Last June, on the fourth morning of a three-day intensive potty training bootcamp, I got woken up by a little girl with wet eyes and wet sheets. After a half hour spent changing undies, cleaning the crib and consoling the trainee, I waddled (8+ months pregnant!) to the front door, tip-toed to the car, and cried the entire way to IHOP. My body ached from running Anna to the potty all weekend and wiping up missed attempts. But worse, my ego was bruised and my heart hurt. The book said if I followed the instructions exactly, training should only take three days. The book said she was old enough. The book said not to give up. The book promised.
But it wasn’t clicking, not even a little bit. Meanwhile, my sweet girl was crying in frustration and shame. She wanted so badly to follow my instructions but she simply couldn’t do it.
On that terrible summer morning, on the fourth day of potty training, I felt like the worst mother in the world. Not only had potty training been terribly unsuccessful, I’d bruised my child’s confidence in the process. I needed alone time with God, and I needed pancakes. It had been one doozy of a weekend.
Motherhood at its best is butterfly kisses and early morning snuggles and bath-time giggles. Motherhood at its worst is when you try, and try, and try to teach what is good and right, only to be met by resistance or failure.
After a few hours at IHOP I drove home and fished all of Anna’s diapers out of our trashcans. I’d thrown them away, like the book commanded, because failure wasn’t an option. And yet in the wise part of my mama heart I knew my daughter better than a book knew her. Anna hadn’t failed potty training, she was simply too young and needed more time.
I’d like to say that I learned my lesson that weekend, but months later I found myself back in a similar predicament with Owen. At three weeks old, my baby began taking shorter and shorter naps until every nap cycle became 28 minutes long and nighttime wakings increased from one time a night, to four or five. I’d read the sleep books, I believed in nap schedules, and I was following their instructions like science. But nothing was working.
I’ll never forget telling a group of women at church that I could use some prayer because my baby was barely sleeping, and one of them responded by saying, “We never had sleep issues with any of our children because we followed Babywise.” (Translation: If you were a good mom, and followed the directions, you wouldn’t be having sleep problems right now.)
I wanted to scream, “I’ve READ the book. I’ve TRIED the book. I BELIEVED the book. But either I’m stupid or the book is wrong because it’s not working for us this time around!”
When Owen turned six months old, we began making a lot of changes to his sleeping arrangements. Someday I’ll write about everything we did, but, without a doubt the most important change we made was simple, free, and available to every mama around the world.
We began praying for wisdom.
You see, when it came to sleep training (and potty training!) I did plenty of research and soaked up all sorts of knowledge. I knew the various methods and approaches, and all the pros and cons that came with each. After I read everything I formed an attitude that there was a right and wrong way to train children, and if I went about things the right way then I’d have success and if I went about things the wrong way there’d be failure.
An older friend challenged me one day in the winter months. She said, essentially, “I can give you all kinds of advice and tricks that have worked for me, and some of them will probably work with your children. But there is no magic formula. The most powerful thing you can do is ask God for his wisdom.”
And so I have.
Who are these little people, dear God? Reveal their personalities and their weaknesses. Show me where they struggle and what makes them thrive. Help me understand why they wake and why they sleep. Help me see the subtle things I’m missing. Show me how to love and train them as individuals, not statistics on the page of a book.
Since I began praying for parenting wisdom, I’ve already watched God answer by showing me tiny things that each of my children need to thrive. These moments of realization have been subtle but spot on. He has taken me–beat-up, bruised and doubting my mothering skills–and blown encouragement and life back into my soul. I gave these children to you temporarily, He says. They are a gift. Treasure them and teach them, never losing sight of the fact that you are not in this alone. I will help. Just ask.
God is showing me, time and time again, there is not a one size fits all solution for training children. There aren’t any verses in the bible about sleep training or potty training just like there’s nothing advocating an Atkins diet over a Weight Watchers plan. What works for some does not work for all. Should we learn from those who’ve gone before us? Absolutely. Should we buy into a one-size fits all parenting plan? Absolutely not.
If you’re a mama with young children, please learn from my mistakes. I’m going to to say something right now that I hope you’ll never forget:
Training children takes time, effort, hard work, skill, patience and failure. That’s why we use the word TRAINING. If you’re reading parenting materials that make you feel bad if your child doesn’t fit into their definition of success, put the book down. If you’re reading parenting advice that makes you feel like a bad mother, put the book down. If you’re receiving parenting feedback from well intentioned strangers who suggest all children are made the same, shout FIRE and then run.
You, Mama, were created with special gifts, talents and wisdom to meet the needs of your unique children. You know more than you think you do, and you serve a God who is willing and able to help when you’re not sure what to do next. Ask for His help, seek His wisdom.
If you can’t hear him very well, just head to IHOP. He met me there one time.