This is part two of a story I started yesterday about how the parenting books ruined my life. Or at least my expectations for parenthood. Part one can be found here.
After Liam was about six months old he finally started sleeping better and then I did too and I was able to gain a little perspective about that stupid parenting book. It wasn’t the be all end all and it wasn’t even really written by an expert. Just some dad who’d raised a lot of kids and found a method that worked for him. In those first six months I found another book about infant sleep that was, in fact, written by someone with a few more credentials. This books gave guidelines and suggestions but overall admitted what I’d come to understand. All babies are different and all parents are different and there is no one size fits all.
I was reminded of this time in my life last week when we started potty training with my youngest. I don’t think anyone enjoys potty training but this, like sleep training Liam all those years ago, has been the thing that taps into all my fears and insecurities and feelings of parenting failures. And also I’m not good at potty training. I have four children, and I have gone through the “potty training rigamaroar” six times thus far. And it’s looking like there may be a seventh in my future. (This means that for at least two, maybe three, of my children we have had to shut it down and try again.) I have lost days, sleep and my sanity to potty training. I once had an epic crazy person tantrum as a result of potty training induced stress, which is a story I promise to tell another time.
This time around, like her sisters before her, it was the pooping that eluded Rory. My kids have the hardest time with that. Ryann would wait all day until we put on her pull up for bed time and then she would poop in that. Every night we’d go into her room about thirty minutes after she went to bed and change her. It was annoying at the time and I’m sure God was watching my frustration chuckling to himself thinking, oh honey, you have no idea what’s in store. Because then her sister came along and was all, “you think changing a diaper once a day is annoying? Hold my apple juice.” For months Louisa would silently poop in her pants and then walk around with a giant turd sticking out of her butt, fully visible in the leggings she wore. She did this multiple times a day. And no matter what we did, how frustrated we got, how often we promised her any and all rewards, or eventually threatened the removal of privileges she just could not or would not poop on the potty.
This time it looks like Rory is taking the Lou approach to potty training. It must be something in their shared hair color. She will at least try, sitting on the potty two or three times with no results before finally, stealthily pooping in her underpants. She had the peeing part down, but at least once a day I am dealing with a poop in underwear situation.
Somewhere on day nine or ten of this I found myself drowning in feelings of failure and “I’m terrible at this parenting thing” when I flashed back to Liam’s infancy days and suddenly I connected the dots.
Like with sleep training, when I went about potty training I started with a book. This particular book promised a potty trained kid in three days. It was a method that seemed simple enough, created by a mom who had potty trained a lot of kids. And like with sleep training, my kids didn’t do what the damned book said they would do.
And I had an epiphany. The problem wasn’t my failure as a parent, or my kids inability to do what the books said, or even the books themselves. The problem was the way I’d hung all my personal success and worth as a parent on an if/then equation that wasn’t accurate. The books told me that if I was effective at following this particular parenting method as it’s precisely prescribed then my kid will do X, Y, or Z. This of course led me to the assumption that if my kid didn’t do X, Y, or Z, then I wasn’t a good enough or effective parent. When I follow that logic I’m left believing that there’s something wrong with me, I’m just not good enough at this whole parenting thing and if I could just do it better my kid would not poop their pants.
For whatever reason, for me, the inability to achieve whatever results a book tells me I should be able to achieve in a specific time frame leads me to believe that all my parenting is flawed and sends me into a failure spiral so deep that I am unable to see clearly.
I’m realizing two things. One: any parenting book that tells you that their method for X,Y, or Z training (you name it potty training, sleep training, food training, not being an a**hole training) will absolutely, positively, without a doubt give you specific results within a specific time frame is lying or at least misleading. If you’re reading it with those black and white glasses you will end up frantically googling all the things to try and figure out what it is that you’re doing wrong when the reality is that every kid is different, every parent is different and there is no one size fits all in this parenting game. Beware of parenting books that deal in absolutes.
And two: when you do find yourself treading into these kinds of books with advice on specific approaches to parenting it serves you well to remember that this may be helpful but no method is bulletproof. It’s probably best to approach any parenting book/method with open eyes and open hands, knowing that it likely won’t work exactly they way it says it does and it’s probably a good idea to hold it all very loosely, and it’s definitely a good idea not to tie your own self worth and success as a parent to whether or not your child has the desired outcomes in the desired time frame. If you do it this way then you may get through X, Y, or Z training with your sanity in tact and a kid that does in fact poop on the potty. But it may not and this just means that the method didn’t work for you, or your kid or it just wasn’t the right time.
I wish I’d understood this when I read that sleep training book all those years ago. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, “it’s ok, girl. This doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. This way of doing it just may be wrong for you.” I wish I’d understood this each time I’d attempted the dreaded potty training, holding the method loosely and untied to my self worth.
For now I will just continue to remind myself that I cannot make my kids eat, sleep or poop. I literally cannot control that. And there is no method that will allow me to control any of that. I’m not weak or unqualified at parenting if I can’t get them to do those things on my timeline. All I can control is the environment in which they learn to do those things and the ways in which I help them learn it. The rest is up to them.
And any book that tells me otherwise is just like what is currently sitting in my kid's underwear. Crap.