices (God forbid!) or a room full of books. More importantly, we need a trained professional to help guide knowledge seekers in ways of filtering the intense barrage of non-stop information we now have access to. It is not enough to know where the information is, but also how to find it. We need to know how to separate the good information from the bad information. We need a librarian. To quote an older article from the New York times:
Libraries are more relevant than ever. They are a place for personal growth and reinvention, a place for help in navigating the information age, a gathering place for civic and cultural engagement and a trusted place for preserving culture. While the technology for accessing library materials has changed and will continue to change, our mission – to inform, to share and to gather – will not. (Full article found here)
It is all very well to have a "little moment in time" with a view, but what we really need for our children is a library, with a trained professional who can guide our children in the art of research and discernment as to the value of knowledge which has been scrutinized and reviewed. That would be a progressive idea, a vision for how I want my children to be educated. How else are we going to build the future scholars of America if we don't start by bringing them together in an atmosphere of learning and respect for information?

From a cultural materialistic perspective, the removal of libraries from elementary schools sends a clear message that we as a culture have become so segmented and individualized, such as each individual school "neighborhood" and behind our own individual technology and devices, that democratic gathering spaces like libraries apparently no longer hold the magic and meaning that they used to. Much in the way that the formal living room has gone by the wayside, apparently so goes the school library.

Support vs. Advice

Recently a friend suggested to me that since building a supportive community is so high on the priority list of this blog, I should consider doing a piece on the differences between supporting someone and giving advice. After considering that for a few days, I presented the question to all my social media contacts:
"I am working on an article about "advice" and I would love to hear from all of you. What is the worst, most hurtful or insulting piece of "advice" you have ever gotten and were you looking for support when it was given?"
The resulting comments were overwhelming. It seems almost everyone had a comment about a stranger, neighbor, friend or family member who attempted to "advise" them or "support" them in a way that actually diminished them or made them feel criticized or dismissed. I took all of these situations and tried to find some larger patterns in the myriad of responses I received. (responses provided for this piece are listed after an * and are anonymous and mostly unedited )

First I noticed quickly that the majority of responses tended to revolve around three of the most stressful things in life: weddings, health care/medical issues, and pregnancy/parenthood. These topics appear  to bring out the know-it-alls more than any other. Also, I found that the offending comments fell into three basic categories:

1. The unsolicited advice. This is the advice that you get from others that was not predicated by any sort of request for input or support. This advice can be given by both well-meaning and judgmental people. Some of the examples I received were:

*My mother informed me that breastfeeding was selfish because no one else would get the opportunity to feed the baby. That I should bottle feed so that she could feed the baby too.

*The most hurtful was unsolicited, I posted a funny story to FB about my 2 year old naming my breasts while nursing. Someone told me she was way too old to nurse, I was damaging her both physically and mentally, and that I was probably only still nursing cause I enjoyed it and was a pedophile. It hurt even more how many people agreed with this person. 

*My older son has ADHD. Before he was diagnosed, I've had well meaning friends and family members hint or just straight out say that if we were more firm, meaning spanking him, that he'd be fine.

*"you have two kids and aren't married. I think you should get your tubes tied. don't you think things are hard enough now?"

*there is one lady in one of my moms groups who's always handing out medical advice for kids, telling people they don't need to go to the dr, and even has told people to ignore their dr. She has no medical degree.

*"Please don't take it the wrong way, but it sounds to me like [your daughter's] controlling the house. What she says goes. You need to be the parents and just lay down the law. She will adjust."

2. Pointed Insult or Passive Aggressive Statement framed as "Advice" or "Support".  This is perhaps the most insidious of the advice categories. These "suggestions" are framed as friendly but are really there to belittle or embarrass the recipient of them. Examples I received include:

*you know, I always keep my house clean because I never know when people are coming over and that way I never have to be embarrassed. " <---- says person without kids 

*(after a layoff) "What do you think you did to lose your job? Is there some way you can make better choices in the future?"

*(to a mother with an adult only child) "Well when I have children, I will never have just one because that is selfish. If you are only going to have one, then you might as well not have any"

*(an older man speaking to a friend of mine in church as her son sucked on his pacifier and mumbled, somewhat loudly, in his sleep) "Oh, my daughter was colicky when she was a baby too"
"He's not colicky, he is just a noisy sleeper?"
"Oh, well that noise he's making is murder on our hearing aids."

*I was talking to a family friend about how I was going to let my son decide when he was done nursing (he was 18 months old at the time). She said I needed to be firm with him and not let him be in control and "was I going to let him have the keys to the car when he was 16 too?"

3. "Helpful" advice (often given when advice or support is sought out ) This category is one that I am very guilty of falling into sometimes. In fact, I suspect everyone has fallen into this category at one time or another. When a friend is crying and upset, or frustrated and angry, it is a natural tendency to try and "fix" the situation with "helpful" suggestions. Often times, however, those suggestions end up leaving the individual, who initially sought help, feeling angry and frustrated because the "help" they receive ends up as an excuse to push an agenda (someone who thinks you are doing it wrong and sees your need for support as an excuse to bring this fact up) or seems dismissive or callus.

*After expressing my frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed with the kids over the summer, a relative said, "Well, you are the one who chose to have that many kids." Like somehow that negates my feelings of frustration or that I am not allowed to feel that way.

*Going through chemotherapy, I also had a bunch of well meaning people bash modern medicine saying "I needed this or that" and would be healed if I did this or that. If a prism could cure me, I would of eaten them by the handful. I needed support, at least in addition to a box of prisms.I also got a lot of "did you microwave plastic, sleep by a cell phone, eat x,y, z etc" which while well meaning wasn't helpful given I was already past any prevention methods. Being told 60 seconds in the microwave could of prevented this wasn't comforting. Keep the prevention tips for those not in current treatment or at least share it with a hug!

*I somewhat recently got this as my son was having an overload meltdown at a family dinner," just don't (go to him as he was crying uncontrollably), he plays you and you give in to him. So just don't. Stay away, he'll be fine. " then as he continued to escalate she went to him & got frustrated & started to scold him.

* (A friend's Facebook post in response to a post where a homeschool mom expressed the fact that she was struggling and was counseled to send her kids to school)
Cannot handle the advice given to overwhelmed homeschooling families that they should just put their kids in school. Trading one set of overwhelming circumstances for another.

*The most hurtful piece of advice I get is free legal "advice" about my non-custodial daughter. Most people tell me I should have just left with her -essentially kidnapping her and left the state and things would have been ok. I know they are well intended, but it wouldn't have worked. i would have been legally kidnapping her and could have ended up losing her forever and been in jail. It is so hard to hear because I want nothing more than to have her be with me, but you just can't break the law.

*I had a miscarriage when I was 15, my father and the paternal grandfather told me "it was for the best, I was too young to have a baby and I didn't need to be upset." When I got pregnant at 17, I didn't tell ether of them until a couple of weeks before I had my daughter.

We can choose to be supportive rather than hand out advice, no matter how well meaning.
All these types of advice given to people left the recipients feeling criticized, less supported, hurt, angry and frustrated. None of these situations and examples reflect what we truly need, which is not a "fix" but a helping hand and a patient ear. How much better would it be if, instead of responding to a homeschool mom, who admits she is struggling, with "advice" about an agenda that her life would be better if she just put her kids in school (read: where they belong), instead respond with a simple, "it sounds like you are overwhelmed, how can I help?" Offer to help clean, hold a baby, run an errand. Any of those things qualify as supporting someone who is struggling or faltering. Even if it isn't possible to help them because of distance, time or physical capability, an earnest "Wow, you sound really overwhelmed. What is it that you feel is weighing the most heavily on you?" and then really listening without "helpful" suggestions can do wonders.

That isn't to say you can't ever give out advice, or that your advice or support will always be well received even if it is requested, but we need to make sure that it isn't unsolicited, masking a dig or insult, or is pushing an agenda. Even I am guilty of trying to fix my friends problems because I don't want to see them stressed out, hurting or overwhelmed. But, I am vowing to move forward and try to be more aware of how my suggestions are being presented and received.

This blog is all about creating communities as a way of mitigating the struggles of combining income production with caregiving and in order to do that we need to truly support each other. So, the next time someone gives you a situation that feels tempting to "fix" or provide advice, try something different instead. The following interaction was related to me by a lady I spoke with yesterday. Her friend was struggling after leaving her job to become a stay at home mother and was seeking support from her sister in law;

Friend: "I am so tired and stressed out."
Sister in Law: "Maybe you just aren't cut out to be a stay at home mom."

A better response could have been, "Oh, I didn't realize. Do you miss working?" or "How can I help? What do you need?"
We need to make the people confiding in us feel listened to and valued. Implying the person could make a situation all better by changing tactics and doing something different is not only not supportive, but can be hurtful. It implies the person seeking support has made the wrong decision, or is ignorant because if only they had the right "advice" they would see the error of their ways and change. A home schooling mom might be struggling, but that is only because she is committed to homeschooling and wants to do it as best she can. Sometimes she may feel she falls short, but that doesn't mean we get the right to question her choices, even if we don't agree.

Lastly, we don't have to agree with someone to support them. We can chime in, if asked, in a loving and positive way. Or we could say "well, what worked for us was X, Y and Z." So next time someone asks you for your opinion or let's you know they are struggling, take a minute and assess how and what you say. I know I will. 

Thank you to all my contributors who chimed in and shared your stories. I appreciate you taking the time out of your day and trusting me with some very sensitive information. God bless you all