The problem I can’t fix


I wish I knew what to do with this kid. I wish I knew what was truly going through his mind when it comes time to go to the bathroom. Potty training him is the biggest parenting struggle we’ve had in the last eight years. Every single tiny step in the process has turned into a monumental challenge that takes months to years to overcome. Sitting on the potty chair when he turned three was terrifying. He stayed in diapers all through preschool, despite not technically being allowed to be there while not potty trained. A solid year after we started the potty chair we spent an entire summer desperately trying to get him to sit on the real toilet so he’d be ready for 4K. It didn’t work. After many, many tears from everybody, he finally sat on the toilet IF he was sitting on a portable potty seat. With the seat he’d only use one of our bathrooms, and one bathroom at each grandma’s house. For two years we couldn’t leave the house for more than a couple of hours in case he’d need to go to the bathroom. Every extended trip, I’d take the regular potty chair along and he’d use it in the car or parking lot. Finally after his fifth birthday he used the toilet in one of our bathrooms. And only that toilet. He made it through an entire year of 4K never using the bathroom. I lived in fear that he’d start having accidents. One of my friends kept insisting it was a very real possibility that he would not be allowed to go to kindergarten if anybody knew about his problem, so we had to keep the struggle under wraps. Maybe if we had tried harder to get him more professional help last year we wouldn’t still be fighting this today, when he’s three months shy of turning six.

This last April things finally seemed to be moving forward. We took a trip to Great America and he went to the bathroom twice while we were there – on a real toilet with very little hesitation. A week or so after that we went to an out of town birthday party and he used the bathroom there. Both times with Greg or I, but he finally seemed to be getting more comfortable. And then in May we moved into our house. And everything went downhill. He was scared of the bathrooms here, he started having daily accidents, to the point where he didn’t even seem to care anymore. By the end of summer he was okay with going in our downstairs bathroom, he was okay with toilets at three grandma’s houses. I was purposely taking day trips as often as possible, not reminding him to go to the bathroom before we left, in hopes that he’d eventually give in and use toilets in other places. It never happened. He became an expert at holding it. His record is 11 hours while we were at a wedding. By the end of the night he desperately needed to go and we spent over an hour going back and forth sitting with him in public bathrooms and he just wouldn’t go. That was the most miserable two hour car ride home in all of our lives.

By the end of summer we were all feeling pretty hopeless. I guess we just assumed after all this time once school started full time for him he’d realize going to the bathroom there was just part of the deal and he’d do it. We put him in therapy right before school started. We talked to his teacher, we talked to the school nurse. We came up with many plans of action. We toured the school bathrooms with him multiple times. We had Caden check on him several times a day the first week of school to try and convince him to use the bathroom. Greg has gone to school a couple of times during the day to try and get him to go. His teacher has given him the option to use a private bathroom. We’ve tried bribing him with basically anything he could possibly want. Nothing works. Nothing.

For the longest time our end goal was for him to successfully use bathrooms on our trip to San Francisco in October. We assumed if he could do that it would break him of this problem and he’d finally be a successfully potty trained child.  We spent way too much time worrying that we were going to get there, he was going to hold it too long, and we’d spend the week sitting in a hospital with him. But amazingly, he did awesome. He used five different bathrooms. He told us when he had to go, we brought him to the closest bathroom, and he went. We rejoiced, thinking that we were finally, FINALLY in the clear. Got back home and nope. Still no going at school. Or upstairs at our house. Or anywhere else.

I think the most frustrating aspect of everything is that none of us understand WHY this has been so difficult for him. He will never talk about it or explain why he doesn’t want to go in different places. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling compassionate toward him, probably not pushing as hard as I could have because he was clearly miserable or terrified. But I’ve also had times, especially in recent months, being absolutely infuriated that we are still dealing with this after THREE YEARS. Who potty trains for three years?! Caden was potty trained right after he turned three with zero issues, zero accidents. I know every child is different. I know many people in the world struggle with much more difficult challenges. But what drives me crazy is that this is so easy to change! He can do it. But he won’t. It’s this overwhelming massive problem in our family’s lives that I have no control over. I can keep taking him to therapy, I can try to bring him into the school building every day after school when he so clearly needs to go, I can bribe him, take things away, offer incentives, anything and everything I can think of. But ultimately it’s up to him. I feel completely helpless and so, so frustrated.

Author: Amy Noe

I'm a maker, a writer, a reader, a wife, and a mom. I love pursuing my creative passions!

1 thought on “The problem I can’t fix”

  1. Sending so much love and support. I think you have the best approach. Compassion + therapy + all the other things your doing. I don’t know the answer, but I promise it won’t last forever. The love and compassion you are showing him now are setting a foundation for his whole life. He is so lucky to have a family who is understanding and not just punitive or shaming him (I’ve seen it, and it’s so sad). Praying for something to finally “click” for him and for relief for you. Hang in there. ❤️

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