A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about potty training?

The mom holds the brightly colored package where her daughter can see it. “Don’t you want to go potty like a big girl? And get to wear these pretty Frozen underpants?” she asks.

The girl glances up briefly and then returns to her coloring. “Nope,” she answers.

You want the truth about potty training? I think you can handle it.

When it comes to potty training kids, there shouldn’t be a lot of stress involved. You know it will work out eventually. Most folks aren’t packing Pull-ups to take to college.

And yet, this one milestone causes quite a bit of parental stress. Perhaps this is the first time you are trying to influence your child to do something that is completely beyond your control: you cannot make them use the toilet, plain and simple.

I would like to tell you there is no reason to panic. But here’s the thing: potty training is a uniquely revealing experience for parents and for kids. Dealing with nature’s call can expose one’s true nature.

With my oldest, we told him that when he came back from a weekend visit to his grandparents he would have only big boy underwear – no more Pampers. We showed him the drawer full of Batman undies and Spiderman briefs and other assorted gear. He was impressed.

The first morning back he dutifully put on the big boy underwear and came downstairs for breakfast. He asked for OJ and drank it. He asked for apple juice and drank it. He asked for a yogurt smoothie, milk, and ice water. He drank it all. We were happy to watch this unfold, thinking his massive liquid diet would get him right to the toilet.

But our pleasure turned to concern as he began to squirm. “Need to go potty?” we asked. “No,” he replied. His face took on a pained expression. We asked him again. He insisted he did not have to go. He began to dance around doubled over, gritting his teeth. Finally my husband carried him into the bathroom where he proceeded to pee for a full five minutes.

And after that, he got it. We did not have any other stand-offs . . . around going potty. Later in life we would see his potty training self surface again: independent, stubborn, smart. Successful.

Later in life he might reflect upon our potty parenting and note a few themes down the road for us as well: Random, rigid, optimistic.

With my youngest, potty training really wasn’t on my radar (hi, child number two) until I got the reminder from the preschool that all children had to be potty trained to be in 3-Day-Threes. We still had a month of summer and I began my campaign.

“When you are three you go to the bathroom on the potty,” I mentioned casually. “Yes!” my son agreed enthusiastically. Awesome!

So a couple of weeks before school started I showed him the drawer of big boy underwear and said it was time to start wearing them. “Not yet!” he replied. When I asked why not he looked at me like I was crazy.

“Because I’m not three, silly!” he said. And he was right. His birthday wasn’t until several weeks into the school year.

I pointed out that he was almost three, good enough. No way, he said. Three was the magic number. Uh oh. Don’t want to turn this into a big, bad, dramatic thing.

So instead I turned it into a big, good, dramatic thing. I announced his Potty Day – even better than a birthday, because you only get it once. You had a Potty Party. It came with a cake. But you had to wear your big boy underwear and you had to go on the potty. (I am clearly a mastermind . . . or all that is wrong with America today. And I’m sure his older brother was like, What the heck??)

And it was a success, although the party involved a lot of bathroom togetherness. I remember sitting crouched in the corner while he perched on the potty reading books and watching Nemo on the portable DVD. Actually, it was pretty fun.

And even today he is the child that fixates on the exact details of how we said its supposed to go, who appreciates the team approach to big projects and sports, and who is super social.

And as for the parenting model? What is there to say about a mom who takes the simplest thing and makes it so complicated? Well, she is the same mom who tries to turn a challenge into a celebration. And she will sit endlessly on a stool while you work on yours. That’s saying something, right?

Because the truth is, when they’re growing and you’re parenting, ultimately you are going to do it your way, and your kids are going to do it theirs. Sometimes the best thing for everyone is to just go with the flow . . . and let them eat cake.

Want to get a better handle on potty training? Check out this scoop from the Mayo Clinic, see what Dr. Rhonda Patt recommends if a trained child has accidents, and hear a line about the loo from the best movie ever.