My daughter was two and a half weeks old when we started potty training our triplets.
On the surface, this might seem like the absolute worst time to potty train. I mean seriously, who takes sleepless nights and endless nursing sessions, and tacks on mad dashes to the bathroom, piles of poop on the floor, and toddler boys who think it’s fun to unravel as many rolls of toilet paper as possible?
But my toddlers had yelled, “Mom, I’m pooping right now!” in public places one too many times, and my husband was on paternity leave which gave us two pairs of eyes and hands. When he had to go back to work, my aunt was coming to help, so the timing worked out — “we can take breaks,” we told each other.
We chose a 3-day naked potty training method, reading what appeared to be the most essential chapters of a book that was a “best seller” on Amazon and felt vaguely prepared, nervous, and almost excited. Blissfully naive, too.
We rolled up the rugs, covered the sofas with towels, brought washable toys into the living room and set up three little potties in the middle of the floor.
And so it began.
“Let’s go potty in the potties!” I said enthusiastically, and one of the boys jumped up on his little potty and peed immediately.
Surprised but thrilled, I remember a fleeting thought that this was actually going to work! We celebrated ecstatically as the book had told us to, and gave him what the book had promised was an extra special reward — being able to dump the pee in the big potty and flush it.
Apparently, that looked way fun, so then naturally everyone wanted to flush pee. So all three sat down, peed roughly 2.5 drops, and then jumped up exclaiming, “I PEED ON THE POTTY MOM! Let’s dump and flush it!”
We celebrated ecstatically once again because we didn’t know what else to do and technically this seemed good? We flushed and washed hands and went back to the living room — but it didn’t stop.
Three more drops each. More celebration. More dumping in the big potty and flushing. Hours dragged on, the baby woke up and wanted to eat, we were sweating between trips to the big toilet and there was nothing in the book about what to do if your children were taking advantage of your reward system.
At the end of the first day of peeing-dumping-flushing-celebrating, we were optimistic about the boys’ interest in this venture and proud of their ability to pee three drops (got that down really well), but we felt like zombies and when I closed my eyes all I saw were butts.
Reality sets in
On the second day their enthusiasm vanished. Suddenly the boys didn’t care at all — they’d casually pee without even noticing until a brother said, “Hey! You got my foot wet!” Sometimes they’d scream and protest trips to the potty altogether.
It was taxing, to say the least. I didn’t leave the same 200 square feet of our house for days. I watched like a hawk for any sign that any of the three boys was remotely close to peeing or pooping, and fed and changed the baby as fast as possible so I wouldn’t miss any of the insanely miniscule signs of impending accidents.
At five days in, the accident-free record was really quite good, but between all three boys, we were still spending literally every second of the day on training. We were exhausted.
Then, miraculously, our one month old baby started sleeping through the night. “It’s like just when you think you can’t, God gives you a little bit of breathing room,” a mom friend texted me after asking how it was going. “He wants us to do hard things, but He’ll give us a break somewhere too.”
At seven days in, we actually started to feel really good about the potty training. Pee accidents were almost zero. But there was one small catch: nobody was pooping at all.
At nine days in, their collective constipation became a major problem and we no longer felt good about the potty training. All three boys were in horrible moods, as one is when one doesn’t poop for days. They cried about every tiny thing, threw giant tantrums about nothing, and fought over everything including who could walk down what part of the stairs.
I tried every reward system in the world from stickers to ice cream to iPad time and was practically promising them Ferraris if they would just poop. Please. Poop.
My husband went back to work, and my aunt flew in to help. While she read a book to the boys I texted my husband that we’d failed. We’d come a long way, but I was done. I fumed as the baby cried into my ear and the boys fought about turning the page. We were going back to diapers. I didn’t even care one bit. We’d try again when they were literally 10 years old.
I told God I was done. Potty training triplet toddlers with a newborn in tow was too hard, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I prayed for strength and and humbly implored Him for a breakthrough.
A few hours later, the grumpiest, crankiest child finally pooped on the potty. And he was so, so proud. “WOW,” his brothers said, who of course had to come right in and see it up close, “it looks like A HUGE SNAKE! GREAT JOB!”
It’s amazing how one poop can change your whole world. I actually believe it was a full-fledged miracle. This child instantly went from the world’s most terrible, rotten-attitude stinker to the most chipper and delightful little boy. My mood immediately lifted as I realized he had been causing 99% of the problems that day, and his brothers were happy to finally spend their time with someone who was actually pleasant.
It was also the poop that opened the poop floodgates in the best way — shortly afterward, the other two boys also pooped on the potty and everyone was practically giddy with pride that evening.
The handful of minor accidents over the next day or two dwindled down to zero. We could hardly believe it. We made it through, and this terrible thing was actually, finally, over.
The hard things in motherhood
To the mama reading this, you may or may not have potty trained triplets, but I guarantee you’ve sacrificed and worked through something insanely difficult. Whether it’s childbirth, deployment, sickness, cross country moves, unemployment, a child with special needs, whatever it is, you know. Sometimes motherhood can be extremely hard.
The incredible things we do as parents can’t go on a resume — they don’t win us any awards or accolades, and we don’t get to stand on a stage with a room full of people giving us a standing ovation.
But it’s true that the more we live our lives for others, the more we find true meaning. When we teach a child how to poop on the potty, we are doing more than teaching him acceptable social behavior: we are showing him that he is worthy of respect and dignity, that he is capable of doing hard things. And so are we.
The unseen weeks spent working together teach him the value of hard work and persistence. Our patience with his mistakes teach him how to be patient with others.
One afternoon last week I set the baby down on her play mat and told all three boys we were taking a potty break. I put one boy on one potty, and then stuck his brother on another potty in a different bathroom, and asked the third to please sing a song to the baby while he waited for his turn.
“I’m pooping, mom,” one of my boys said, “do you think it’s going to look like ice cream or snakes?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “we’ll have to find out!”
From the other bathroom, his brother called, “Mom! I’m done!” while the patient third sat on the floor singing “Frosty the Snowman” at top volume to the baby, who had actually stopped screaming to listen to him.
To some, this scene might look like chaos.
But to me, it’s a picture of two imperfect parents who are trying their best, of a baby who knows she is loved, of three little boys who have worked very hard to learn a new and difficult skill that they’ll use the rest of their lives, and of a God who sends help even to the grumpiest of those who ask. It’s solid proof that all of our hard work is making a difference.
I’ll take that over a standing ovation any day.