I’m Following the Potty Training App. My Wife Is Not. Now My Son Is Pissing in Plants. Help!

A dad experiences an epic potty training fail that may be exposing deeper issues of parenting styles and spousal communication.

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Dear Goodfather,

We’re potty training and it sucks, but not in the ways that you might expect. My wife and I noted the obsession our two-year-old had with the potty. He wanted to sit in it with his diaper on. He pooped in his diaper. Then he sat in it with his diaper off — with both of us watching. Poop again! Later he said “Pee daddy!” I took him to the potty and stood him in front of it and pulled off his diaper. He was in fact already going, but the stream hit the potty eventually. He was thrilled. So my wife and I agreed it was time to make it formal, to follow a program, and to make it a done deal. So I downloaded a potty training app. We use apps for sleep training, used them to bottle feed when he was an infant, use them to share grocery lists. They work for us.

This time, however, I was the only one chipping in, and that was a problem. I set up the app — we used Perfect Potty, because it was more for adults than kids — and onboarded our daycare. You log meals, you log poops, you log pees, and you use the data to help you through setbacks. There was an immediate problem — my wife wouldn’t add the data. In fact, as soon as we downloaded the app, she seemed hesitant about the whole thing, started coddling him and letting him wear diapers when he asks. She is totally going off books.

So when it was time for him to go pee on a weekend, I didn’t know. So he peed his pants. He felt ashamed. He cried. My wife rushed to console him and it absolutely enraged me. It’s her fault! This all came to a final head when I found my son, in one of his data-free times, peeing in a plant. Pissing. In. A. Plant. It was in the corner and he was ashamed and lacking guidance because I wasn’t guiding because… I didn’t have the data. I tried to talk to my wife about it and she said he wasn’t ready. I feel thrown under the bus. I’m so mad I can’t talk to her. I’m about to lobby for going back to diapers or to send my wife away on vacation and do it myself over the weekend. What should i do?

Pissed in Pittsburgh

Potty training is a tough process, app-enabled or otherwise. It’s important for you to know that your frustration is pretty par for the course. In fact, the only people unlikely to be affected by potty training stress are the ones who can afford an in-home potty training consultant for a couple of grand and get the process knocked out in a week. If you have that kind of money, I’d encourage you to find a potty training consultant. But I’m going to assume that the solution isn’t that simple. So, instead, let’s see if we can get you to a place where your kid’s success isn’t being undermined by his parents.

The first thing we need to talk about here is the amount of emotion everyone has attached to this process. It’s simply too much. I’m incredibly excited your kid has shown he’s down to poop in the potty. You’ve recognized his willingness and jumped in to support him. That’s really great! Too many parents want their kid to operate on the adult’s timeline and that makes everything harder when a kid isn’t prepared. Of course, there are some circumstances when it’s necessary — many daycares, for instance, want kids potty-trained before entrance. A potty training requirement makes the stakes much much higher. You didn’t say you had a deadline, and that’s good news because you may need to push the pause button for a hot second.

The one thing in your letter that really chilled me was that you suggested your son was feeling ashamed of peeing in the plant. That’s a big warning sign. You do not want your child to start associating going potty with feeling shame or guilt. Those kinds of associations may start baking in a reluctance to potty train that can set you even further back. And your obvious angst over the plant pissing probably isn’t helping the situation, unless you have an extraordinary poker face.

Keep in mind that accidents happen, and will continue to happen as you move forward. You’ll have that plant for but a brief moment in your life. Your kid will poop and pee in the toilet for the rest of their life. When you put it in perspective, peeing in a plant is not too big a deal.

So right away, I think you need to suspend the potty training process. No apps, no pressuring. If your kid wants to potty in the toilet, let him, but you need to be easy and breezy about his elimination for a bit, just to reset things. Don’t worry too much about the pause. Kids go through regressions all the time. Starting and stopping out of necessity is better than starting and making everyone miserable by pushing ahead when things go off track.

The pause in potty training doesn’t need to be terribly long, but it does need to be long enough for you and your wife to get on the same page. That’s ridiculously important. Inconsistent or irregularly applied expectations and rules, as you have already seen, will make potty training a disaster. Before you do anything else, you need to reach a consensus on how potty training should go down.

Personally, I’m unfamiliar with the potty training app you mentioned. Sounds complicated. But it’s certainly not the most complicated system I’ve ever heard of. There are programs out there that include potty-training dolls and DVDs and practice toilets and books and card games. There are also potty training methods that are super-duper simple. Consider the no-pants method, which requires you to take a good three days and keep your kid pantless for ease of pottying and to better understand when they’re about to go. There is no one method that is better than the other. Because the best method is the one that leads your specific kid to potty-training success.

The point is that you have a great many options. For whatever reason, it appears your wife isn’t comfortable with the option that you originally settled on. I’m not going to try and psychoanalyze why that might be the case. Not only would I probably be wrong, but it’s also pretty much not important here. What is important is that you have a brutally honest conversation about the potty training methods available and that you both make a pact to follow through, consistently.

It might be that the best option, in fact, turns out to be the app. But you won’t know that until you talk with your wife and find out what her barriers to using the app are. I will note that you do not need all the data in order to be successful. I know that because I poop in a toilet and my grandfather pooped in a toilet and his grandfather pooped in a toilet before him — or maybe an outhouse but you get the picture.

The method you choose is less important than the consistency you have in using the method. It’s also important that you both remain chill. The more fun and relaxed your potty training method is, the better everything will go.

In other words, stop blaming your wife and start working with her. You guys need to be a team on this. You can do it.