Friday, 31 August 2012

Discovered At Last: The Source of Parental Resentment

There was a lot of buzz in the news this spring about some guy finding the G-spot on a dead
woman. (We won't be really impressed until you find it on a living woman, buddy.) After two
weeks with my mother, I was more interested in identifying the exact moment we start to resent our parents. Some have speculated it comes when you learn that other kids got an Atari for Easter and you just got chocolate, around 9, or when you discover your parents have been giving you a dorky haircut, around 11, or when they insist on showing your friends the adorable picture of you in your headgear, around 13.

But I, my friends, have found the true moment: when you begin potty training. After spending
days trapped with someone who keeps asking you, "Do you have to use the potty? How about now?" it's hard to love. And you start to resent the potty pretty quickly too. But you’ll do anything to get those precious stickers, including saying you have to use the potty, getting a sticker for trying, and then peeing on the bathroom floor.

We decided to try this “Three-Day Potty Training” thing. Cookie was the right age (the woman who came up with it says you can start at 22 months, and Cookie was 23 months), she seemed eager to get out of diapers, and I figured what harm was there in trying? Plenty of people I know had heard of plenty of people for whom it worked, so there ya go. She’d be potty trained by the time she was two, and if this didn’t work, well, she wasn’t even
two yet, so early days.

I prepared excitedly: bought panties, frozen meals, spare sheets, and little gifts; blocked off
five days where we wouldn’t leave the house – two extra, just in case; moved lots of toys and
activities into her room, which is right next to the bathroom; prepared a “Potty Progress” sticker chart; started dropping hints like, “Soon you’ll be going pee in the potty like a big girl”; and steeled myself for three days of full-on toddler. When the big day came, she loved her new panties, was excited about the idea of peeing in the potty, and craved the stickers. And then she peed on the floor. Again and again and again.

The book says that many kids don’t get it until the end of the third day. The book also says that the whole idea that a toddler has to be ready is bullshit. Whether or not she’s ready, Cookie is at the stage where she is testing her boundaries and asserting her independence and basically doing the opposite of everything you ask, even when you use that trick where you ostensibly give her the power: “It’s your job to tell me when you need to go pee.” It may be her job, but she’s smart enough to figure out that you’re the boss, and she’s feeling particularly rebellious at this stage in her career. So by the end of day four, she was still peeing on the floor, often looking me straight in the eyes after I had just said, “Remember to tell me when you need to go pee.” I was frustrated and, sadly, disappointed. More in myself than in Cookie, really; I felt that I’d failed the “guaranteed in three days!” parenting test. No longer able to hide my frustration when overwhelming positivity was required, nervous about spending a fifth day trapped in two small rooms with an equally frustrated child, and frankly sick of pee, I called it off.

There has to be a better way. Besides peeing in the playground, that is.  And I will look into it, but I need a break. Cookie needs a break. Her bedroom carpet needs a break. And so does our relationship.

I love her unconditionally, so even though at times I took the peeing as defiance, it was easy
to remind myself that it was likely due more to confusion, and that it was nothing personal.
Although often it looked a lot like defiance. And of course, if it was due to confusion, that meant I had failed her, and therefore the implicit parenting test. Sigh. But it was hard to ignore the other signs of acting out that arose from our confinement: hitting, talking back, running and hiding. These were all new to us. They would have happened eventually, but there seemed to be a pretty direct correlation. That broke my heart.

On the evening of the fourth day, she refused to go to sleep. After countless stories, she stood in her crib and screamed, so Daddy took over. That was still a struggle, but at one moment there was a moment of (relative) brightness: Cookie told Daddy to go back to work. Maybe it was just Stockholm syndrome, but after being trapped with me for four days, I was still her favourite bedtime parent. There’s hope for us yet.

My doctor told me recently that she had started trying to talk to her 11-year-old daughter
about "things," in the hope that her daughter could learn from her mistakes and avoid some of the humiliation and pain and missteps of adolescence. But her daughter just rolled her eyes. We talked about how much we want the kind of relationship with our daughters where they could feel comfortable talking about anything with us and vice versa, but inevitably they would roll their eyes and make the same mistakes we did, so why bother? My doctor says the important thing is just that they know we’re there, unconditionally. And that’s the hard part: making sure they know. When it was clear that I could no longer show Cookie I was behind her no matter what, I cancelled potty training. Trust between mother and daughter is a precious, fragile thing.

Three-day potty training may work for you. It didn’t for me this time, and I’m not sure I would try it again. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out. Although, as someone who works in publishing, I believe that for $24 (for an ebook!) I should at least get something that’s well written. Which this isn’t.

-East End Mama

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