I am the absolute worst potty trainer in the history of planet earth. My kids, even though they are smart and clever, don’t seem to catch on to the concept of using the toilet until they are much older than average. I try everything, read everything, use crazy techniques (Once I tried floating Cheerios in the potty, don’t ask how it went.) and still they don’t figure it out on my timeline. I think it’s God’s way of reminding me I’m not perfect.
He does that from time to time, or daily. God points out I’m not the one in charge here. As much as I would like to have a formula for parenting, there is a huge gap between what seems like the best way and what actually happens.
Parenting is a series of obstacles we dodge and prepare for only to trip and fall at least half of the time. We just have to get back up and keep going with God’s grace.
We get this idea in our head that if we make the “right” choices and do the “best” job then our kids will turn out “great.” But what is right, best or great is not as clear as we would like. Even something as simple as teaching a child to tie his shoe can turn into World War III without warning. You show him how to loop the shoelaces, he doesn’t understand, you try a little harder, he cries, you cry, you buy him some Velcro sneakers in defeat. You lose your confidence, you wonder if he will be able to handle the next step in his life, you start looking at the price of vacations on an island in the South Pacific.
So what do we do when we our plans don’t work? Even the very best moms and dads have kids who make poor choices. Hey, even the first man who had the perfect Father made some pretty awful decisions! We have to accept that despite all of our valiant efforts, there is a place in our child we can’t reach—I like to call it the God place.
The God place is the area deep inside of each of us only God can see, touch and repair. We can show our child how to tie his shoe, we can explain why it’s necessary to tie a shoe, we can even wear our own laces joyfully—but we can’t make him want to do it. We don’t have the power to make our child want something, no matter how much we try. That is between your child and God.
It’s our job to love, teach, enforce and set an example, then trust God to do the rest. Patience is the key. That and a lot of prayer. Oh, I don’t mean prayer for your child, although it’s important. I mean prayer for yourself not to lose your mind over this little person who seems to be dead set on pushing every boundary.
You have to trust God to reach those places in your child. If you raise your child well, God will use your efforts and build on them. If you mess up (which you will!), God will take those lessons to shape your child. Either way, the result is God’s job.
Trying techniques and theories and chore charts and reward systems are all good options. But once you have put the system into place, don’t believe for a second it is going to assure an outcome you want. From babies who won’t sleep to toddlers who won’t eat to teens who refuse to enjoy, well, anything, we must give our kids’ needs over to God. Some people need different lessons, and only God knows what they are.
Before you get completely discouraged and decide to give up trying and just go hide in the closet with a bag of chocolate, believe that your role as a parent is important. You have a place in your heart too where only God can reach, and He speaks to you there on behalf of your child. You will get inspiration and encouragement from Him to try new ideas and you will be amazed at how His ideas produce a better outcome than any of your plans could have.
Just because you can’t guarantee the outcome you want doesn’t mean you don’t try. Remember your efforts are a tool of God, not a guarantee. Even though you are a huge piece of the puzzle for your child, you are only one piece.
And by the way, all of my children are now fully potty trained despite my inadequacies. I fumbled my way through it each time and learned some valuable lessons from those days. First, I learned to lean on God for inspiration and grace when I didn’t know what to do. Second, I learned to always keep a few towels in the back of my minivan. Both of those lessons have come in handy many times since!
Lisa Pennington is a homeschooling mother of nine who shares her life—one laundry load at a time—on her blog, The Pennington Point. Pennington is a sought-after speaker at conferences, women’s groups, homeschool support groups and more. She currently lives in the Texas Hill Country near San Antonio with her husband, James, and their family.