This weekend had a fairly momentous occasion for my young family, or at least for Maureen and I. My son, Eric, pooped on the potty for the first time.
If you’ve ever done the potty training thing, you’ll know how this feels. It feels like FINALLY. This has been awhile in the making.. and with a baby in diapers too, it’s been extra frustrating.
The process underlined for me an important thing to remember as parents: the kid’s will.
Eric turned 3 about a month ago and, like our oldest daughter, showed no interest in anything but diapers when he was 2. Many of our friends seem to have magical kids who take to the potty early, and the ones who didn’t seemed to be magical parents that succeeded with one of the new, hip 3-Day potty immersion processes.
Not us. We’ve tried it gradually and immersively. Eric was not interested in underpants. He wouldn’t put them on. We’d leave the potty out for him to get used to it. We’d try to get him to sit on it every few minutes. He wouldn’t. Bribery wouldn’t work either.
That kid is stubborn. And I love it. That stubbornness and strong will is going to help make him into a really cool adult one day. But damn it can be frustrating now.
Make it Cool
So we kept at it obviously, and I was on the verge of getting one of these shirts for him. I didn’t think it would work, since he can’t read, but I figured it would make me feel better!
This weekend we were trying again, and had the potty out in the kitchen. We talked about the cool things you can do when you wear underpants, like swim in the pool. We talked to Eric about all the cool people that wear underpants and go on the potty. His Pop Pop, his Papa, and one of his idols, our friend’s 5 year old son Jeffrey.
We talked to each other about it while he was listening too. Kids listen really well, whether you like it or not, and we’ve found that when we talk to each other about something in a positive way, it cements how our kids view that topic.
This got him sitting on the potty, which was a big step, but he still couldn’t go. About 10 minutes after another failed attempt Sunday afternoon while he was playing in another room, I heard him sit up and go “Oh!” and run into the kitchen. I walked in about a minute later to find him with a huge smile on his face. “I pooped”, he said.
He had run in, opened the potty, dropped trou, and done it all himself.
He did it because he decided he wanted to. He thought it was cool.
One of the hardest lessons parents have to learn is that our kids have free will. They aren’t magic little humans who do everything we tell them. We think we’re right most of the time – and we probably are when they’re this young – but that’s not how any of us work. We have to fail on our own to learn, and we have to have the will to do something ourselves. Someone else can’t will it for us. Anytime that happens for a kid or an adult, anytime the will for something comes from somewhere else, failure is likely.
One of my favorite quotes on leadership is from Lao Tzu:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
Kids have to do it themselves. That’s how it takes hold. That’s how they learn.
When they’re young, this is much easier. A 3 year old or a 5 year old generally still idolizes their parents or their grandparents. So what you do is cool. My son also loves cars because I love cars.
As kids get older, things get more complicated. You have a different relationship with an 11 year old, where the job is to ensure that the influences around them make sense. Chances are that kids this age have both friends and adults that they idolize too.
My godson is 11, his parents are my best friends, and he looks up to me a lot. What I do is cool. One of my responsibilities with him is to help his parents make the right things cool. Things like hard work, honesty, and good friendship. This is fun but serious.
As an adult, there are probably kids like this around you. Think about the values and interests you think are important and whether they are rubbing off on them. I’m in my 30s and my godson is 11, which sounds like a big difference. But one day I’ll be in my 50s and he’ll be in his 30s, and that seems much closer somehow. I have friends in their 50s now. Kids like this will one day be your good friends as an adult.
As a parent, think a lot about who influences your kids. I think a lot of us do this, but we focus on the negatives. Or rather, we focus on the lack of a negative as a positive. We say “Oh, their friends aren’t troublemakers and that’s good.” That isn’t good, it’s the lack of a potential bad.
What we should do is focus on what good qualities they need to learn. If we know they have adults and friends around them that think it’s cool to be honest and trustworthy, that value friendship and love, then we can trust their own free will to make decisions and learn from them. After all, we all make bad decisions sometimes. We can’t protect them forever. But we can give them better tools to live a full life. And that’s really cool. They need to know it’s cool too.