Potty Training & Teenagers: The two hardest moments in parenting

Parenting teenagers is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I finally understand why my parents have an aversion to this stage in life.

They rapidly alternate from being these delightful, funny almost adult people to doing things that have me questioning everything I’ve ever known. 

They are the very definition of dialectical. (Thank you therapy)

They will, in the same day, be the epitome of happy-go-lucky, then swing over to absolutely broken and the world is the worst. They embody “big emotions.”  And it’s exhausting. 

And most of us are too afraid to talk about HOW EXHAUSTING TEENAGERS ARE.

Yup. 2 15 year old’s means 2 new drivers. AT THE SAME TIME

At least in public. It’s much cooler to brag about how amazing our kids are.

I get that it’s not cool to say teenagers suck. Or that it’s a terrible phase of childhood. (And yes, they are still children.)

I’m not sure why though. It was perfectly ok to bemoan how horrible it was to potty train them. And let’s face it, that was truly horrid.

When people ask me what the worst parts of parenting are, I always include the fact that potty training 7 humans was by far, the worst thing I’ve had to endure.

Potty training is evil and can’t be done the same way twice.

Teenagers are the same. What works for one doesn’t work for the other 8. That’s right. It’s just like potty training. It’s rewarding when it’s done. It’s miserable when you are in the thick of it and you dread it when you know it’s coming. 

Parents. Can we be honest for a second? 

All the fun photos of our teens doing cool shit is backed by days of tears, begging them to behave and a lot of white knuckling the experience. And it’s like if we admit that it’s REALLY hard to get to those magical photo moments we are bad parents.

Insert fun photo here.

Guess what? We aren’t bad parents. But we ARE tired, fed up, happy, proud, tired again, and for the love of god wear a coat once in a while and why are you wearing pajamas to school for the one millionth time and please go to class and stop installing every app known to mankind on your phone at midnight and WHY do you insist on drawing on yourself and OMG…

So yeah. Teens are great. And hard. And ugh. It’s really fucking hard to have teenagers. (Pardon my french.) 

I get tired of all the articles and posts about understanding them. It doesn’t help. I want it to, but it doesn’t. I remember being that angsty teen. (My kids don’t believe that because I’m basically ancient.) But I do remember. I remember my parents telling me to “watch your tone, young lady.” I still have that problem to this day. Yay?

I will say that I think in some ways our teens have it harder than we did. Technology is a blessing and a curse.

I could come home from work and not know that my friends were talking smack. And I would probably never know.

Our kids? They know the moment it happens and then they have to figure out what to do with that. I know grown ass women who don’t handle it well. 

It’s hard to be a teen. It’s hard to have a teen. Like, REALLY hard. 

At least at this point in my parenting journey I can see the light at the end of the VERY long teenager tunnel. It looks like a functional adult making choices and things.

Which is a whole next level of terrifying.

But you still get that thrill of “Look! They used the potty ALL BY THEMSELVES!!!”


  • Anonymous

    When potty-training my 2 oldest, it was hard because I was young and didn’t know it was ok to let the kids take the lead and choose their own timeline instead of trying to force them onto a timeline set by societal expectations, grandparents, not wanting to spend money on diapers, etc. There was a lot of pressure on me as a mom to have them potty-trained as early as possible. And did my first spouse help with any of this? Nope. He believed his only job in the family was to make money and that everything else was the mother’s responsibility. But that’s a totally different story.

    When the oldest of the kids I’ve had with my current spouse was a toddler, we lucked out to end up with a very wise pediatrician. He advised us to tune out extended family and societal expectations in favor of letting the kids decide when to potty train. Don’t pressure the kids at all about it – just be zen. Give up control and let the kids have that control over themselves. He said in all the decades of being a pediatrician and having 8 kids himself, he’d never once seen a child fail to potty train themselves when they decided they were ready. And when a child freely chooses the time themselves, they rarely have accidents. Yeah, we might spend more money on diapers and pull-ups, but the tradeoff would be a ton less stress for everyone in our household and kids who were happier and healthier.

    We decided to trust his advice. The grandmas didn’t like it – they were mostly looking to brag about accomplishments, but we stood our ground and even told them if they tried to interfere or guilt/shame the kids in any way they’d be cut off. Unfortunately, that was the only way we could get one of the grandmas to respect our boundaries.

    Letting the kids choose their own timeline worked well. The potty training of kids #3 and on was super easy and low stress. The only one that ended up having occasional accidents once they decided on their own that they were ready was the one who has moderate autism. He had occasional accidents until age 8. The pediatrician said this was totally normal for autistic kids and to not make a big deal out of it or make him feel bad about it.

    Some people visiting here may not want to read this, and you know, whatever. The main theme I see between thinking potty training and teenagers are hard with the examples you gave is – control. They are both times when parents wanting to exert control makes these stages much more difficult. It’s completely normal for teens to want to have control over their own lives as much as possible. They will express this desire in whatever ways they can.

    So let them choose to wear a coat or not and don’t bug them about it. Just the fact that they know you want them to wear a coat can be enough to make them rebel. Let them experience the natural consequences of their choices without any coercion or commentary. If they don’t take their coat when it’s cold out, they will feel cold and may possibly get wet. Let them decide if they’re ok with that consequence or not. It’s important that you choose to keep your opinion (with accompanying facial expressions and body language) to yourself. Yeah, I know, that can be super hard. But it’s important to try. They may start choosing to take their coat once they feel like the choice is 100% theirs. And if they don’t mind feeling cold, oh well. That should be their choice. Same with wearing PJs, drawing on themselves, and staying up too late.

    I realize this can be a hard thing to truly understand and embrace as a parent in Utah because the culture here is so authoritarian. It’s also going to take longer to make and see changes once you’re already into the teen years because the longer you’ve been engaging in patterns, the harder it is to break them and change course. You have to remember that it’s like steering a cruise ship not a bicycle and adjust your expectations about the rate of course change accordingly.

  • Stacey Bishop

    You have some good points here and are also making a lot of assumptions. You obviously know me and my family but not well enough to understand that 99% of the “dialog” is 100% internal. And not well enough to know our parenting style. Do I ask my teens to wear a coat? Sure. Do I make them? Nope. They wear what they want to wear. PJ’s for the win. They dye their hair crazy colors. They put too much shit in their backpacks. They wear the same damn hoodie 7 days a week. We are firm believers in natural consequences.

    The thing missing in your response is compassion. It’s hard to watch your teens make choices. They do dumb things and picking up the pieces is so hard.

    Did potty training go well all 7 times? Nope. Did all of them get potty trained? Yup. That is totally a personality thing. As is parenting teens. We can’t control jack shit, and I’m well aware of that.

    Please also consider that your response doesn’t account for the hours and hours of therapy we are engaged in every week. I think if more parents would just sit back and give space for other parents to vent, it would be helpful. That’s what this is. Venting. Responses like this are why we don’t talk about our teens. There’s so much judgement and assumption. We had a rough week at our house and writing about the hard stuff is my means of venting. And my way of showing other parents that it’s ok to vent. Not everything is peachy keen.

    If you feel the need to leave another comment on my parenting, please remember that what you read here is simply the tip of the iceberg, not the whole damn berg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *