Parenting Quotes I’m Eating Back Today


This post was first published on Vie de Cirque in September 2014. I was having coffee yesterday morning and overheard a young woman talk about how having children wouldn’t change her routine, that it was all a matter of making the right choices. It reminded me of a blog post I wrote 4 years ago.

I once read a quote. It went a little like this:

“at the beginning of my career I had no kids and 12 principles; today I have 12 kids and no principle.”

I was blessed with 4 relatively compliant children before I gave birth to 5 more. When I was having children in my 20s, I believed <clears throat with embarrassment> that my success in raising easygoing children was no-doubt related to my stellar parenting skills. What I lacked in skills, I made-up in youthful exuberance. Now that I have experience and some skills, I will readily admit that I have no clue. It’s true. My experience parenting is like the used children’s shoes in my basement: no matter how many I keep, I can never find a pair of the right size, at the right time, for the right season.

Over the years, I have developed an expertise in each one of my children but here’s the catch: no matter how many children I have, they all come out as unique individuals. Never seen before and never to be repeated again. Isn’t human reproduction amazing that way? If 18 years of parenting has taught me anything, this is it: the lessons learned from raising this child are rarely applicable to raising that child. I still don’t know what I’m doing but I am more “zen” about it. Instead of seeing children as problems to solve, I see them as a puzzles to complete. I did not draw the picture, but with careful dedication I can help it come together.

When I think about my early years as a parent, it is often to eat back some pearl of wisdom with a generous serving of Humble Sauce. Gulp. Here are some of my gems.

“Children won’t draw on walls if they have access to paper.” Did you know that I spent the first 8 years of my life-with-children without a single drawing-on-walls incident? Then we sold a house and shortly before we moved my 3 year-old decorated a wall with black Sharpie. Now I have children who won’t draw on paper if they have access to a wall.

“I will never buy size 6 diapers.” Seems simple enough: if a child is big enough to wear size 6 diapers, he’s old enough to potty train. Right? Guess who just purchased a Costco-sized box of size 6 diapers for her 3-year-old child? Take heart, all you parents of late potty-trainers for it turns out that potty-readiness is completely out of your hands! The good news is that accepting this simple fact will make potty-training a lot easier for everyone involved.

“I won’t let myself get fat.” When I was dating my now-husband, he came to visit me at my parents’ house on his motorcycle wearing his full-leather gear. I was in the pool at the time and we couldn’t resist the temptation of taking a biker chick picture, him in his leather chaps, me in my bathing suit. I found out that I was pregnant shortly after and upon seeing the picture, my aunt – who had 4 children – said “Keep that picture because you’ll never look like this again.” I declared that I would not let maternity ruin my body. Well guess what?? Maternity never asked my opinion. Maternity took my body and turned it upside down. It moved my organs around and re-shaped my pelvis to its liking. It not only packed-on pounds as it was growing 9 healthy humans, it refused to lose even one as it was busy feeding them. I ran and I dieted and I ran some more. I stretched and planked and even starved myself at some point. It never went down. I got sick, I de-calcified my teeth, but I never lost a single breastfeeding pound. Today, after my easiest pregnancy and a beautiful home birth, I am breastfeeding a 4 month-old and a 3 year-old and I weight as much as I did during my last week of twin pregnancy. I am 60 lbs heavier than I was on that infamous picture 18 years ago and my dress size has more than doubled, going from 6 to 14. I’m definitely bringing booty back. And boobs. And legs.

“If your child is old enough to ask for breast milk, he is too old to nurse.” Refer to previous paragraph about nursing a 3 year-old. She’s been old enough to ask for milk for almost 2 years. She can explain the difference between cow’s milk (milk in a cup) and breast milk (milk in the mouth). Heck, she can ask for milk in both official languages.

What about you? Did you know everything about parenting until you had kids? What pearls of wisdom are you eating back today? Share in the humble pie!

Parenting Quotes I’m Eating Back Today


I once read a quote. It went a little like this: “at the beginning of my career I had no kids and 12 principles; today I have 12 kids and no principle.” I was blessed with 4 relatively compliant children before I gave birth to 4 more. When I was having children in my 20s, I believed – clears throat with embarrassment — that my success in raising easygoing children was no-doubt related to my stellar parenting skills. What I lacked in skills, I made-up in youthful exuberance. Now that I have experience and some skills, I will readily admit that I have no clue. It’s true. My experience parenting is like the used children’s shoes in my basement: no matter how many I keep, I can never find a pair of the right size, at the right time, for the right season. Over the years, I have developed an expertise in each one of my children but here’s the catch: no matter how many children I had, they all came out as unique individuals. Never seen before and never to be repeated again. Isn’t human reproduction amazing that way? If 18 years of parenting has taught me anything, this is it: the lessons learned from raising this child are rarely applicable to raising that child. I still don’t know what I’m doing but I am more “zen” about it. Instead of seeing children as problems to solve, I see them as a puzzles to complete. I did not draw the picture, but with careful dedication I can help it come together.

When I think about my early years as a parent, it is often to eat back some pearl of wisdom with a generous serving of Humble Sauce. Gulp. Here are some of my gems.

“Children won’t draw on walls if they have access to paper.” Did you know that I spent the first 8 years of my life-with-children without a single drawing-on-walls incident? Then we sold a house and shortly before we moved my 3 year-old decorated a wall with black permanent marker. Now I have children who won’t draw on paper if they have access to a wall.

“I will never buy size 6 diapers.” Seems simple enough: if a child is big enough to wear size 6 diapers, he’s old enough to potty train. Right? Guess who just purchased a Costco-sized box of size 6 diapers for her nearly-3-year-old child? Take heart, all you parents of late potty-trainers for it turns out that potty-readiness is completely out of your hands. The good news is that accepting this simple fact will make potty-training a lot easier for everyone involved.

“I won’t let myself get fat.” When I was dating my now-husband, he came to visit me at my parents’ house on his motorcycle wearing his full-leather gear. I was in the pool at the time and we couldn’t resist the temptation to take a biker chick picture, him in his leather chaps, me in my bathing suit. I found out that I was pregnant shortly after and upon seeing the picture, my aunt – who had 4 children – said “Keep that picture because you’ll never look like this in a bathing suit ever again.” I declared that I would not let maternity ruin my body. Well guess what?? Maternity never asked my opinion. Maternity took my body and turned it upside down. It moved my organs around and re-shaped my pelvis to its liking. It not only packed-on pounds as it was growing 9 healthy humans, it refused to lose even one as it was busy feeding them. I ran and I dieted and I ran some more. I stretched and planked and even starved myself at some point. It never went down. I got sick, I de-calcified my teeth, but I never lost a single breastfeeding pound. Today, after my easiest pregnancy and a beautiful home birth, I am breastfeeding a 4 month-old and a 3 year-old and I weight as much as I did during my last week of twin pregnancy. I am 60 lbs heavier than I was on that infamous picture 18 years ago and my dress size has more than doubled, going from 6 to 14. I’m definitely bringing booty back. And boobs. And legs.

“If your child is old enough to ask for breast milk, he is too old to nurse.” Refer to previous paragraph about nursing a 3 year-old. She’s been old enough to ask for milk for almost 2 years. She can explain the difference between cow’s milk (milk in a cup) and breast milk (milk in the mouth). Heck, she can ask for milk in both official languages.

What about you? Did you know everything about parenting until you had kids? What pearls of wisdom are you eating back today? Share in the humble pie!

Unsolicited Advice: Achieving potty training success – Don’t be anal about it


True confession: I never waited for my kids to be “ready”. I potty train at 2. That’s it. None of my children (until the twins) cared about spending some time in a soiled or wet diaper. Some of them may still be in diapers had I been waiting for signs of readiness. There is a window of good will at age 2 and we jump right through it.

Our no-nonsense approach to potty training hinges on the knowledge of our potty-training children’s temperaments and the unavoidable fact that we cannot control their sphincter function. Keep cool, calm, and collected. This is not about you. First read the preamble to this potty training edition and make sure that you are in the right frame of mind to teach your child: The Potty Training Edition

1. Take time off work, or plan to stay home for 4-5 days. The key to potty-training success is repeated successes. Success is defined as peeing in appropriate places. This is very difficult and immensely frustrating if you are always on the go.

Ask me about the day I sat my potty training toddler on a cashier’s counter at a department store and she emptied her bladder. I asked for a towel and the cashier gave me 2 tissues… That’s how I learned that if I was going to keep my temper, I would have to stay home for a few days or use Pull-Ups.

Don’t set yourself and your child for failure. Being constantly on-the-go will cause setbacks that are frustrating for you and demotivating for your child.

2. Figure out what motivates your child. Our approach is based on rewards or positive reinforcement. Some children respond well to motivational charts with stickers. Others respond well to the feeling of being a big boy/big girl. Some children are motivated by a special treat. Don’t skimp on the rewards: this is for a limited time only. Once the habit of peeing/pooping in the toilet is well established, you won’t have problems removing the treat, it happens very naturally. We use Smarties all the way. If you see that one motivator is not registering, try another. One of my friends buys a big toy that goes on display on top of the fridge. She uses stickers and after 7 days without accident, the toy is theirs. My kids would get discouraged by the delayed gratification and responded better to the immediate gratification of a single Smarties candy. For the purpose of this post, I will use “Smarties” as a synonym for “reward”.

3. Reward liberally. At first, I give Smarties to everybody who pees in the toilet. It sets the mood for the potty training child.

4. On the first day, I put my child in underwear. A little note: some children will treat undies like a diaper and only have success completely naked. That’s cool too. Just have a lot of cleaning supplies handy and let go of your inhibitions. Make sure that your partner, significant other or co-parent is on board. If not, delay potty training until you can teach with one voice. I strongly advise against using any form of punishment to potty train. It causes more problems than it seems to solve at first.

5. Your goal for the first few days (it can take a few hours or a few days) is to make your child aware that she is peeing. What does peeing feels like? Before a child can learn to hold pee, she needs to learn what pee feels like. The sensation that we “need” to go is the feeling of pressure in the bladder and tightening our sphincters. The first phase of potty training is to make them aware that they are peeing. I watch them like a hawk and offer the potty but I never force them. As soon as they pee I take them to the potty and say “You peed! Next time we’ll do it on the potty”. No rant, no lecture, no disappointment. I try to get them to sit on the potty long enough to pee but this can be difficult. I make a game out of it, try to read a book, watch a movie, whatever. Otherwise, I just let them be and tell them when they pee. “Oups, another pee. Next time you’ll do it in the potty.” I always have some cleaning supplies handy because this can be a messy stage. I also buy 2 dozens cheap underwear. They have to be cheap enough to be cut and thrown out if the child has a really bad poop accident. The key to potty training success is to keep your cool in all circumstances. Scrubbing poop and swishing disgusting underwear in the toilet is not a circumstance that commands coolness. Life is too short to spend it up to your elbows in a toilet bowl. Unless you work in the septic tank business. But I’m not paid for this gig.

6. Keep body functions matter-of-fact, will ya? Peeing is no big deal. There are no air-horns going-on when you pee, are there?  Some children may be jubilant when they have early success. Jubilate with them. But for some temperaments, the jubilation is a cause of stress and increased expectations. At first, keep the horns and sirens under wrap until you get a feel for what motivates or stresses your child. I ask my early potty-trainee if she needs to go every 2 minutes. At the first sign of stress or stubbornness, I ratchet-it-down a few notches and leave my child alone. Yes, she may pee on the floor, and that’s ok: she is learning what peeing feels like. Never force your child to sit on the potty/toilet. Just walk away, make tea, go scrub your baseboards or something. At the end of a long day, I have been known to put a diaper back on. Relax, this is not a salvation issue. If you can’t respond in a constructive way DON’T RESPOND. Put a diaper on the child and pour yourself a drink or three.

7. Every time your child puts even a drop of pee in the toilet, give her a Smarties. The goal is to teach her what peeing feels like. Be liberal with the Smarties: she may want to go to the toilet every 30 seconds, fantastic!! Take her. If you get a single drop of pee every 30 seconds, give her a reward every single time. To expel a drop of pee, she is using her sphincters. This is good stuff. One of my friends (a mother of 10) uses pretzels because it makes them thirsty…. Then they need to go more often. Apple juice and pretzels, Baby! Now you understand why you are taking 4-5 days at home to do this.

8. As soon as you see the pee=potty relation consolidate, build on it. If you go to the park, bring a potty. The more time you invest in potty training during the early days, the more success you will have. If you interrupt your potty training for errands, playgroups, coffees etc, it will take longer.

9. Once your child understands what peeing feels like and can control the outflow of pee, she will naturally start to keep it in. I find that this happens naturally: when they understand what pee feels like and are motivated to do it in the toilet, they learn to hold it. This may take a day for a motivated child but it can also take longer. That’s why I don’t like any method that promises success within a certain number of days. “Success” is not potty training in 3 days, children are not machines. “Success” is peeing and pooping in appropriate places with no damage to your relationship.

10. Be ready for setbacks. Potty training is often two steps forward one step back. As your child learns to control her bladder, she can get overconfident and start having accidents again. As always, keep your cool. She is not doing this to annoy you. Stress and tension in the household can also compromise potty training. Potty training is very demanding on the child: if her brain is occupied by a sudden language spurt or a stressful situation in the family, it may take away from potty training. Once again, keep your cool and stay the course.

11. The answer to any and every accident is calm and composed: “Oups, you had an accident! Next time you’ll do it in the toilet.” Don’t rant, don’t argue. Walk away, go make tea, call your girlfriend or take-up crochet. I usually just check Instagram and see what cooler people are up to.

12. Just stay the course. Remember that the most important key to success is not to let potty training turn into a power struggle. You will lose that struggle. It’s as simple a physiology: you cannot control someone’s sphincters. On the up side, your child cannot control your response. Manage what you can control and let go of what you can’t. Remain unaffected by your toddler’s antics. Respond constructively or don’t respond. It’s ok to ignore the bad stuff, how do you think I went this far without taking-up drinking?

13. If you have questions, just leave a comment. Don’t get married to a deadline, those only cause friction and stress. After 5 days in underwear, if your child shows no awareness of her need to pee, nor willingness or ability to go on the potty, stop and wait another month. If after 5 days your child has anxiety or throws tantrums at the sight of the potty, stop and waits another month. If your partner supports harsh methods of potty training and punishes your child when she pees in inappropriate places, stop and get a supportive partner. If your child is scared of the toilet, use a potty. If your child doesn’t want to use the potty, try a toilet adjuster. If your child is severely constipated or has pain when urinating, stop and seek medical attention.

Recap:

You cannot your child’s sphincters, your child’s mind or your child’s temper.

You can control your response, your temper, the purchase of diapers.

The key to success is to know the difference between what you can control and what you can’t and acting accordingly. Stay calm and happy potty training!

Unsolicited advice : The potty training edition.


I posted a reply about potty training on a local parenting group. As I was writing it, it occurred to me that I had already given the same advice on the same group page. And elsewhere. Many, many, times. In fact, if I had a dime every time someone asked me for potty training advice and I answered, I would be a millionaire. In fact, I would be a “Parenting Expert”. Heck, by now I may even be on Oprah… Or whatever show people are on these days.

Maybe you came to that post through Google. Maybe you did a Google search about “potty training advice” and the robots lead you here. And maybe right now, you are expecting me to tell you how I trained my kids in 3 days with no accident. Maybe you are expecting to read on how to train your kid in 3 days with no accident. Presumably, and unfortunately, you’ve been trying for 3 months with no success and you are desperately looking for the magic word, the key to unlock your child’s underwear potential. This post may disappoint you.

Because I am not going to tell you how to train your child, even though several of my 6 potty-trained children trained in (almost) 3 days without (barely any) accident. Nope. In this post, I will tell you how to train yourself so your child can train herself.

(I feel like I should add that this post applies to children and parents who do not have any physical or mental illnesses that could undermine the potty training process. But we knew that, right? Goes without saying.)

Whenever parents write to me for potty training advice, their story comes in variations of:

–          We started potty training. It worked at first, and then we had a setback (new baby, travel, illness etc.).

OR

–          We started potty training and it never worked.

Now potty training is a scene right out of a horror movie. There is screaming, crying and threatening and that’s saying nothing about the child. There is hiding in a closet to poop or pee, and when not hiding there is laughing while soiling pants in front of the parents. Poop and pee is either coming out in inappropriate places, undies being the least of it, or has completely stopped coming out.  There is suffering the complications of retained fluids and feces: bladder infections, anal injuries, severe constipation. The relationship with the child is going down the drain (pun intended). Every week brings a new gimmick, a new approach, a new potty training miracle method. Parents and child go through positive reinforcement, threats, punishments, rewards, stickers, Smarties, in short cycles of emotionally charged back-and-forth.

STOP. IT’S NOT WORKING. STOP, PLEASE.

There are a few important principles of potty training that need to be well-understood before success can be achieved. Accepting them may not lead your child to toilet reliability overnight but it will save your sanity and prevent any long term physical and emotional damage in your child’s toilet parts.

Principle 1 : You cannot use the toilet for your child and you cannot make your child poop or pee. This may sound so obvious, but this is where most parents bite the dust and stay down. Potty training may be the first time parents have no control over what their child does or decides not to do. Your children’s sphincters are completely out of your reach. The interaction between your child’s brain and her sphincter is ever farther out of your reach.

When parents ask me for potty training advice, I often feel like they are asking me “How can I control my child’s sphincters?” You can’t, you never will. None of us who have achieved early potty training success have done so because we could control our child’s bowel/bladder function. We did because our children were willing, able and receptive to potty training.

If you feel like potty training is a loss of control and you are grasping for a way to retain control; if you feel like you are caught in a battle of wills with your child over potty training, stop. Put your child back in diapers and start again when you accept that this matter is out of your hands.

Principle 2: There is a difference between normal potty behaviour and abnormal potty behaviour. Don’t ignore abnormal potty behaviour. When emotions run high, it is too easy to lose perspective. Toddler is stubborn: normal. Toddler is defiant: normal. Toddler screams in pain when using the toilet or holds back urine for days: not normal!!  Too often, I get potty training stories that include all of the above in one sentence. Whoahhhh… If your child sounds like she’s delivering triplets, maybe it’s time to back off and let her body heal. Put your child back in diapers until her bodily functions run normally and you learn the difference between stubborn and severely constipated.

Principle 3: Using sphincters won’t happen if pain is the outcome. Toddler soils his pants; he gets a clean-up in the cold shower. That’ll teach him, right? Wrong! A cold shower was the outcome of using his sphincters. You are holding baby on the potty until she pees. She screams, you get mad, eventually you win. Right? Nope. She now associates using the potty with intense frustration and anger. Toddler poops in the closet so he gets a spanking. He was willfully defiant and you had to act. Fine. But now he associates pooping with a spanking. Don’t make pain the outcome of using the sphincters. There is two kinds of response to bowel/bladder movement: the positive response and the no response. Don’t allow pain or shame to become part of the pottying equation: remember Principle 1.

Principle 4: You potty trained a long time ago; you are conditioned to pee and poop in the toilet. Your frustration comes in part from not understanding why something so simple can be so complicated. Sit, pee, done. Right? Wrong! Deconstructing peeing and pooping really helped me understand why my child was struggling. Since birth, your child has never held a pee. He doesn’t associate the sensation of holding pee with the need to go. He doesn’t associate the need to go with the need to hold it. He doesn’t associate the need to hold it with the need to hold it long enough to find a toilet. Once he’s learned to hold it, he needs to learn to let it go, which is not the same as just going in a diaper. Then he needs to learn to let it all go and recognize the sensation of an empty bladder. It’s not that simple, it is difficult, and you getting mad only add an emotional component where one shouldn’t be.

Until you understand these principles, put your child in diapers and don’t meddle with her healthy body. Don’t allow potty training to become a battle of will: this is your responsibility. Once you have accepted those 4 principles, write to me, I’ll tell you how I potty trained my children. It may not have taken 3 days; it may not have been accident-free. But we never cried, never screamed, and only got mildly constipated.