By the time my third child rolled around, I thought I knew more about parenting than I actually did. His older brother and sister seemed to be on schedule with everything, so I figured he would be, too. After all, I’d done this twice before—clearly, I was an expert (not really).
When he started crawling and walking earlier than his two older siblings, I figured he would be early to do everything and I’d be in for it. He’d probably never let me relax again—which was true, but not for the reasons I thought.
After his third birthday, he still wasn’t showing any interest in potty training and I began to get so frustrated. As parents do, I tried everything, and his pediatrician assured me that he would do it in time. It wasn’t until after his fourth birthday that he went number two in the potty. It was a relief and a turning point for sure, but he still had to wear Pull-Ups at night. So he wouldn’t have an accident, I tried waking him to go before I went to bed, and he literally would not wake up.
I tried carrying him to the toilet, thinking it would make him wake up, but that didn’t work either. He’d wake up every morning with a soaked diaper. We cut back on liquids, we had talks about it, I tried not putting a diaper on him in hopes the wetness would wake him up, but nothing worked.
He also sucked his fingers as soon as he could get them in his mouth. His siblings had pacifiers that I took away when they were about 2, so finger-sucking was new territory for me. I had no idea how to make him stop.
So, here we were: my son was going on 5, he was still wearing a diaper every night and he would suck his fingers, a lot.
Of course, I wondered what I was doing wrong. Maybe I was talking about it too much with him? Perhaps I wasn’t taking drastic enough measures?
When I told his pediatrician my concerns (for the second time), she was even more reassuring and explained a few things: The more I talked about him wetting the bed and sucking his fingers, the harder it would be for him to stop. She went on to remind me there is a huge range of “normal” and it’s easy to forget that as parents when we see other kids reaching milestones and doing things faster or slower than our children. She also told me to never, ever punish him for these things.
As parents, it’s hard to talk about these things with other parents who don’t know the struggle—there is a lot of self-blame involved.
Another piece of the puzzle is that potty training can actually be somewhat genetic. So, if you or your partner were late bloomers in the potty training department, your kids might be, too. That was definitely the case, as his father was 9 when he stopped having accidents at night. Then I remember something else: I had sucked my fingers until the second grade. The only reason I stopped was because my dentist yelled at me and scared me to death.
I tried really hard to be patient. I realized it was harder for my child to hang on to these behaviors than it was for me. One night, he refused to go camping with his cousins. He was 8, and very quiet while everyone else was running around packing, all excited. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Mom, I can’t go camping because of my diaper,” and it broke my heart.
Honestly, part of me wanted to say, “Well, honey, maybe if you try really hard, you won’t have an accident and won’t need your diapers anymore,” but I remembered what the doctor told me.
Instead, I just held my son, wishing I could fix it for him. He didn’t want to go camping and I stayed home with him and we had s’mores in the backyard and he still talks about that night and how fun it was.
A few months later, he just stopped sucking his fingers. I don’t know why. I never asked him, he just didn’t do it anymore. Then, it wasn’t long after that he had a few dry nights and told me about it. I told him that was fantastic and he started counting the mornings he woke up dry on his own. The weeks turned into months and he was no longer wearing diapers.
As parents, it’s hard to talk about these things with other parents who don’t know the struggle—there is a lot of self-blame involved. But, I’m so thankful his doctor talked me down and assured me that just because he was a late bloomer in some areas, it didn’t mean anything was wrong with him.
So, if you are struggling and wondering why your child is still doing something you think they shouldn’t be, talk to your doctor and other parents who have been there. I know it’s frustrating, but the best thing you can do for your child (and yourself) is be patient. They will come around when they are ready—and that’s just fine.