Struggling vs. Suffering

Yesterday, Julia had a hard day. From the moment she woke up, she was irritable. Everything I asked or suggested was met with "no," or "Mama, don't...(insert whatever I was doing)." When I came home from some errands and some work in the afternoon, Julia told me she had "been a little fussy with Ana (our sitter)." To quote Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, some days are like that.

Yesterday was day 6 of potty training. After some false starts during the winter, Julia has really seemed ready recently, so we decided to try again. We aren't doing any specific "method--" just trying underwear, potty, and bribery at home; pull-ups when we're out. Without going into detail, it's been more successful and more promising than our previous attempts, but yesterday, Julia wanted nothing to do with it. And, when I put her into the bath last night, she said with a sigh, "I'm not doing a very good job potty training." I almost cried when I heard her say this, partly because, at not even three, it made me sad to hear her feeling defeated, and partly because I wondered what signals I had given her to make her feel this way. I've been working hard at celebrating her accomplishments and ignoring the setbacks, but I wondered if Julia was picking up on something else--was I expressing frustration without realizing it? Partly, I believe she is ready, but  I have to admit that I am really, really ready to be done with diapers. We talked a little about how it's hard to learn new things, and about how she is doing a great job. I told her I knew she would get it, and that she didn't need to be sad.

Since then, I've been thinking about something our sleep consultant said back when we sleep trained when Julia was 15 months: let her struggle, but don't let her suffer. Struggling is good-- it helps build resilience and confidence; suffering is not good-- it causes undue stress, and stress hormones don't allow the brain to integrate new experiences (please ignore my imperfect neuroscience here). And right now, I'd put Julia in the "struggling" category. A little hesitant, yes, but still making progress, and still processing her experiences with Scott and me (boy, does this one like to process).

It occurred to me last night that, like learning to fall asleep without nursing, potty training is something Julia needs to do on her own. It feels like one more milestone in the shift from baby-toddler-little girl, not just the potty training itself, but the role Scott and I play in the process. Whereas during infancy, we did everything for Julia, and in toddlerhood, a little less, all we can do now is create the circumstances for Julia to potty train, and support her as best as we can. We can't do it for her. And I can't help picturing an older Julia, grappling with bigger, harder tasks: friendships, first loves, academic challenges. As her mom, I think it's a natural instinct to want to "fix" things for her, but I know that this is not only impossible, but also not helpful to her. And so, today, I will practice letting go a little more, and being there to support Julia in her struggle.