I’ve been quiet, but life hasn’t. Returning from some back-to-back conferences, I dive into our latest round of potty training my 10-year-old son, who confounds us by being successfully able to stay dry at school but not at home. You can imagine that by now, we’ve tried nearly everything. Quitting diapers cold turkey, sitting on the toilet every five/10/30/60 minutes, sitting on the toilet until he goes, sitting only when he asks, rewarding him when he sits on the toilet, rewarding him when he goes, rewarding him when he stays dry—stickers, M&Ms, iPad time—as if we’re one ingenious bribe away from getting this to work, potty books, social stories, pretending to ignore it completely.

We’ve received advice from countless experts: behaviorists, toileting clinicians, gastro-intestinal specialists, neurologists, developmental specialists, pediatricians, other parents, teachers, day care providers, nurses, grandmothers. It’s not like we’re trying to solve world hunger, but it’s a complex problem to us. Our school says that he’s the most complicated toileting case they’ve ever worked with.

Every few months we pump ourselves up for a renewed effort, one that requires patience, detachment and strong legs to make the trips up and down the stairs to the washing machine. This latest effort started yesterday. We’re trying something new this time, getting help from the behaviorists at school who have agreed to come to our house after school through bedtime to help us do what is working successfully for them. Less than 24 hours later, we’ve had major success—bringing him to the bathroom an hour after he fell asleep actually worked—and a morning filled with tantrums, flopping, crying, refusals to sit on the toilet, and refusals to walk to the bathroom. After my husband lifted our son from the breakfast table to take him to the bathroom, my daughter welled up in tears and said, “That doesn’t seem like a very nice way to treat a child.” Ouch. And with that, I remember every other time we’ve stopped trying.

Sitting down to write today, I wondered the point of today’s post would be. I like to have an insight, a solution, a resolution. But today there is none. There’s lots of ambiguity—can he really do this? Can we?

I’m getting used to this ambiguity. Often special needs parenting (and living in general, as you all insightfully point out) is about learning to thrive in that in-between feeling—being clear about what you want, having faith that you’ll get there, but not being attached to getting there. It’s like floating. I let go of the shore, on my back looking up at the sky, not getting too caught up going in any particular direction, occasionally paddling my feet to steer me in the generally right way, but not so much that I get a cramp. Just being. Just floating. Just appreciating being wet.

Do you float? How? When?

Published by Cristin Lind

Facilitator, consultant, speaker for better health and care through patient-professional partnership. Passionate about helping change agents build courage and agency. She/her.

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  1. Thanks for the reminder to float in the ambiguity of wondering what to do next, but trusting that solutions can and will be found somehow. My son for the longest time would be dry through the night but couldn’t manage the days. Interestingly, I don’t even remember how it all got resolved! These days I worry most about my capable, able-bodied daughter and how she will make it to adulthood without that huge sense of entitlement that my parenting has not nipped in the bud to date. Note to self: float.

  2. I know this won’t sound helpful, but wow, he is staying dry in school? That’s amazing. You guys ROCK as a family. We miss you.

  3. I learned a great life lesson from an excellent reading specialist from Amherst NH, Elaine Holden. I took my daughter (with intellectual disabilities) to her for an in-depth reading evaluation.
    After three trips to NH for an intensive reading evaluation she made some pretty hefty recommendation for reading programs and strategies.
    My school district had basically already given up on her (at the ripe old age of 8!) so I knew these recommendation would be difficult for them to digest.

    I asked Elaine how I would ever sell her robust recommendations to my district and particularly counter their argument that she was too intellectually impaired to make gains.

    Her answer was beautiful.

    She stated (paraphrased..)
    You teach to the rules, not to some guesstimated time line of mastery.
    I thought that was genius and simple.

    It eliminated for me, selling any prospective outcome as reason to implement the strategies. Rather the structure of Teaching to the reading rules as being fundamental to the building blocks of reading. And that’s what was needed.

    The measure of progress was not the gains in skills (at first) but rather the consistent exposure to application of the rules of reading. The constant exposure to recognizing that letter symbols have translated phoneme sounds was the first step. If she could look at a “b” and eventually say “bu” the foundation would be set to build from there.

    Perhaps that was floating.
    Floating with just teaching to the reading (toileting) rules.

    The goal was consistent exposure to the reading rules.
    Her participation in that exposure was the goal. Which put the responsibility on the teachers and us, just to teach to the rules of the recommended reading methodology.
    Not whether she was happy about it but that she consistently participated in it.

    That set us up for immediate success!
    And over time… she learned basic phoneme conversions.
    Enough of it to build on basic reading skills.
    Goooooo Ashley!


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