As a parent, I am the expert where my two children are concerned. I know them better than anyone else; their milestones, their likes, their dislikes and the way they deal with things that happen in their little worlds and their approach to life.
Since becoming a mother, I have generally parented by instinct and whilst I will read the occasional parenting book and listen to well-meaning advice, I will often reject that advice if it doesn’t fit with what my instincts are telling me (with the occasional exception for medical advice particularly where Jessica is concerned). I try not to compare when my children achieve their milestones with when other children their age do so – each child is an individual and does things at their own pace. So far, this approach has worked well for us as a family – my children are loving and happy so we must be getting some things right!
Last week though, I caved into to external pressure and went against what my instincts were telling me as I attempted to start the process of potty training. At three and a half, Jessica is still in nappies. Her preschool have no issue with this but other people have told me that it is high time she was potty trained. Most other children I know that are the same age as Jessica have been potty trained for quite some time. We have had a potty for over a year and Jessica knows what it is and will sit on it before her bath but it is rare for her to have a wee in it. Despite being in cloth nappies (which in theory should help her be more aware of when she is wet), she only occasionally tells us when she needs a nappy change and more usually it is just changed at regular intervals during the day or when that unmistakeable odour indicates that it is needed!
Jessica’s lack of awareness of when she is wet is the biggest factor that makes me think she is not ready. The external pressure though made me question whether her lack of potty training was just down to me being lazy and so against my better judgment, we attempted to start potty training. Jessica seemed to understand the concept of the sticker chart and the first attempt at sitting on the potty was successful (although Sophie then decided to go for a paddle before I could whisk the potty away which made it a little more challenging!).
The early success lulled me into a false sense of security and whilst I was prepared for dry runs and accidents, I was not quite prepared for how constant they would be despite frequent opportunities for Jessica to sit on the potty. I tried to stay calm and patient, changing clothes without making a big deal of it and praising Jessica for sitting on the potty even though it remained consistently dry but by the second day with Jessica starting to actively resist the potty and happily sitting in wet clothes without being remotely bothered by it, I took stock and did what I should have done all along – listened to what my instincts were telling me – that this was not yet the right moment and to wait a few more weeks when the time may be right to try again.
I remembered that I need to stop comparing Jessica’s milestones to those of heart-healthy children. With one or two exceptions, her developmental milestones have always been achieved a little later than other children her age. She was nine months’ old when she was first able to roll, 13 months when she crawled and 21 months when she took her first solo steps. To an external observer, she may appear to be a completely healthy three year old, but when I watch her with her peers, I can see so many little things that they do with ease that she can’t quite yet do herself. She isn’t bothered by this, and so neither am I.
Three years ago, Jessica was in intensive care recovering from her third open-heart surgery in seven months. She has endured a huge amount just to get to where she is today; just being able to do things like run about takes up more energy for her that it does for a child without a heart defect. She lives her life with half a working heart and lives it to the full. And she does things in her own time and will continue to do so. It’s time to go back to trusting my instincts, let her take things at her own pace and to remember that life is a journey and not a race.