You may be asking, how did you do it, oh great father? Well, I’ll tell you. First of all, it was mostly her mother. Secondly, there was a good bit of promised positive reinforcement. Or, as it’s more commonly known, “bribing.” And last of all, and most effectively, lots and lots of consistency and structure.
We have trained our child now to have an inordinate amount of faith and reverence towards a mythical entity known as “a big-girl bed.” This as-yet-unseen creation is spoken of in hushed tones of awe and eagerness in our household, not unlike Santa Claus enjoys at Christmas. She has been promised that the Big-Girl Bed will come to live with her in her room when she is able to sleep through the night without incident. It will be soft and big and will wipe away all tears. Well, actually, it would absorb the tears, being a real mattress that has no need for repelling moisture like her current mattress. It has helped for her to have the motivation of working towards a goal that makes her feel a little more grown-up.
The most significant and helpful aspect of this final stage has been the consistency and structure, just like it was with every other stage of potty-training. We’d take her to potty every night before we’d put her pull-up on, telling her she could get up in the night to potty if she wanted. (She never did.) But when we’d be rocking her to sleep and she’d ask, “Am I wearing panties or a pull-up?” the answer was always, “Go to the potty!”
Then we opened our last pack of overnight pull-ups and a decision was made: this is the last pack of pull-ups we are buying. A countdown was started. Each night, it was announced how many pull-ups were left. “After that,” we’d tell her, “you’ll be sleeping in panties!” Then we’d tell her what that would be like: “You’ll have to be sure to go before you lay down, and then when you feel the need to go in your sleep, you’ll have to get up and go to the potty.” That routine lasted every night for the whole 24-count.
Then the night came. We’ve been giving her a little help. We wake her up before we go to bed – usually after she’s been asleep for a few hours – and we take her to potty. We sit her down, mostly still asleep, on the toilet until she pees, then we tuck her back in and go to bed. Most nights she does get up and come wake us up for help, but last night she made it the whole night without needing to get up.
So here are some things I’ve learned as we’ve crossed this new, slightly cheaper threshold of raising a child.
1.) Fellow adults, do not take for granted your bladder’s amazing ability to lock itself up for the night. One day, God willing, we will grow old enough that our bladder is less able to perform this task, and we will no doubt mourn its loss. But I hope we will remember that the bladder is not born with this ability and that it took some wet, sleepless nights to learn. So tonight when you close your eyes to go to sleep, thank your bladder for being reliable in waking you up if you need to go while you sleep.
2.) It doesn’t take long for a child to be motivated by the idea of growing up. This is bittersweet, of course, because we parents often nostalgically long for younger, sweeter, “more innocent” days. That’s foolish and false. Children don’t long for this, and neither did we when we were children. And, truthfully, we don’t really want this for our children either. Human beings just like to project good experiences into the past and pretend that the old days used to be good. From the moment we’ve developed some sort of consciousness, somewhere between our first and second year of life on earth, we recognize that maturation and growth is the goal and is preferable to staying immature. Children know it better than we do: deep down, everyone wants to grow up, if but a little at a time.
3.) It feels nearly magical how well children respond to consistency and structure, particularly when provided with kindness and patience. Everything that our child does well is due purely to structure, consistency, and patience. Setting and holding a structure with consistency and patience is very, very hard to do for our children. They seem to not like it; they fuss and cry and pitch a fit when we do it. But trust me, it’s the only thing that works. Your child might respond with happiness and joy if you give an inch somewhere, but you relax structure at your own peril. If you can divorce consequence from moral judgment and simply hold to your structures, there’s a very good chance children will thrive. You just have to survive the initial resistance.
4.) Along those lines, I’ve come to realize that my child’s usual bedtime shenanigans aren’t due to insecure attachment issues, or insecurity due to transition in her life, or fear of the dark. We’ve been inconsistent and impatient in keeping the structure of her bedtime. Poor thing, her success at nighttime potty-training has betrayed the ways she’s recruited us into creating an unhealthy bedtime routine. Bless her heart, this victory of hers has opened our eyes to our own failings. If she can go right back to bed in the dark without a thousand hugs at 11 PM after being awakened to go potty, then she could do it at 8 PM. So this weekend begins a renewed structure on bedtime routine. A crackdown, in other words. So check back next week…