May I Have Your Attention, Please?


Plum potty trained herself almost eighteen months ago. I remember the moment she decided she was ready. After dropping James off at school we were walking back to the car hand-in-hand. I asked, “Would you like to have a date with me today?” “Yep,” she replied. “Awesome! Where should we go?” I assumed she would choose the museum or the zoo since those are her favorite places to visit. Instead, without ever having discussed the topic before, she exclaimed, “To get me big girl underwears!” I snort-laughed, recovered, and took my little girl to buy big girl underwears. After that she did everything she could to make our lives easy-peasy in the potty training department.

Then, slowly, over the past eight months, things have changed. She began draining her bladder into her underwear and through her pants — every… single… time. She claimed that she didn’t need a potty break — even when we asked — even when she was clearly doing the potty dance. And she took up to thirty minutes to wash her hands afterwards, just to make sure my buttons were all-the-way pushed. I was doing copious amounts of laundry and couch scrubbing every week. There had been so much regression that we almost decided to put her in diapers again. To make matters worse, she had to be fully potty trained for preschool — which started in three weeks!

I became horribly wrapped up in Plum’s frequent soaking of her garments. I emptied my motivational toolbox: scolding, praising, stickers, calendars, and even a potty-training app. All I could think about throughout the day was preventing another wet mess. I got so obsessed that I would judge my days good or bad based on how many accidents she had. I was overwhelmed; I was adrift; I felt like I couldn’t keep my head above water.

I was emotionally drowning in pee.

In a seemingly unrelated event, a friend of mine was venting about her current frustrations: her first child would scream and feign injury every time she nursed her six-month-old baby, especially when in public. It sounded intense and awful. Each time her oldest child acted in this way, she felt forced to stop nursing in order to put him in time-out and give him a stern lecture. This was happening dozens of times a day and she was at her wits end! It was clear to me that her eldest was trying to make sense of his place in their growing family. I wisely advised her that he desperately missed his mommy and would do anything to feel close to her. He was simply trying to meet his needs of control and attention and he had, apparently, found just the way to do it.

Duh! This was exactly what was happening with Plum and I had been too enveloped in bladder control to see it!

What if this was all centered around Plum’s need to find control and gain my attention in our growing family?

She never complained or acted negatively towards her baby sister, but her world was most definitely rocked with Baby Moe’s birth. I knew this somewhere deep inside my information brain, I think, and still I had become so enmeshed and fixated with urination that I couldn’t see it.

The next day, we started from square one with potty re-training. I let the last eight months of wetness and struggle evaporate and we started again like it was the first time. Every thirty minutes Plum and I took a potty break where I gave her my full attention and praise. I found a way to be neutral with accidents, just changing her quietly and moving on. In addition to potty re-training I started having more one-on-one playtime with her every day and one-on-one snuggle time with her every night. It felt amazeballs. No longer consumed with thoughts of getting peed on every five minutes, I was actually enjoying connecting with Plum. I quickly realized that I had been missing her too!  And now I am happy to share that we have all moved on with (mostly) dry underwears.