Wait, did I say what I learned? I thought my daughter was supposed to be the one learning.

Then again, this is motherhood, and by now, I understand that our children teach us all the time.

So let me start at the beginning.

Potty training was going to be my nemesis. Why would I want to go through the messy process of cleaning up all that pee and poop when I could just keep throwing it away in those lovely disposable diapers and never have to think about it again? My daughter was content with diapers, I was content with diapers, can’t we just keep it all in the diapers?

And yet, just like that last month of pregnancy, where you will endure any pain to be done walking like a whale, my contentment with the sizable contents of my 2 1/2 year old’s dirty diapers waned, and I knew it was time.

Up until now, I have approached my parenting by scouting the lay of the land through books. Dr. Sears, The Baby Whisperer, you name it, I’ve probably at least skimmed it if not scoured its pages in search of all the answers so that I don’t have to make the mistakes that other people made.

But for whatever reason, that did not happen with potty training. I skimmed a book or two and found most of the information irrelevant. My daughter already understood the process — she did not need a doll that peed. We had read her a few books, She regularly went right before bath time.

So, for the first time as a parent, I set the books aside and said, I’ll just take what I’ve heard and know and do it my own way. It was scary for me — I like my instructions and I like to be prepared and preventative in my work. But I simply did not have time to read all the books on potty training. So I scrapped together a make-shift potty-chart with some left over stickers, did a Costco supply of special treats for her rewards and off we went.

Like most things in American parenting, I found myself wagering an expectation that it would be done quickly; a full day’s focus and work would get us almost, if not completely potty trained. After all, some books said you could do it in a day, and others said, in three days, and we were already ahead of the game in her understanding. Not to mention, my daughter is uniquely a quick study — when we did sleep training, it only took her three days to unlearn and relearn how to fall asleep on her own. Why would potty-training be any different?

But it was different, as I soon discovered. My day’s worth of potty training left us with several stickers on the chart but several accidents wearing underwear and two very exhausted individuals. Intuitively, I knew not to be disappointed — there were so many things to learn in this process besides just figuring out how to recognize her potty needs. So, sparing you all the details, I mentally marked the things we had learned that day, and trudged forward into the next week, deciding that the one day marathon was not for us.

I wrestled with a lot of insecurities in the days that followed. A couple friends asked me how things were going, and I was almost embarrassed to share our “so-called” progress. I wondered how people did this in one or two days, especially with other children in the house. I wondered if I was setting her up for all the “disastrous problems” I had heard so much about — the “constant accidents” or “holding her poop” or “refusal to go in public restrooms”. After all, I hadn’t read the books, so I didn’t know how to prevent those problems. I couldn’t clearly see the path in front of me of how to make this happen. All I had to go on was my mother’s intuition, more finely tuned by almost three years of parenting my daughter.  But my intuition said, “practice makes perfect” and to just keep getting in some practice time when we could and not worry when I had to put her back in diapers or pull-ups. So I tried my best to let the loud Internet and Library Book voices die away.

Here we are, three weeks in, and I am so glad I choose the “longer path”. Not just because it seems to be working for us (though we’re not fully there) but because of the life lessons I am teaching my daughter and the new perspective I am receiving as her mother.

Life Lessons: How We Learn

Babies learn things so quickly. Two year olds take a little longer. Adults take even longer. The older we are, the longer the learning process. It’s just a fact of life. Potty-training has been the first among many skills for my daughter to learn and I want her to know that it’s ok to make mistakeshow to recover from failure, and that practice makes perfect. Our approach gave her plenty of opportunities to discover these things: accidents, accidents, accidents and all the accompanying unpleasantness for both of us;  practice when we’d rather be doing something else; and the best part, when everything just clicks.  There have been some sweet moments of celebration between the two of us when, out of nowhere, she just “gets it”. I wasn’t hounding her to hurry up and figure it out. My only role was to enforce her practicing and aiding when otherwise needed. This was her body, and her skills to form. She didn’t need me to micro-manage her. She just needed my encouragement, my loving support, and my direction.

Perspective: How We Learn

Walking through this process with my daughter has given me pause for consideration of the expectations I place on myself, particularly as it relates to my own spiritual growth and maturity. I find myself caught up in the lies of believing that I need to “fix myself NOW!” and that change should happen overnight.

Yet, I see now, no one learns anything overnight. We need practice, practice, practice. And we will make mistakes after mistakes. And when we fail, we need to get right back up on the horse again and keep trying. There is no shame in mistakes — it is just how we learn. And one day, when we least expect it, we will discover that He has changed us, from the inside out, and we have reached a new milestone in our sanctification.

This is how we learn. Not by getting it right the first time, or the first ten times, but by failing and failing again until everything just clicks.

Somehow, in our world, we have formed expectations of ourselves that cripple us from growing the way God intended. And so, may this all be a sweet and lasting reminder to me that if growing and maturing in Christ is life-long, than growing and maturing in Christ will be messy and full of mistakes and failures, but we have His unconditional, never-ending love and support to get back up again and keep going until we reach that moment when everything falls into place and our practice really has made perfect. 

1 John 3:2-3 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All who have this hope in Him, purify themselves, just as He is pure.”