Parenting a toddler is such an opportunity for personal growth

My son is almost two, a really funny and interesting and independent kid who keeps growing into this really fantastic human dude. I love to watch him grow up and trust in his “programming” to guide him into whatever is next.

And yet we keep hitting these periods of frustration and stubbornness, he and I. Each time, I’ve felt like every chance of joy was being sucked out showdown by frustrating showdown. Our relationship becomes tense and anxious and while I suspect he enjoys the oncoming battles, I find them soul-sapping. I become a parent I don’t want to be with a child I can’t connect to.

My husband has saved us each time, swooping in to take over whichever transition period we’re battling over until it’s settled and all is well, leaving me feeling guilty and relieved and so grateful for myself and my son that he has two cohabiting parents.

I want to do better, though. Each time I read books and google for solutions and end up, well, where I began, but I do it because I believe in growth and learning and trying to do better.

This time we’re struggling with potty time. My son wears underwear and uses the potty at school, but owing to laziness, we’ve not been consistent with potty time at home. We know he’s capable of understanding and using the potty, but it’s turned into a battle of wills. He just doesn’t want to go! Once there, he’ll use it and be proud of himself, but going to the potty is a disaster.

We’ve tried sticking to a schedule (so now he pitches a fit at regular intervals), getting rid of pull-ups so he’ll feel the wetness (which he doesn’t seem to mind) and rewarding with M&M’s (stupid: sugar spikes don’t help) and stickers (a nice treat but not one that overwhelms his unwillingness to stop what he’s doing to go potty).

So I did what I do: I retreated to a coffee shop for an hour of quiet time with a new book, a cup of coffee and my journal. The book seemed a little hippie but I delved in and had an epiphany:

I’m struggling with the new potty schedule because while I value Javi’s independence and choices, I’ve chosen to potty train all at once, on my schedule and because I said so, without his cooperation. Despite my own values, I’m trying to bribe and declare and insist — all in frustration — so of course it’s not working. It wouldn’t work on me! In my life, with my team, I make decisions but I do so based on input, and it’s important to me that I incorporate the thoughts and opinions of the people being affected by the choice. I’m willing to decide, but I do it with them.

Now, he’s a kid, and my job as a parent is to help him deal with life, and in life you don’t always get to do what you want. Sometimes you do things because you have to — because those are the rules, because that’s what being civilized means, because it’s for your own good — but you always, always, always have choices in how you handle change. Handling it elegantly is often easier, but more important is to know we’re choosing to be gracious about it or not.

My job as a parent, then, is to decide what options he has and then let him choose freely. If I do it right, he’ll learn about choosing and consequences and impact. He’ll learn that taking advice can save you discomfort. He’ll learn to clean up after his own messes.

So, maybe his choice is to pitch a fit every time we have to go to the potty. He gets to decide! What’s the lesson? That he can fight with mama or not, and not is less miserable. Unfortunately, he’s in the development phase where he wants to be in control because he’s suddenly realized it’s an option, so not fighting with mama isn’t as deep a desire as learning what control means.

Maybe the better options to offer are to go or not go, and if he doesn’t go, he pees and gets uncomfortable and has to clean it up. I like this lesson better, despite the messiness we’re likely to encounter. It’s in line with my values (having choices and owning them, being independent, cleaning up after ourselves, letting him learn things himself) and feels like something in which we can succeed.

Whew, I feel better.

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