I had a moment of clarity today. A moment of confidence not only as a parent, but as a functioning, participating member of a loving family and relationship with another human being. And it was set off by the toddler pissing all over the floor at eight o’clock on a Monday morning.
Potty training is a challenge, and one that can continue for quite some time, and often is accompanied by a fair amount of frustration and annoyance. So this morning, when the four year old was trying to shut the bathroom door, I was annoyed, because he likes to hide and explore the bathroom cabinet and the toilet, and has locked himself inside while one of us has to scramble to grab the key, so it’s a whole thing.
“Please don’t close the door all the way” I hollered as I saw him shutting it, he’d left it open an inch or so and then got quiet. I went to the door to make sure he wasn’t getting into anything unsafe, and what I saw was him lifting the lid of the toilet and peeing all over his little plastic potty seat, splashing it all over himself and the floor. He saw me see him, and I immediately turned and quietly told his dad that he was trying to go to the bathroom like he does, standing up, for the first time and that he’d gotten it all over himself and needed some help.
I ran upstairs to get him some clothes and my partner headed towards the bathroom where he was now soaking wet and becoming increasingly upset about the whole situation. He hugged him and helped him out of his wet clothes and told him it was okay and that he was proud of him for trying, and that it was fine that he didn’t get it quite right the first time. He calmed down once we got him cleaned up and in dry clothes and that was it — he went about his morning.
Sometimes I think we forget that we are growing little humans. It’s hard to see the transition between this little baby and like, this actual person making conscious decisions for reasons he’s only recently learned.
In that instance, it could have been so easy for me to get frustrated — to lash out. I hadn’t slept the night before, I’d just broken my phone and the morning had been full of stressful disappointments that had my anxiety turned up to eleven. And here was going to be yet another mess to clean up. But I saw it. I saw in that moment a chance. A chance to let this kid know it was fine, there was nothing to be embarrassed about, it was no big deal. Like spilled milk, but maybe a little less charming.
And it felt good. I felt good about myself. It felt good that my first response wasn’t anger or annoyance, but genuine empathy and patience with my child. Like so many of us, I feel like I drop the ball so often that feeling this win, this confidence in my ability to guide this human being to a happier life, was quite nice and fucking needed, frankly.
It also came with this glaring realization that it’s that simple when we are dealing with each other, in any capacity, whether it be parent, colleague, partner, client, etc. Making conscious efforts to respond to failures, messes and general fuckups with empathy, patience and kindness allows people the freedom and willingness to try again.
If we had responded in frustration, scolded him for making a mess, that would have shaped the way he moved forward. He’d be less likely to try it again anytime soon, and would be on the little guy potty chair for even longer because it would be a knock to his confidence.
Think about the last time you really feel like you fucked something up when you tried it for the first time. What response did you get from people you look up to or care about? Would it have lessened the blow if someone was like, it’s cool, yo, we all fuck things up and we just try again next time, only with the knowledge that we learned here, so it could go way better? Would you be as stoked to get out there and try again if someone scolded you for your mistake?
How we respond in those moments matter so much. Of course it matters everyday, but when we fail, that’s when we are the most vulnerable, and when we need the most compassion and understanding. That’s when empathy can do the most good, like Kintsugi for those of us who are cracked and by creating a strong, confident foundation in our children who are learning it all for the first time.
At the end of the day, I am thankful for this morning. I’m proud of my kid and I am grateful we had the opportunity to pat our kid on the back and help build that foundation that says it’s okay to fail. I’ve got you. We all fail. We all make a mess. We all piss on the floor. We just clean it up and do it a little different next time knowing we are loved no matter what. And somehow that just makes it easier.
Nikki is a photographer, writer, and general creator of things. She writes about mental health, sex, and relationships.