"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
February 11, 2013
Expert-less
by Melissa Howell

A friend in my ward stopped me in the hall not long ago.

“Hey,” she said. “I hear you’re an expert in potty training, and I really need some ideas for my son.”

An expert. Huh.

My potty training had really been limited to training two kids; my oldest was three-and-a-half and still in diapers when my parents came to stay with him and my toddler while the hubster and I went on a five-year anniversary trip to Seattle and the Washington coast. My parents took one look at Connor, said, “we don’t believe in changing diapers on a big boy,” and my son never wore a diaper again.

While I was grateful that I came home to a potty-trained son, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a bit sheepish that I had clearly not been aware that he was more than ready and I didn’t jump all over that situation.

I vowed that next time it would be different.

And it was, two times over.

With my daughter and then another son, I pretty much owned potty training. My three-days-until-success method worked like a charm. I went cold turkey; no more diapers, no going anywhere for three days, just free as nature they ran around learning about what happens when nothing is there to catch what their body doesn’t use, and what to do about it. It worked beautifully. She was trained at two-and-a-half, my second son was two years and three months. Totally trained.

Easy peasy. And if one were to assume that I was guilty of feeling a bit smug about it, one would very likely be correct.

And so while I laughed at being called an “expert,” I did feel I knew a thing or two about the successful way to potty train.

It would be so very lovely if this is where the story ends.

But then I had this fourth child, my third son. And as if I needed countless experiences to remind me that he is my forever baby, few things with him have been easy peasy.

When he hit two years and four months, right smack between where I had trained number two (no pun intended) and number three, I dove in, confident in my sure-fire method.

I shrugged off my creeping concerns that his very strong personality was going to make this experience a slightly different one from the previous two. At first, it seemed as if we were on track for another seamless potty training success. He was getting the concept, we could go places and he’d stay dry, all the signs of “We made it! I will never buy another diaper!” were in place. For several weeks, I rode this wave of triumph.

But slowly, just like the mesmerizing sunsets that illuminate the clouds in a warm palette of hues disappears when the sun slips behind the mountains, those signs started to fade, as though they had never been.

He started removing his pants and leaving me surprises around the house. Then, heck with taking the time to remove his pants, he’d just make surprises in his pants. And then, joy of all joys, sometimes he’d remove his bottom layers after making surprises and then track additional surprises everywhere he went. I fell into the deepest of despair with the messes, his lack of care, the whole shebang.

I tried everything I could think of: consequences, bribes, what have you. It was clear it wasn’t a lack of ability, but a lack of care and effort on his part. We locked wills in a fierce power struggle, and he emerged victorious.

And now, three months later, he is in diapers one hundred percent of the time. It’s as if the whole thing never even happened.

Every now and then I’ll ask him, “Mason… do you want to go on the potty?”

“Um, no fanks,” he’ll reply ever so politely.

An expert? I handed over my card.

Here’s what I can say I have become an expert in: that every child is unique, with his or her own talents, challenges, personality and mind.

This is why I sometimes scoff at the term “parenting expert.”

Sure, there are people who study children, their development, their tendencies. And sometimes it’s nice to turn to someone who might seem like a master in the art of raising children, who can offer words of advice, wisdom and solutions.

But sometimes we need to rely more on the person who knows our children the best, who spends many of their waking minutes together, who brought them into this world and bumps along in figuring out the best way to take on the challenge of parenting: ourselves.

Do you ever feel like we have forfeited some of our common sense these days when it comes to raising children?

We have minds. We have prayer. We have the scriptures. We have the Spirit to guide us.

My common sense dictates that with my two-year-old, I let him win this battle because it was better for my sanity to go back to diapers than to continue cleaning the messes that nearly sent me running from my life, hands in the air and leaving a well-covered trail so that no one could track me down.

I’m just saving my strength for round two. If it goes well, maybe I’ll reclaim my expert card.


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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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