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I tried to potty train my daughter and I failed. But looking back, I’m grateful for the experience because it taught me six important truths about motherhood–and they have nothing to do with potty training. If you’re looking for some reassurance that you’re doing a good job as a mom, read on to learn the six things potty training taught me about being a mom.

Image for a blog post: 6 Truths about Motherhood I Learned from Failing Potty Training. Diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, and white words on a pink background.

My daughter is almost 4, and she’s still not potty trained. This is not the story I thought I’d be telling. Her brother was potty trained at 2.5, and it was a fairly easy experience (or as easy as potty training can be).

My daughter is speech delayed, so I knew it would be a little tougher. Because of this, I waited a little longer than I normally would have. She just wasn’t showing any signs of being ready yet.

But then summer came. And I started to stress out because my 3.5 year old was still in diapers. Plus, I wanted to start her in dance, but I didn’t want to do it until she was potty trained because of how that would make me look. It sounds dumb saying it now, but that’s how I felt. All her friends at church were potty trained and it felt like everyone around me was talking about underwear and freedom from diapers.

The Attempt

So I decided to potty train in early June. I chose the 3-day method, since I’d used that with her brother and it worked so well with him. This method involves no pull-ups. Just three days of pushing liquids, sticking by your kid’s side, and letting them have plenty of accidents to teach the concept quicker.

Well, seven days into the three-day method, she hadn’t made any progress. She was still having constant accidents, I was cleaning our couch and carpet nonstop, and we hadn’t left the house in a week. I was a mess.

After some convincing from my husband, I decided to let go of my no-pull ups expecations and put her in pull-ups so we could leave the house, but keep her in undies anytime we were home. I kept things positive, and kept working at it, but two weeks later, things were worse than ever. She was so resistant.

And then we went on vacation, which meant we were out and about all day everyday, and being home meant being in a hotel. So she spent a week in pull-ups. But I stayed determined, and when we got home, I attempted the three-day method again.

This time around, I wasn’t as calm and positive though. I was exhausted and frustrated, ashamed and embarrassed. Why couldn’t I do this? Why couldn’t she just get it?! And one day, I got upset with her. And she cried. And I felt horrible.

I was a failure.

But since that moment, I’ve learned some important lessons about motherhood:

1. All kids are different.

No two kids are the same. Any parent of more than one child will tell you this. And just like my son potty trained in one day, whereas my daughter clearly didn’t, my three-year-old is not other three-year olds.

She wasn’t ready to potty train yet. I was forcing it on her, trying to make her like all the other three-year olds. But that wasn’t fair. She was going to go at her own pace, like she always does. And that’s one of the things I love most about her.

We’ve got to stop comparing our kids to our friend’s kids or our sister-in-law’s kids or the kids of that amazing girl we follow on Instagram. It’s not fair to us, but it’s especially not fair to them.

Our kids are our kids. They’re unique. And that’s what makes them special.

2. You know your kids best.

I knew when I started potty training that she wasn’t ready yet. There was a little voice in my head telling me, but I refused to listen to it. I was looking at parenting books and friends and that generic handout from the doctor’s office to tell me when to potty train.

But I shouldn’t have been listening to any of those things. I should have been listening to my mommy intuition. I know my kids better than anyone, and that gives me a huge advantage in raising them. But I have to listen.

Our mom intuition is like a superpower, and when we listen to it, we give our kids exactly what they need.

3. Your sanity matters.

Sometimes, as moms, we try to push ourselves past our limits. We think we should be able to do anything, so we try to do just that. We push ourselves further than we have strength. And that’s not good for anyone–not for us, not for our spouse, not for our kids.

It’s okay to have weaknesses. We all have them. And it’s okay to stop and say, “This isn’t working for me. I need a break.”

After 7 days of not leaving the house, I was a mess. But I wanted to keep pushing. I kept telling myself if we just kept at it, one day she’d get it. We just needed to stay in for another few days, a week maybe. Then she’d catch on.

But my husband knew better. He saw that she wasn’t catching on, and he saw that I was going insane being cooped up all day, waiting for her to show the signs that she needed to go (but never learning them for herself).

I had to let go of my expectations (or rather the expectations I thought society had for me), and say, “This isn’t working for us.” I had to accept that what worked for my friends and family didn’t work for us. And I had to accept that that was okay. My sanity was more important than following an ideal. And yours is too.

4. Motherhood isn’t a race.

Oh, this is such a tough one! I’m still trying to remind myself of this one. But it’s true. As much as we feel that it is, motherhood is not–and never will be–a race.

And if we’re looking at motherhood as a race, we aren’t able to give our kids what they need.

So what if your sister-in-law’s kid was reading at 3 and yours is almost 6 and still can’t read See Jane Run. It’s not a race.

So what if your best friend has 4 kids and you’re barely pregnant with number one. It’s not a race.

So what if your next door neighbor runs a successful business, is PTO president, runs 3 marathons a year, and makes all her food from scratch. It’s not a race.

Go at your own pace. You’ll be happier and your family will be too.

5. Stop looking sideways.

Throughout this whole potty-training fiasco, I was looking all around me. I was looking at all these other potty training success stories instead of focusing on my own path with my daughter.

And if I would have stopped to look at our path, I would have noticed she wasn’t ready and that this wasn’t working. In short, I would have saved our whole family a lot of heartache (and gallons of carpet cleaner).

But I was too busy looking sideways to see my own daughter.

We do this a lot as moms. We spend so much of our time looking at what everyone else is doing, that we don’t have any time or energy left to see what we’re doing.

And guess what? We’re doing a lot of good. We just miss it while we’re looking at everyone else’s successes.

Let’s make a pact right now to stop looking sideways and focus on our own path. It’s not going to look the same as our friends or our neighbors, but that’s what makes this life so beautiful. We all have our own ways, our own stories, and together we create this beautiful map of our lives.

6. Your failures do not define you.

As a perfectionist, this one is perhpas the toughest for me to accept. I want to do everything right, all of the time. I want to be everything for everyone. I want and I want and I want, but I just can’t. Because I’m human. And that’s okay.

We’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes. In fact, we’re going to make mistake after mistake after mistake after mistake. We’re going to fall down. We’re going to hurt people. We’re going to fail.

But we’re also going to pick ourselves up and keep going. We’re going to learn from our mistakes. And we’re going to try again. Because we’re moms. And that’s a powerful thing.

Our failures don’t define us. Our failures don’t change our worth. Our failures don’t say anything about who we are as a mom. We are more than the sum of our mistakes.

What matters is that we keep trying our best. That’s all we can do. And that’s enough.

Your Failures Don’t Make You A Bad Mom

So whatever that thing is that you think means you’re a bad mom, just let it go. You know, that thing you think other moms judge you for. Or that thing your kids can’t do at 8 that your friend’s kids can do at 3. Or that thing you don’t do because you don’t see the point, but feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t do it. LET IT GO.

It doesn’t make you a bad mom. It doesn’t change who you are as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re flawed or messed up or unworthy. And it doesn’t mean you don’t love or deserve your kids. Your kids are yours for a reason, so don’t let anyone or anything take that truth away from you. You’re doing a great job, mama.

If you’re looking for more inspiration in motherhood, check out these posts:

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4 comments on “6 Truths About Motherhood I Learned from Failing Potty Training”

  1. Please keep us posted on your potty training journey. My little girl is younger than yours but sounds just like your little one and our pity training failure sounds exactly like yours! I’d love to get tips on what you do next time! Thanks for this!

    • I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with potty training as well. It’s not easy! We started trying again a little over a week ago, and this time was a million times better! She has the occasional accident, but most days she stays dry all day long. A couple things that I think helped this time:

      1) We got her a doll that pees and had her potty train the doll the morning we started her training. This got her excited about the process!

      2) We bought her a little toilet that’s pink and purple (her favorite colors) and sings a song when you pee in it. She was so excited and the second her dad brought it in the door, she wanted to sit on it. She called it her “princess potty”. She only used it the first 4 days or so, then transitioned to the regular toilet just fine. I didn’t buy her a small toilet the first time around because I didn’t want to have to retrain her or have her not be able to go in a public restroom, but that may have been part of the hold up the first time around. I’m really glad we just spent the money and bought one!

      3) When she had an accident, we had her practice running from the site of the accident, to the bathroom, and sitting on the toilet about 4 times, then another 6 times running from random spots in the house. Then we made her clean up the accident herself. This did two things: 1) solidified where she’s supposed to go to the bathroom and 2) made having an accident not be taking the easy way out. Instead of not wanting to stop playing to go to the bathroom and peeing in her underwear instead, she wanted to stop and go because otherwise she’d have to spend all that time practicing and cleaning!

      4) Lots of praise! M&Ms, stickers, hugs, verbal praise, high fives. In the beginning for every little step (going into the bathroom, pulling down her underwear, sitting on the potty, actually going, flushing, washing hands, etc.) and eventually just for the overall process.

      I hope this helps! Good luck!

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