5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Potty Training My Son

Henry is my third child. If you think that means I somehow know what I’m doing , think again. In my case, any kind of mother’s intuition I should have by now has been kept at bay by each successive year of sleep deprivation.

That’s why I haven’t been in any rush to potty train my little man.

The first time I tackled potty training I was a work-from-home mama with two, two-year-old girls and a newborn. Presumably to keep me open to future children, my mama brain has blocked out nearly all memory of those days.

But somehow, back then, little old unorganized me found time to breastfeed my always-hungry son in between rushing tiny bladders to their toddler potties.

And somehow, I won. I don’t remember how we did it or how long it took – but I know I won. It was rough though. The one phrase I remember repeating was: “I hope our landlord replaces the carpet after we move.”

But now my son is almost three and it’s time to face the inevitable: I need to potty train again. And now it’s a boy.

Now I freely admit I didn’t have a clue where to start. So I started where most Millennial moms start – I read a bunch of blogs.

In my naivety I thought that would do the trick. I was confident that my fellow mama bloggers wouldn’t hold back, that they’d guide me through this scary process with plenty of tips and relatable stories.

All I can say is: ladies, ladies, ladies… I believe you left a few things out.

Around here, the potty party has had more than a few unexpected surprises. And for you future potty trainers, I figure I better give you a heads up.

Potty training is more dangerous than I thought. And you need to brace yourself.

Here are 5 things I wish I’d known before potty training my son.

1. Bribery might backfire.

The worst thing in the world is when your kid is afraid to use the toilet. Right?


The WORST thing in the world is when your toddler becomes obsessed with going to the potty.

This nightmare scenario is exactly what happened as soon as my Henry got wise to the fact that even a few drops in the toilet was good enough to earn him “em an emies”(M&Ms).

From about 10am on that first day, the boy ran up to me EVERY. FIVE. MINUTES.

The whole day was an unending loop of “mama! mama! potty potty!!” Then we’d sit, he’d squeeze, and I’d be obligated to reward the little scammer.

By the end of the day, I was giving him 20 questions before getting up to “rush” him to the potty. “Are you sure, son? Really sure? Really really sure? Could you possibly hold it?” And don’t rush to judge me, either. At the pace we were going, I was starting to worry he’d end up potty trained with type 2 diabetes.

2. He may end up an exhibitionist.

After a week of hardcore training and months of prepping, it looks like I’ve successfully taught Henry how to hate clothing.

The naked method is everywhere on the blogs. Basically, the quicker you want your kid potty trained the more naked they need to be.

“You’re only comfortable with keeping your kid barricaded at home half-naked? Oh that’s fine. Just be okay with taking at least 6 days to potty train.

You want to use pull-ups? Oh girl, you’re in it for the long haul.  Be ready to work at it for at least a month.

But fully naked?! My goodness, he may be potty trained in a day – 3 days tops!”

I was all about getting this done ASAP so bring on the birthday suit! But for my tiny closet nudist this method has had some unexpected side effects.

Day 1 of total nakedness at home went okay. We stayed in the house and Henry peed all over it. Eventually some of that pee made it into the toilet. I think that’s called success.

Day 2 of total nakedness at home includes a 1-hour break from nudity where the kiddo gets dressed (including undies!!), plays outside, and the mommy watches their pants the whole time to see if they are staying dry.

I thought Henry would love the break and have a blast running around and playing with his sisters on the swing set.

No. All I got was a kid crying at the top of his lungs because he wanted to go inside and be naked. The clothing restrictions of the great outdoors were just too confining for my little budding nudist.

Needless to say, pastor’s kids don’t make the best exhibitionists. This new trend should be interesting.

3. Potty hugs aren’t worth it.

This should be common sense. The thing is, I had my foggy maternal instinct working against me.

When my girls were potty training, I gave them lots of hugs to make them feel safe on the big scary toilet.

Boys are different.

A hug might mean you are now unknowingly in the target zone. This happened to me today. I gave Henry some love and all I got was a shirt full of pee.

Hugging Henry is just too big of a risk. I’ll pray for you, son, but you’re on your own.

4. You’ll forget you have other kids.

At first, I thought it’d be fun to have the girls cheer on their baby brother this week.

Then I forgot Henry was a baby brother.

For this one week of his life, Henry is pretty much an only child. And my girls are okay with that. I think they’ve had about enough of schizo-mommy.

My poor girls. Here’s how pretty much all of our conversations have gone this week:

Oh yes, Nora, tell me all about your dream last… AHHH! GET OUT OF MY WAY! HENRY IS PEEING ALL OVER THE SOFA!

Gracie, that is the cutest drawing. Who is that? Mommy and.. HENRY, DON’T STAND THERE PEEING ON YOUR BLANKET. MY GOD, GET IN THE BATHROOM!!

I can’t hold a conversation. My eyes are always darting to Henry. Naked Henry. Is he squirming over there? Was that a shudder I just saw? Where is he aiming? What’s in the danger zone?

I love my girls. But when your boy does the potty dance, you drop everything and run. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of preschool, or making lunch, or worst of all – choosing your next show on Netflix.

Girls, I promise next time I’ll hit play before I sprint out of the room.

They are so annoyed with me.

5. Big boy underwear makes you cry.

I really wish I had some warning on this one. It’s the worst.

Remember how adorable you thought your kid’s poofy diaper butt looked? The big boy undies look is nothing like that. Suddenly, your baby’s cute little tush is running around in normal – miniature person clothing.

That’s not okay with me. It makes me want to sit down and order a truckload of those $40 Costco diapers.

I hadn’t realized that this is the week I have to give up my baby. But it’s true. The moment we claim victory over Henry’s potty training is the same moment I’ve got to give up his babyhood forever.

He is almost 3, so I’ll admit I’ve had plenty of time to admit defeat. But I hadn’t and no one was making me. Until this week. This week the big boy undies are winning.

I’ve always been the mom of a chocolate-obssessed, half-nudist, cuddle-crazy, big-sister lovin’ baby boy. But now he’s running around in Superman underwear.

One step closer to grown up and too many steps away from my arms. I’ll admit seeing my little Superman zoom around the house today made me cry. I thought cleaning up pee so many times would make me cry; but no, it’s that darn underwear that did it.

While some of these potty surprises took me off guard, it should’ve been no shocker that my little boy is growing up too fast. Pretty much everyone warned me about that.

So even though this week’s memories are already on their way to becoming a blurr, I’m going to do my best to hang onto as many of these little man moments I can. Because before you know it my sweet Henry boy will rush into a young Henry man.

And I’m absolutely not ready to handle that.

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It’s Not Enough That You’re a Mess

We’re in This Together

There’s a pretty comforting trend going around the mama blogosphere. It goes like this – “You’re a mess. I’m a mess. We’re all okay.”

You’ll find tons of posts following this theme. They tell hilarious stories of moms’ most embarrassing moments or their most frequent failures all with the general message – if I can make it through this, then you can too!

I’ve liked this trend for as long as I’ve been a mom. I’ll readily admit I’m a Pinterest-poser who relates way more to the messy bun mom in sweat pants.

In many ways, confession blogs give me permission to accept that I’ll never be the perfect parent I envision and more than likely, I’m always going to be a bit of a mess.

So often, that’s exactly what my sleep-deprived soul longs to hear.

These parenting posts are meant to be funny. But I wonder if they reveal a side to motherhood we need to address more seriously.

Behind the camaraderie, there’s often a lot of painful complaining.  Beneath the jokes about how hard this life is, there is often the very serious shock of nagging discontentment. While we pat each other on the back for making it through another day, there’s a side of us that seems to actually say, “how long do you think we can hold on?!”

Yes, I get a good laugh at the messy mom blogs. But when I turn my attention back to the little ones fighting in the living room, and the laundry laying on my bed, and the work emails waiting in my inbox – that’s when empathy isn’t enough.

In my muddle of tasks each day, it’s not enough to know I’m not alone. As much as I love them, I need more than other moms on my side.

The Big Picture

Of course, we know how to talk ourselves through the tough days. Mom blogs exist so we can be reminded of the bigger picture:

“Yes, life is hard and basically unbearable some days, but somehow we’ll get through this. We just need to take it one day at a time. Someday our little ones will grow up and it won’t be this hard. But for now, they need us and we love them; so it’s worth it.”

But, what if the big picture is actually bigger than that?

What I’d like to propose is that maybe the point isn’t to strive for the day when we’re done struggling. Maybe we don’t need to settle for just surviving these years. And maybe we’re meant to do more with our pain than turn it into a punchline for our friends.

I’d like to argue that you’re a better mom for being a mess. But only if you wear it well.

A Tale of Two Play Dates

Take for instance, my latest play date adventures…

One happened today. We met up with friends to celebrate a little girl’s birthday. The kids got to eat lunch at McDonald’s and then play at a local park. The sun was shining and for the first time in months it was warm enough to play outdoors without a coat.

My kids were ecstatic. They gobbled up their chicken nuggets as they shared silly stories with their friends. At the park, they ran around the playground and imagined they were pirates sailing through the ocean on the lookout for sharks. They built towers out of dirt and threw stones onto the still-frozen pond. It was a full day filled with energetic giggles followed by the rarest of 3-hour afternoon naps.

To me, this was a triumph of a play date.

Last week’s play date had a bit more character.

It had just rained, and being a city girl transplant in Montana, I didn’t think about the consequences of taking an unpaved back road to my friend’s house. When we arrived, my car was dripping with mud – which I took no notice of until I had pressed against the side of the car to undo the backseat buckles.

Great. I only had one kid out of the car and already I was a mess.

I proceeded to get out children 2 and 3; but in those few seconds, child 1 decided that mud dripping off of our car looks pretty cool and should be examined closely. Said child got mud all over his hands. I finished getting all children extracted from the vehicle and closed the door just in time to see little Henry poking at the gushy puddle. I tried to pull his hand away, but in the process I accidentally swung him around too far and smooshed the back of his coat flat against the mud-covered car.

Keep up with me now – by the time I reached the front door I had 2 muddy, messy people for my friend to welcome into her recently cleaned home.

7 lunches were made and divvyed out. Although it was a bit of marathon getting everybody settled in for lunch, it was worth it. Finally, my friend and I could plop down in the living room to chat while we enjoyed lunch with the littles and the big kids ate on their own.

But two minutes into our lunch, I heard my daughter start coughing. I had warned my friend about this lingering cough that was the stubborn hold out from Gracie’s cold. It was nothing, I had assured her. But this cough didn’t sound like nothing. It kept going. And going. And going.

After a few agonizing minutes, Grace made her way to me with tears in her eyes because she couldn’t stop coughing.

At this point, I started worrying that I’d exposed my obviously sick child to all her little friends. I hate it when other moms do that to my kids. I hated it that I was now that mom that I hate.

I tried to console Grace while figuring out whether we should just pack up and leave. But before my brain even got the chance to answer this parenting pop quiz, Grace did something she’s never done before.

She threw up. In my lap.

Next mental challenge: should I laugh this off while politely requesting some paper towels? Or do I jump into emergency mode and order bucket and rags, stat? If I was at home, this would’ve been the moment where I would’ve screamed for my husband to “hurry in here, NOW!” and he would’ve saved me while I just sat helpless and lingered in my shock. But I wasn’t at home. I had to keep it together – to comfort Grace, to keep any vomit from getting on their carpet, to not die of embarrassment and total humiliation.

So I smiled, apologized, and asked for some paper towels. Of course my friend obliged.

And while she got them for us, just to top it off, Grace threw up on me three more times.

Still keeping count? I was trying not to.

Nora somehow made it out of the play date unscathed although there was a juice spill between her and her little friend which we might as well throw into our tally since we were on such a role anyhow.

I left this play date wearing my friend’s clothes and wondering if we’d ever be invited back, or if I’d ever risk leaving the house again for any play date, ever. I was embarrassed and worn out. And a mess.

Why We Need Terrible Play Dates and Messy Moms

To state the obvious, I only want play date triumphs. I never want to relive the ones where I was frazzled and got thrown-up on. But of course we don’t get to opt out of life’s messy moments. We ought not ignore them or laugh them off too quickly either. They can serve great purpose.

Why is parenting hard? Because I am a sinful mama, raising sin-addicted children in a sin-smeared world.

What does God do with sin? He redeems it.

Isn’t the message of the Bible, that sin has messed everything up and yet through God’s plan every single bit of that mess is going to be used to bring Him glory? That our God, not only conquers sin – He shockingly incorporates it into His salvation plan before He ultimately rids the world of it.

Sin is what makes motherhood a mess. It’s why we lash out, why we give up, and why we’ll never be the consistently-loving moms we want to be. But because God has fused His eternal purpose into every action of our day-to-day lives, He’s using our breakdowns to bring about breath-taking grace too.

Our repeat failures mount a stronger argument for God’s unfailing love. Our daily sins showcase a tally of the times Christ has chosen to save us. Our tired hearts reveal the challenge His promised sanctification is ready to take on.

We need the mess of motherhood to better understand the glory of the gospel.

What glories did I see in my play date catastrophe? I saw God deepen a friendship with bonds that went well beyond my comfort zone.  I saw God strengthen my relationship with my daughter who now knows I’ll care for her whenever and wherever she needs me. I even saw God jump start my prayer life, which to be honest had been lacking.

Make the Most of Your Mess

Does the chaos of motherhood point you to Christ or to your insufficiency? It’s not enough to admit that you are a mess if it doesn’t lead you to wonder at God’s grace at work in you. There is so much of God’s glory being revealed in our  weakness.

Whatever your final straw, your breaking point, wherever you last lost it as a mom – that is where you met the limits of your faith. And that is where Christ is ready to extend it by granting you yet another measure of His unfailing love and His unbelievable grace.

So let’s admit we are weak and revel that we are Christ’s.

And the next time we are reminded of our mess, let’s not simply turn to each other in mutual resignation. Let’s encourage each other to remember the relief we have in the gospel of grace. And when we do confide our struggles or laugh about this crazy life, let’s be sure it’s with a firm hope in our God who is working all of our failures for His glory.

Because ultimately our greatest hope isn’t that we have each other, it’s that we have Christ.



3 Dollars for My Baby

It was another hectic library day. Library day mostly exists so when I see it written on my calendar I can feel like a good mom. The trip itself leave me far less confident about my parenting skills.

Strangely enough, I arrived early that day. Early is almost as stressful as late when you have a great big library waiting to be explored, 3 wide-eyed little wanderers, and no program to capture all their unbridled excitement. For those pre-Story Time moments, I knew what my mission was: get my rowdy bunch to the kids’ zone ASAP and try to restrain any screaming, fighting, or escape attempts along the way.

There was yelling to slow down hallways and begging to speed up stairs, but eventually we made it to our happy place. The toddler area is the one spot where noise is begrudgingly permitted – not coincidentally it’s also the only area of library where I feel comfortable looking other patrons in the eye.

My girls immediately darted to one of the new science exhibits. You know the type: “hands on” displays perfect for families that have a 1:1 parent/child ratio and a nightmare to moms of multiples who can’t keep track of all the hands that are “on” and throwing and squishing and trying to tear apart said educational display. I think the exhibit was supposed to be teaching us how molecules were made up of individual atoms. I think my girls had learned that foam atoms were very fun to throw and baby Henry had correctly deduced that they are delicious.

All of two minutes in, I was starting to worry we might be breaking the bounds even of library toddler haven. This was also the moment that a disheveled, middle-aged man walked up to me.

I don’t have much experience with his type. Most middle-aged men are afraid of young moms with chaotic offspring. They tend to avoid us. Unless of course they are annoyed by us to the point of confrontation – which is what I assumed was his purpose.

He was direct to say the least. Right off the bat it was: “Is he yours? That baby. Do you own him?”

Immediately I recognized that English wasn’t his first language. I also recognized that he was not smiling.

Bracing for whatever rebuke he had for me, I held Henry a bit closer and tried to muster the friendliest smile I could manage while nonchalantly prying the library display out of little man’s mouth.

“Umm… this little guy I’m holding here on my hip? The boy gumming a foam atom? Yes, this is my son. Why do you ask?”

All the man had to say was “OK.” Then he went to rummaging through his pockets.

We shared an awkward pause as he searched for God knows what in his coat, while I regained awareness of my surroundings and threw a mom-glare at my girls still ransacking the display.

Eventually, he pulled out two dollar bills.

“Here. For your baby.”

Well, this was new territory. The way he said it made me think he was trying to actually make a trade. Then came more rummaging.

“No. Here. Three dollars.”

“I, um, don’t understand sir. What is this for?”

I’m starting to notice that some social cues are a bit off. Now I’m sensing he’s not “all there.” Outwardly, I kept a consistently pleasant demeanor. Inwardly I’d just gone from timid, please don’t yell at me for being a mess of a mom to warrior mode. This weirdo wasn’t getting anywhere near my kiddos. What the heck is he getting at about my son? He’d better back up now!

He was struggling to find the right words. But very firmly, he tells me: “For your baby. Only your baby. You have baby. You take this for your baby. Only for your baby. Not you.”

And it hit me. This man was trying to make a donation. He wanted to give money to help. Well, that’s a totally different story. I softened my stance and gave my automatic American response.

“Oh. Well, thank you sir. But he doesn’t need any money. That is so nice, but we have money to take care of him. You keep that for yourself.”

“No, baby is good. Here is three dollars.”

From there he mumbled something about a bad ruler back at his home. I didn’t know how that related, but what I did understand was his fervor. In our confused dialogue his message was becoming clear.

It is good you have a baby. I want to help your baby.

Thankfully, God gave me the presence of mind to quickly push aside my pride and accept this act of kindness towards my young son.

“You are trying to be generous aren’t you, sir? We love our baby very much. Thank you for being generous towards him. I’ll use this money to help take care of Henry.”

As soon as I took his money he nodded approval and walked away. I on the other hand, was frozen for moment taking in the abrupt beauty of the previous 2 minutes. I don’t fully grasp what motivated him to give Henry three dollars. Maybe he’d had people give him a few spare dollars and he was reenacting the gesture he didn’t fully comprehend.

He gave me more than three dollars though.

With his broken words and awkward actions he confronted my misplaced priorities. I’d been focused on my failed attempt to appear put-together, but here was a man moved by a far greater image he observed. New life – rowdy, messy, unpredictable little life.. is life that still reflects the mysterious and astounding value of his Creator. How could I have forgotten the glory of the gift in my arms? The sanctity of the little lives meandering around me…

It was absolutely riveting to have someone point out my son’s astonishing worth when all day I’d been mostly preoccupied by the yogurt stains on his shirt.

For whatever reason, this man was motivated to care about and contribute to the well-being of my baby boy. And this mama will cherish the high compliment that came with those three dollars.

Next time I go out with my unruly bunch, I plan to look more strangers in the eye. I want to notice them and their value just like someone did for my Henry-boy.

And for the record, Henry got about 20 diapers out of the deal.