When my daughter was 18 months old & began to show interest in using the potty, I knew that she was ahead of the curve and I was thrilled at the idea of ditching diapers early! But potty training a child was one thing I’d never done before. So, like any good first-time mom, I went online and researched until 2am.
I learned about The 3-Day method, I learned that I need to let her lead the process, I learned that I should be prepared for her to pee and poo all over the floors and carpets. I learned that babies in Ukraine are potty trained at 12 months (no pressure, America, with our 3 and 4-year-olds still in training pants!). I was in full-on panic mode about which “method” to go with, and how I could emotionally scar my daughter if I didn’t pick the “right” one. The very next day, I texted my friend who had the highest ratio of potty-trained kids in my world.
As our text exchange began, I was filled with hope as she explained that she used an “all-or-nothing” approach, and how with one it happened quickly and the other took longer, etc. Okay, cool! A new method ! Let’s start fresh — I’ll go with that. (I was really wrapped up in the “methods”)
So I asked, “What did you do for car rides?”
She answered, “The 3-Day Method is all or nothing. You leave the diaper off no matter what. Probably best to stay home.”
I replied, “You used that method. Ah, gotcha!”
She replied, “Judgmental much? LOL!”
But it hit me immediately that she wasn’t joking. Though the only one I intended was clarification, when I said “gotcha”, she was triggered. It was offensive because her experience as a mom, I later learned, is that perception of parenting styles is attached to a great deal of harsh judgement and criticism. Through personal experience, along with articles and blogs about “right” & “wrong”, parents are on edge when it comes to sharing the decisions that they make. This conversation was just that trigger for my friend.
She likened my “ah gotcha” text to the judgmental tone used by parents perched on high, looking down on each other’s parenting decisions. Which potty training methods we choose, whether or not we vaccinate, the way we discipline, how we feed our kids, which “method” of child-rearing, education, the quality of cotton, style of dress, whether or not to post photos of our kids online, preschool or no preschool, work or stay at home —- you name it! As this unfolded, and I realized the reality, I felt like my head was going to explode.
At first I felt really annoyed that my meaning got all twisted up and was misinterpreted. Expressing that didn’t work out for me. My friend was very upset! What followed was 24 hours of discomfort, uncertainty, anxiety, my being introduced to the terms “Mommy Shaming” and “mommy blogs“, a conversation with a member of the clergy, for God’s sake! (I was desperate, people) and a lesson in the difference between intent & impact. I INTENDED to get advice about successfully potty training my baby. The IMPACT was far different from my intention, and that absolutely deserves validation.
The fact that I was connecting the dots between my own research and the approach that my friend took wasn’t clear in our text exchange, and – frankly – it didn’t matter. When our culture analyzes every little thing about child-rearing to death and to the point where we all feel shame and guilt for not meeting the potential expectations of others, parents end up feeling tense and isolated as we move through this adventure.
I know how it is for me. I am madly in love with my child. I want her to eat, have , learn the best and feel the best. I don’t want her to eat anything except foods that are wholesome. I want her to have soft, high-quality clothes that aren’t made out of chemicals, and for all of her toys to be non toxic. It turns out that it isn’t legal to keep her in a glass box and only give her invisible, wooden peg dolls to play with. It also turns out that I’m human, and so is she, so this parenting thing is going to include a dose or two of trial-by-fire. But, until then, I was oblivious to how much of it was happening, how cruel it is and how lonely it leaves so many of us.
My heart broke that my dear friend, who has 3 happy, gorgeous, smart children, should feel inadequate as a parent because people are perpetuating such a lack of support! Especially when she was the first person who I thought to seek advice from. Though I was relieved that we were okay in the end, I felt sad and angry as we moved through this situation. We are already a culture where we are self-deprecating. Now we are taking that out on others?
That is not okay, & – like we are always telling our kids (if you’re into that sort of thing) we need to work together to make better choices, people! Our kids are counting on us to show them how to not be assholes. We need to love ourselves, and each other! So, I called my friend, and I apologized for the impact of what I said. And, it turned out, that was all that she needed; she needed to know that I wasn’t judging her and that my choice of words were not intended to hurt her.
So, we talked it out, I apologized for the impact and explained my intention. And I’ve decided to start a Mommy Blog. I, for one, want to lift other parents up as we raise citizens of the world! I don’t want a bunch of insecure kids running around in an already scary world. I want to create a space where we can look at aspects of parenting without judgement. Or at least talk through things safely, like equals–because no matter what people think as they judge one another, we all have struggles. After all, that organic milk from the farm down the road at our local expensive organic grocery is probably actually manufactured with red dye No. 5 by small children in a third-world country.
P.S. My daughter is now 2, and we are still potty training. I’ve decided to be a revolutionary and use the 6-month method!
Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.