How My Parenting Fail Caused a Potty Regression

Do you have a toddler? Do you ever have those stories that still bring tears to your eyes to retell? #realtalk: I’ve only been a mother for a few years, and already I’ve got a handful of them (ok, probably more than I care to count…) Are you in the throes of a tough toddler stage right now? Be encouraged: you will survive. I hope that by sharing this we can join together in solidarity to not only survive the toddler years, but thrive, learn from each other’s mistakes, cry together, laugh together, grow as mothers.

when doody calls - how my parenting fail caused a potty regression

My 2 1/2 year old, whew, she gives me a run for the money. Still…she’s my little girl. My sweet rainbow baby, the one I prayed for and waited for. I am so blessed by her but man, as she gets older, she tests my patience and resolve. Y’all, I don’t even know where to start to even tell you this story — I am embarrassed to tell it, but it must be shared lest someone else make this same mistake.

I was 6 weeks postpartum after Nora was born. I felt great, I was healing fast, nursing didn’t hurt, she slept through the night (like 10-12 hours!), and some days I didn’t even feel like I had a baby. My husband had gone back to work a few days before, and was getting ready to leave on a business trip across the country a few days from then. I started to get more anxious as it got closer and closer to him leaving.

After Claire, my postpartum hormones began to lessen up around 6 weeks and I felt more human, less crazy, I fit into more clothes, I had less pain, and it was all around an improvement. After Nora, my postpartum hormones started around 5-6 weeks. I either overdid it early on and tired myself out, or else I took for granted that I didn’t have any baby blues…or probably more likely, I had 24/7 help with the toddler and could just chill with the newborn for that first month. In any case, I had been feeling so good after Nora that I was completely thrown off when I got hit with the baby blues. I just didn’t see it coming (although, I think probably I should have, after that unfortunate laundry incident).

Claire had recently potty trained herself. Seriously, she just up and decided one day she was gonna use the potty, and 1 accident later, she was fully potty trained. (Poop and pee, too!) So when this fateful day I’m about to describe came around, I really didn’t expect it.

My husband was out of town, and Claire had to poop during her nap time. She had previously skipped a few days of napping. Maybe she was testing my limits or maybe it was because she realized when she said “I need to go potty,” I came running. This particular day, Nora was fussier than normal, and I wanted her to nap (true confessions: I wanted them both to nap so I could watch Friends). With Nora nursing, and Claire yelling on the monitor, I tried to finagle both with only one hand.

I shuffled into Claire’s room with Nora still nursing, while Claire yelled that she was pooping. This was my third time in there in under 30 minutes, and the first 2 times had been “false alarms.” I was annoyed. Scratch that, I was super annoyed. By that point Claire was crying, and I was downright mad. I was torn between coming when she calls to go potty and teaching her that she can’t use it to control me.

I was too late, and she’d already pooped in her pull-up…that was my fault for not coming when she first called for me, of course. Instead of telling her good job for letting me know, or not saying anything, I yelled at her to get on the potty. She’d been doing this for weeks now, so she MUST be an expert, right? *eye roll* She couldn’t get her pull-up off, so I had to help her, but I was nursing the baby so I only had one free hand. You can imagine how successful I was, I’m sure…

I pulled the pull-up off, and got poop on the floor. Naturally, I yelled as I put her (one-handed, so not gracefully at all) on the potty. Claire cried “Mommy, what did I do?” I yelled, “get on the potty, and DON’T MOVE.” I shuffled out of the room (with Nora still nursing by the way) to get wipes to clean it up. When I came back, Claire had slid off the potty to find me. Poop all over the potty seat. Of course, I yelled again. Claire cried. I yelled.

Can you see where this is going…?

It escalated. I yelled, it startled her, she stepped in the pull-up I stupidly left on the floor, I yelled again, she bent over to help and got poop on the wall, I yelled again, she grabbed me because I scared her, she got poop on me, I yelled again, and we just spiraled. It was like an out of body experience. I could feel myself losing control, but I couldn’t rein it in. I yelled, she cried, and I just got more and more frustrated and angry. Looking back, I was angry at myself for not coming to her the first time she called for me, and for losing my control. I was angry at my husband for going out of town, even though it wasn’t his fault. I was angry at her for not napping. I was angry that I couldn’t sit in front of a show I’ve seen a thousand times. I was angry that she was going through this (very typical!) sleep regression. I was angry that I had tried to do it all one-handed.

I laid Nora down on the floor of the other side of the bathroom (don’t worry, it was the clean rug!) — I didn’t dare leave Claire alone at that point. Instead of comforting Claire next, I punched the wall. You read that right — after scaring my toddler who was just learning to poop in the potty by yelling at her, the first thing I did was punch the wall in front of her. I did no damage to the wall thankfully, only my pride…and of course the trauma I caused my poor little girl.

I saw a look of sheer terror in her eyes as she witnessed me lose control. I saw her sweet face and those big tears, and the weight of guilt just overcame me. I felt myself begin to regain some amount of composure, but it was too late. I desperately wished I’d just laid Nora down sooner in her crib, even if she wasn’t completely content — looking back on it now, I’m thankful I had her in my arms. I’ve never struggled with physical aggression before, and even though I wasn’t verbally gentle with Claire, I do fear I might’ve spanked her unnecessarily had both my hands been free that day, or been more rough than I needed to be.

I honestly think if anyone else had seen me, they would have committed me that day.

I tried to stress that I wasn’t mad at her, I was frustrated at something else, but the damage was done. I cleaned up the poop. I told Claire I was sorry for yelling and that I over reacted. I cleaned her up and put her in the bath, which she normally enjoys, trying to make it a special treat for her. From the floor, poor Nora screamed through all of this, which only added to my guilt and stress. I brought Claire into my bed with us to watch a special video as an attempt to redeem myself…and I ugly cried for like an hour!

Claire looked over at one point and said “Mommy? Are you sad? Mommy, do you need more patience?” Yes, baby, yes I do. How did she know? I paused her video and looked her in the eye through my ugly tears and told her how sorry I was. She said “I’m sorry Mommy. Do you need a hug?” How do you explain the weight of Mommy guilt to a toddler?

I had no idea how to cope with my guilt and embarrassment without making matters worse for all of us. I decided praying out loud was the best (and only) way to regain composure for a fresh start. I prayed Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I prayed aloud for gentleness, patience, and self-control. I asked for forgiveness for failing in those very areas. I asked for guidance on how to respond instead of reacting next time. I asked for forgiveness for trying to parent out of my own strengths, and ended up failing in my weaknesses. I asked Claire for forgiveness, too, and tried to model praying, mercy, and grace…for next time, since I had missed this opportunity.

Subconsciously, she internalized my outburst and it manifested in a fear of pooping. For six weeks she would cry every time she needed to poop, sometimes for a day before she would go, and saying “Mommy, I’m afraid to poop.” It didn’t matter if she was in a diaper, pull-up, or undies, she would take them off to go use the potty when the urge was finally strong enough. Then she would ask me every time she finally pooped, “Mommy, are you happy now?” Cue a monumental amount of #momguilt.

We’ve since talked about it at length. I didn’t think she remembered, and one day I was wearing the same pants as that fateful day, and she told me “Mommy you don’t like when I get poop on those pants! Remember when I pooped and you yelled?” As much as it hurt my heart and my pride again to bring up my failures, I looked it it as an opportunity to acknowledge that I was wrong in how I reacted so that we could have more success going forward.

She’s mostly back to answering nature’s calls without fear or hesitation. She has an incredible imagination — one day, she was pretending to be a rock climber like my husband’s friend, Nevko, when she said she needed to poop but she was afraid. I said, “Nevko! You’re so big, you’re not afraid to go!” Lo and behold, she went in to the bathroom and just did it, no crying, no fear, and she said “I did it! I’m a super pooper!” (Poor Nevko; he didn’t know this was going to be his claim to fame in our house!)

What do I gain by sharing this embarrassing story with you, besides putting my own guilt out there forever on the internet? First and foremost, I’m here in solidarity — because even though no one told me their own horror stories of this kind of stuff, I know for a fact since I’ve shared this that I’m not the only one this (or something similar) has happened to, and I know I won’t be the last either. Second, I’m hoping you’ll learn from my mistakes. If you’re reading this and you are in the throes of potty training, or you haven’t yet potty trained your toddler, please heed my own advice and don’t.yell. You’ll only make yourself feel worse, and even if your toddler has an accident on purpose (at this age, they do the silliest things for attention, even when it’s negative attention), you won’t rise to the occasion. “Poop goes in the potty,” clean it up and move on.

As I recount this story, I see multiple ways I could’ve handled the situation, and instead of focusing on and dwelling in my failures, I’m choosing to see this all as an opportunity for me to choose reacting over responding. As I sat down to write this, we had another similar incident of strong willed toddlering meeting strong willed mothering, and because this was fresh in my mind, I was able to respond with more grace than anger. Baby steps, right?

Are you surviving this stage? What situations have you been able to learn from? Don’t be shy.