Tyler is pretty much potty-trained. He knows when he needs to go, he can get himself to the potty on time. He can get his pants down and back up again. He needs help with the clean-up, but all in all he’s independent.
He’s a ‘withholder’. He doesn’t like to poo. He holds it for as long as humanly possible. Correction: he holds it far longer than should be humanly possible. This is more than just an oddity. This is worrisome. Holding out for that long can make a body sick. It will certainly cause constipation. How Tyler has evaded that thus far is one of life’s little mysteries, but if he keeps it up, it’ll be inevitable.
He never poos during the day at my home. This is not all that unusual. It often happens that a child’s typical poop time occurs when they’re at home — first thing in the morning, or right after dinner, say. That’s called being ‘regular’.
Tyler is not ‘regular’. He’ll hold out and hold out and hold out. Then, on the third or fourth or fifth day, he seems to reach a point where he just can’t quite hold it any more. He’ll release a bit into his underwear. They’ll clean him up and change him. Fifteen minutes, half an hour later, he’ll do it again. When he’s put on the potty, nothing happens. Put him back in underwear, and, half an hour later, another dollop in his pants.
Not that this ever happens at my home. In fact, I had no idea this was happening until his mother called me one evening. She is at the end of her rope.
“Calm and unemotional. We’re tying to be calm and unemotional… and we just can’t do it any more! The underwear! I’ve bought ten new pairs of underwear, and it’s still not enough!”
My input, in our lengthy conversation, was that at this point I saw us as having two ways to go: cold turkey, which means they take away his night-time diaper, and we push his liquid and fibre intake (bring on the prune juice!). Yes, there will probably be more laundry, in the form of bedding as well as ALL THOSE UNDERWEAR for a few days. But we’ll try it for a week or ten days and see if we can push this past the tipping point. That’s one way.
Or, we could go in the complete other direction, and put the boy back in diapers for two or three months, let everyone calm down and get over what is obviously becoming traumatic, before trying again.
I really had no strong preference. I think either way could work. I’m worried, though, knowing that the longer this continues, the greater the likelihood that he’ll become seriously constipated. Then having a poo will hurt — which will only increase his aversion to having a bowel movement. And then we’ll really be entrenched in a vicious circle! So whichever way we go, we need to make a decision and get it done.
Mom did NOT want to go back to diapers. Her much-beloved son is driving her CRAZY!!! Eight, ten, twelve pair of underwear a couple of days a week would do that to a woman. Okay, then. Cold turkey it is.
We agree to really push the fluids. Anything the boy will drink, the boy can have. Fruit juice? Here you go! Nuclear green kool-aid? Bring it on! Lots of fibre, in any form he’ll take it. Dried apricots, raisins, grapes, peas… I suggested we institute a potty regimen, with a set time for pooping each day. The first will be about 24 hours after his last poo, and then we’ll stick with that time. We won’t ask if he needs to go, we’ll just tell him it’s time to poo. See if we can get the boy regulated.
Friday was Day One of Tyler’s new potty regimen. At the end of the day, I had both good and bad news.
1. The good news: Tyler had a very large poo on the potty shortly after noon!!! It’s an astonishment to me that one small boy could possibly hold so much ordure. But it was enormous and it was soft. Yay! Still (miraculously) no constipation!!
It wasn’t a struggle at all. A simple directive: “Time to sit on the potty and have that poo, Tyler.” See, he’d been complaining that his belly hurt, and, given that it had been three days since his last BM, I was sure I knew what that was all about.
“Your belly hurts, sweetie, because there’s a poo in there that needs to come out. You go sit on the potty and wait for it. It might take a while, but it needs to come out. When it does, you will feel so much better!”
So he went, and he sat down, and he waited. And he waited. And he waited. I gave him a few books, and a soft toy, but I largely ignored him. I’m suspecting part of this is power struggle and/or attention-seeking, so, while being cheerful, positive, and supportive, I am also leaving him to do the work on his own. I checked in at intervals.
“Has that poo come out yet?”
“Well, what a silly poo!” [Mary leans down a bit and calls out in the general direction of Tyler's belly-button.] “Hey, you poo in there! Get out of there! Time to come out and leave Tyler alone! Come on, lazy poo! Out you come!”
By now Tyler is giggling. I hand him another book and leave for another five minutes. (See? No pressure, just cheerful support. But also minimal attention. No sitting and reading to him for 25 minutes.)
And… 25 minutes later, an enormous, gigantic, gargantuan poo. I was afraid the top of the goopy pile would scrape off on the bottom of the potty seat when I removed the bowl, but we managed to escape that extra mess. It was a near thing, though.
“There! All done! Don’t you feel better??”
He didn’t. Apparently his belly still hurt. Pfft. I know this boy. If he thought it would lose him a point to agree, he’d argue black was white. Yes, he feels better. He’s just not going to admit it. So, having cleaned and watched him get back into his pants, upstairs I go, to dump the ten-pound potty into the toilet.
When I come downstairs a minute later…
2. the bad news…
He is throwing up. All over the place. ALL over the place. Astonishing quantities of stuff. Solids, liquids, in between, splattered all over the dining room floor. I arrive on the scene in the middle of the second heave. There are two more after that. My dining room floor is awash, and the stench is making my eyes water.
“Tyler. Sit down right where you are. Don’t move, okay? I have to get the babies out of the way.”
He plonks his butt down, blinking blearily. I scoop one, two, three babies, toss them into highchairs, and scatter Cheerios on their trays. I grab my bin of rags and swab the floor before turning my attention to Tyler.
And I strip the boy down. Because everything is saturated. His sweater and the shirt underneath it stick to his skin. The thighs of his jeans are spattered with chunks. His woolly slippers have absorbed enough of the puddle he was standing in that his socks are also damp.
In fact, the only item of his clothing that did NOT require changing? Well, take a guess: After days of many, many changes of pooped-in underwear per day, guess which was the ONLY item of clothing that did NOT need to be changed after the puke of the century?
(Afterword, because who wouldn’t be wondering about this: The puke and the poo were in no way related. He pooped — yay!!! He had a stomach bug that lasted the next 30 hours or so — boo!!! Total coincidence.)
It occurs to me that it’s been a while since I’ve read any parenting books.
Now, the nice thing about having been raising children for as long as I have is that you develop an overview of theories and approaches. You don’t get bogged down in the minutia of one particular method, or worried that if you don’t follow it to the letter you’re going to RUIN THIS CHILD!!!! I just don’t do that any more. Not that I ever did it much, really, but I’m mellower now than I was twenty-five years ago, when I first started this whole parenting thing.
However, it is nice to know what’s floating about in the parenting ether out there. What are the ideas currently being promoted? What are the up-to-the-minute theories and philosophies? (Which very often turn out to be old ones, revisited, revamped, and spit-and-polished to mesh with current sensibilities. Another thing that a couple of decades perspective helps you see.)
Thanks to Carol, I have one book for my list. And it’s not as if I haven’t read a parenting book in ten years. But I’m curious: What are you guys reading? What’s the “It Book” for parents? Is there a new parenting guru bubbling to the top of the pontificating heap? (Even if you don’t really like their message, I’m curious to know what it is!)
Titles and authors! Any suggestions for me?
When I consider my profession, I tend to think of myself as simply… raising children. Of course, anyone who’s ever tried it knows that it’s not a simple thing. It’s demanding on so many levels: physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. But at the same time, I’m a woman raising children. Not all of them are my own. Some — most! — of them are other peoples’ children, children who I am co-raising alongside their loving parents. So, here I am, in my home, raising children.
Just like any other parent.
This afternoon I was feeling chilly, tired, a bit demoralized, generally weary. One of the things I enjoy when I’m feeling this way, something which warms and comforts me, is a nice soak in a pleasantly-scented tub. Relaxing, soothing, warming.
It was nap-time. Everyone was soundly asleep. The bathroom is on the same floor as the bedrooms. Were anyone to cry out, I’d be closer there than I am here, down in the livingroom. It would simply be a matter of throwing on my robe and checking it out. Were these my own children, I’d have had that bath.
But these are not my children, and so I didn’t.
I wonder why? Really? Parents take baths while their children sleep all the time. They even take showers, which, if you think about it, isolate you far more than a bath would. You can’t hear anything from outside the bathroom when you’re in a shower. I certainly took showers while my children slept. (Still do, but given that my ‘baby’ is 17, it’s not really an issue any more. )
In fact, when I think about it, there are all sorts of things that parents do that I don’t. I avoid talking on the phone during when the kids are awake. I don’t drink (alcohol). I don’t invite a friend over for coffee mid-morning. (Though I certainly chat with other caregivers at the park — and don’t think there aren’t people out there who think I shouldn’t!)
Which brings us to the things I do do, that not everyone is convinced I should. I sit on the porch with a cup of tea and a book on a fine day while the children nap. Not everyone is comfortable with that. I let the older children mix with the younger children, just like in a real family!! (At least one couple out there thinks I shouldn’t be doing that.) I will leave husband or daughter in charge — again, during naptime — while I zip over to the corner store. Some poor caregivers are not even allowed to take their garbage to the curb during work hours!
I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable taking a bath with the tots sleeping in their beds. As mother to my own children, I’d not have thought twice about it. As caregiver to someone else’s child, I don’t do it.
It’s sort of a weird job, that way.
I know I said I was going to get rid of it. I cited the crowding and the claustrophobia.
It was also, let’s face it, pretty ugly…
Family Day was introduced to Ontario’s list of statutory holidays a few years back, but this is the first year it’s been in my contract. There is a certain irony to sending your children to daycare on “Family Day”, wouldn’t you say? Much as I enjoy irony, this is one I’m pleased to circumvent.
So today, for Family Day?
I’m spending the day with my family! Mine, and no one else’s. Imagine that.
I often accuse my newbie walkers of “reeling like a drunken sailor”. Someone else saw the same thing, and took it to creative new lengths…
Eek! The drunken, ravenous Godzilla baby! Run, run for your lives!
Two weeks ago, we bought a vanity for the bathroom that is being constructed in the basement. (We will soon have TWO bathrooms in this place!!! Whee! I am so excited.)
The vanity came in a large cardboard box. A large, very sturdy box.
We LOOOOOOOVE large boxes around here. Some judicious slices with a large knife, a few holes, a little decorative duct tape, and you have….
a play house!!!
It’s been in my living room for two weeks. This is Big News. I am somewhat claustrophobic, see. I have a fairly unexceptional set of symptoms: anxiety in elevators and tiny washrooms on planes and trains (mild and manageable these days, due to persistent effort), and a complete and utter inability to enter a cave, no matter how spacious. Just can’t do caves: pounding heart, cold sweats, shakiness, surging panic. And you know what? I DO have to deal with elevators and teeny bathrooms. I put the work into getting over elevators and teeny bathroom trauma. But caves? I can live my whole life without ever once needing to go into a cave. I do not need to put myself through the trauma of getting over this one. It did mean that that one time when we were in West Virginia, I stayed firmly above ground while my family went below. Apparently it was spectacular and beautiful down there. But did I NEED to go down there? And how much spectacular and beautiful would I see through the dark film that goes across your vision right before you faint, anyway?
Not so much, I’m thinking.
A bit of a downer for the rest of the tour, too, I have to think. So, you want to go in a cave? You just go RIGHT AHEAD. That’s ooooookay. I will stay up here in the light, without all those millions of tonnes of rock oppressing my space, crushing me, making it hard to breathe…
Yes, well. So now you know.
One of the quirkier manifestations of the claustrophobia is an aversion to being crowded. I can manage parties, and crowded buses, though like most people I can find myself getting irritable. I know my irritation stems from the anxiety of claustrophobia, and I can just breeeeathe through it. “Being crowded” includes not just crowded by people, but crowded by things. I do not like cluttered space. Which is not to say my house is clutter-free. (I wish.) It’s a small house, it has many bodies in it. It gets cluttered. But, knowing how I need this for my mental health, I am a diligent fighter of the clutter.
And that box?
That giant box that they love so well?
Is taking up a LOT of space in my small living room. It is a giant mass of space-sucking cardboard. Light does not bounce around the room; light lands on The Box, and vanishes. All movement in the room has to take The Box into account.
And I have let it live in my living room, I have let it OWN my living room, for two weeks.
I am a good, good woman.
And I am done now. It can stay through Friday, one more day, and then it’s history.
A brand-new bathroom!!! No more sneaking past the person in the shower to pee!!! A box-free living room!!!!
The excitement around here! It’s just too much! I KNOW!
I wish to diverge a little from my usual topics so that I may mock my youngest child.
My youngest child, who is, I remind you all, a MODEL teen. I mean that quite sincerely. At seventeen she is sensible, respectful, polite, cheerful, easy-going. She does her homework without reminders or monitoring. She cooperates cheerfully with her tutor, and does the extra work he assigns without complaint. Her teachers like her, the neighbours like her, her babysitting clients adore her. She dresses fashionably yet unskankily. She has nice friends, and her romantic taste improves with each boyfriend. (Don’t let us linger over version one. I was horrified and, three years later, she is appropriately mortified by the very thought of him. So it’s all good.)
So, what I’m describing is a paragon, pretty much. I have nothing to complain about with this child. I know that, and am suitably proud/grateful.
However, she is seventeen.
For a while, when there were more of us living in the house, we were each doing our own laundry. However, there are only three of us now, and, as it happens, I actually like doing laundry. (Yes, yes. Weird, I know. We all have our quirks.) But since I do enjoy the task, and having assured that my children know how to do it, I am quite happy to do the family laundry. It’s not total altruism, either: taking on this task allows me to hand off tasks that I loathe. (A little quid pro quo and I am free of dishes. For the rest of my life, if I’m lucky.)
Normally I do a load every couple of days, one person’s laundry at a time, so that we each get a load done per week. An extra load every so often for household things — linens and whatnot. There are no set days, so the night before I will ask whoever it is to please leave their laundry in that hall in the evening so that I can scoop it in the morning. Because I, you see, get up at the total butt-crack of dawn, long before it would be reasonable to expect people to be bringing me baskets of laundry, even if I am going to be washing, drying and folding that laundry for them.
Emma’s offering last week looked a tad… meager. I waited a while to start the load, double-checking with her when she woke. “Is this all your laundry?”
Yes, it was.
“For the entire week? Are you sure?” My obvious skepticism riled her a bit. Yes, it was, for sure, the tone making it clear I was being foolish to even ask. I could cease forthwith with the impertinent questions, thankyousoverymuch.
Call me crazy, but I’ve been doing laundry for a lot of years, more years than the girl has been alive, and I know when I’m seeing a full week’s worth of dirty duds. And in this particular basket? I was not seeing them.
But she had declared herself, with some indignant vigour. This was indeed her full week’s complement of laundry. I needn’t trouble myself further. Really.
So I didn’t. I’m rather a fan of natural consequences. One doesn’t need to argue when one has natural consequences on one’s side, and I could feel them all, jostling around behind me as they lined up in my corner. When this spartan smidge of laundry was completed, and the girl ran out of something critical before next week, or wanted to wear something that was still mustily lingering in some dusty corner of her room? Oh, well… Natural consequences rock, I tell you.
So when I came to hang that laundry? There was: one pair of jeans. Barring spills, stains or obvious dirt, we do wear our jeans far more than a single wearing. And there was a dress in there, too, so only six days required jeans. But still… six days on one pair of jeans? Eeeeeh. Possible. Unlikely, but just barely possible.
There were five pairs of socks. Did she go sock-free inside her slippers all weekend? I’m doubting it.
There were six shirts. Hm. I will wear a shirt more than once. But I am in my late forties. I do not
reek like unwashed goat have the body odour challenges of even the sweetest adolescent. Six shirts for a week is highly unlikely.
And the final, damning bit of evidence: There was one pair of underwear in that basket. One. Time to call the girl out.
“Emma, there was only one pair of underwear in your laundry.”
“Oh.” I can hear the defensiveness rising. She’s caught, and she knows it. She decides to add a smidge of aggression, hoping, I’m sure, that I’ll just go away and cease with the embarrassing … facts. “Yeah?” It’s not a full-out attack. We don’t do that, Emma and I, but I can hear the edge. I’m sure I disappoint her by persisting.
“So, you think that’s an unreasonable question? To wonder why you only had one pair in an entire week’s laundry?” (Particularly since I expressed doubt when you gave it to me? Ahem. I don’t say that, but she hears it anyway. We also don’t go for “I told you so’s”, Emma and I. But she knows she’s earned one.) My voice is mild, but she knows I’m not going to go away without an answer.
“No.” She pauses and it all comes out in a rush. If you’re going to eat crow, there’s no point in lingering over it. “Okay, you’re right. I didn’t look hard enough when I brought you my basket.”
That’s good enough. I don’t need her to grovel. She’s acknowledged my point and her error, and I hand her the folded laundry without further discussion. (Is it my fault if the ONE pair of underwear is in the VERY CENTRE of the VERY TOP of the meager pile?
Okay, yeah, it is. Heh.)
And you know what? She is my third child. She is the seventh of eight children in this blended family. I am so used to teens and their ways that I didn’t even consider the implications of her statement until much later that evening.
“I didn’t look hard enough.” I took that statement totally at face value, because I know what her room looks like. I know what her six older siblings’ rooms looked like at her age. I know what her younger sibling’s room looks like. I took her statement at face value because I am inured to adolescent household incapacity. Barring outright department of health violations, I leave an adolescent’s room to the adolescent. They can live in whatever kind of swamp they choose to live in, so long as they keep the door shut. Emma, as it happens, voluntarily cleans her room — about once a week! Voluntarily!!!She doesn’t maintain the clean worth beans, but she cleans. And did I say she does this without being told? So, again with the “nothing to complain about”.
But really? If this were NOT a teen we were talking about, but a NORMAL person? “I didn’t look hard enough?” How hard does one have to look to find laundry in a laundry basket???
There does come a point in a mother’s life when she wonders why she bothers with fripperies like laundry baskets. Why not just a garbage bag hung from the bedroom doorknob once a week? Because really, it would save valuable floor space, not having that laundry basket lying around empty. Valuable floor space, which could be much better used storing, oh, I don’t know…
dirty laundry, maybe?
“Yes, it’s lovely outside. Let’s get our coats on and go outside!”
“It’s cold outside, lovie. Nice and sunny, but very cold. You will need your coat.”
“If you don’t wear your coat, you will be cold. You need your coat.”
“Don’t you want to go outside?”
“If you’re going outside, you need to wear your coat. If you don’t wear your coat, you will be cold. Brrr!”
Sound familiar? Parent is being patient and sensible. Expectations are clear. Consequences equally so. Parent is being reasonable as reasonable can be…
and toddler is having none of it. Toddler does NOT want to wear that coat, and no amount of rational sweet-talk is going to change their mind. Cold? Who cares about cold? They are not cold! They don’t need a coat!!!
We have an impasse.
Now, there are a few reasonable and effective ways to proceed from here. What very often happens instead, however, is a protracted coax-plead-and-negotiate session, in which the parent persists in their (very reasonable) position and the child persists in their (utterly unreasonable) one. This does not achieve the goal of going outside, at least not anytime soon, and by the end of it the parent is feeling harried, frustrated, exasperated and helpless.
Why, when all we are trying to do is be reasonable, sensible, principled parents, do we so often end up feeling harassed and out of control, as if we the adult are the supplicant, and the child is the one who is making the decision?
Well… Probably because that’s exactly what’s happening. Aggravating, isn’t it? Not to mention embarrassing. And not in the child’s best interest, either. Plays havoc with the whole idea of Harmonious Family Home, to boot.
Here’s the nub of the problem: While the parent has pledged to themselves that they will always be reasonable and fair with their child, the child has made no such pledge. So here we have all these lovely, kind, sensible, reasonable parents behaving reasonably with their child, and expecting the child to be reasonable in return.
This… is unreasonable.
Toddlers are not much interested in reason. In fact, they’re not entirely capable of it just yet. So yes, do have good reasons for your expectations, and express your expectations reasonably. That is good modelling. But if you seriously expect your toddler to, in essence, smack a hand to their forehead and say, “Oh, of course, mummy! You’re so right! What was I thinking??” … you are delusional.
Which is not to say that, from time to time, you won’t get quick and easy compliance with a request. This may be because you have a particularly compliant child, or they’re in a particularly compliant mood. Maybe what you want them to do corresponds exactly with what they want to do anyway. Maybe they did as requested because they know it will make you smile. (Despite their habitual negativity, toddlers do genuinely like to please.)
But, at the early toddler stage, what has almost certainly NOT happened is that the child was convicted by the strength of your argument. They just don’t think that way. Not yet. You will, by your good example and persistent guidance, teach and encourage rationality, but to expect a 16-month-old, or a 22-month-old to cede graciously to rationality when they want to do something else is as unrealistic as expecting your 4-month-old to stand unassisted just because they see you do it all the time.
They’re not there yet.
So, sure. Express your reasonable expectations reasonably. Just don’t be shocked if the child doesn’t respond reasonably. And if they don’t, if they instead respond negatively and passionately, do not attempt to reason them into compliance. It is wasted breath, and only gives the impression that direct orders are negotiable.
So, what to do? You have a few choices.
1. You could choose to let them experience some natural consequences of a bad decision. Going outside without a coat in February is a bad decision, and it won’t take them long to figure that one out. Then you can leap in with the solution, without ever once having to say ‘I told you so’. “Goodness, it’s COLD out here! Let’s get that coat on you quickly, before you FREEZE!” (Obviously, if your child is the uber-stubborn type who really would rather freeze than comply, you’re not going to give them this option.)
2. You could choose to ensure that the coat gets worn, by calmly but implacably putting it on the child. “I know you don’t want to wear a coat, but we can’t go outside without our coats on. I am wearing my coat. You will wear your coat.” And as you say this, you place the coat on the child, ignoring any struggles to the contrary.
3. You could choose not to go outside. “All right. If you won’t put on your coat, we can’t go outside. Would you like to read a book or jump on the mini-tramp?”
These responses all have the advantage of:
- being reasonable
- being consistent with your original position
- refusing to negotiate a non-negotiable
The biggest strength of these responses: None of them demand from the child a level of rationality he/she does not yet possess.
The bottom line: YOU can and should be reasonable. You can and should model rationality. Just don’t expect the same level of reasoning ability from your child.