A Catholic Parent Takes on the Challenges of Parenting

Every day, the cross, with joy!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

On Diapers and Potty-Training

Here's a new dad, with a diaper change gone wrong.
It was not the last time he'd have an up close and personal poop encounter.
Parenting gives us the opportunity to do many things we would not otherwise choose to do. Changing diapers and potty-training a child are great examples of this. I am not going to cite any studies to prove this, but I think the general population dislikes dealing with the urine and feces of other human beings, even when those human beings are cute little kids.

Of course, newborn diapers are not so bad. Gently placing a lightweight baby down on a changing table can even be fun when the kid is smiley and happy. But pretty quickly after beginning solid foods, diapers start to get a little uglier and stinkier. The kids start to get heavier and harder to lift onto a changing table. And at about the time you decide you can't handle the disgusting poopy diapers anymore, you get to start dealing with disgusting poopy underwear.

When we take a step back, however...and a deep breath of fresh air after thoroughly washing our hands...we can see how diapers and the process of potty-training can become excellent parenting mortifications.

First of all, just to repeat the obvious, dealing with the urine and feces of another human being is kind of gross. It's not exactly a highly sought after occupation, and it probably was not a major motivation for our having kids. If it weren't for the fact of our having children, we likely would not deal with this at all. Hence it is a wonderful opportunity to die to self - to face the reality of doing something unpleasant. It may not seem to be a privilege or a gift in earthly terms, but it can be a blessing that increases our humility and brings us closer to God. It is an involuntary mortification - something we do not choose - that can be willingly offered to God. Very few vowed religious will have this particular opportunity, in all its ickiness, but it is a privilege granted to parents!

Besides the particular unsavory quality of changing diapers and potty-training, there is also the inconvenience of it. Most people do not have their day frequently interrupted by other people's bladders and bowels. Very few vowed religious have to interrupt their daily tasks to mop up puddles of urine or rinse out underwear in the toilet. Such interruptions can be annoying and even embarrassing, depending on when and where they occur. It is not surprising if we feel ourselves getting flustered by having to address these issues in the midst of preparing breakfast or in the midst of friends at the local park. And yet, the inconvenience can also be a great mortification, interrupting one good activity for another (potentially) good one. The interruption and inconvenience can also be an opportunity to embrace our own lack of control, dying to ourselves and our own plans so that we can re-align ourselves to God's will.

When it comes to potty-training, many parents have the experience of feeling like there is no end in sight. Patience can run thin, and we can feel stuck in the moment. There is no big picture, just ANOTHER  "accident." In such moments, our lack of trust in God (and in our children's potential) can be painfully obvious. "Training" seems to imply an end result of being "trained," and yet, when the progress is slow, this end seems to be nothing more than a legend for which there is no proof. Perseverance in the face of this seemingly unchanging reality can be painful. At the same time, however, it is a good reminder to us of the training required for our own virtue and holiness. We may want immediate results, but we do not always get them. Like a toddler being potty-trained, we may fail and fail and fail again as we strive to master ourselves. Like the poopy toddler, we may not notice our stinky situation, or we may pretend not to notice it. We may run away to avoid admitting it and facing reality. This journey of life, like potty-training, is a messy one, but it is also one filled with daily opportunities to try again and again to acknowledge our own weaknesses and failures, so that we can let ourselves be trained with God's grace. 

Diapers and potty-training. Disgusting. Inconvenient. Frustrating. Interminable.

Sanctifying.

As parents, we shouldn't waste that waste, but rather, put it to good use!

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