Do You Trust Your Instincts?

Mar 01

I’ve written before about my passion for plans, my delight in following directions.  This weekend, I took those tendencies to extreme lengths, abandoning my instincts and trying to adhere to an agenda that did not work.

We started potty training Big Boy on Saturday.  In advance of this big day, I did some (admittedly scatter-shot) research and discovered a book that offered what turned out to be the toileting equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme.  Given the success we’ve had with sticking to plans for our kids’ sleeping and feeding, I figured a structured approach would work for potty training too – so I ordered that book, read it cover to cover, and got ready for the magic to happen.

And I’m still waiting for that magic.

The problem was that the idea worked for me, all nicely laid out as it was in bullet-point form in the book.  But it didn’t work for Big Boy. Nope. Not at all.  He didn’t like the potty doll.  He didn’t like the sticker chart.  He really didn’t like the practice runs to the potty every time he had an accident.

And it wasn’t only that he didn’t like it; he simply didn’t get it.  He didn’t connect the rewards to the positive behavior and the consequences to the undesired one.  As far as he was concerned, I had gone crazy and was asking him to join me.

He didn’t get it, and I didn’t get that.

So we spent the day at odds, me clinging to a rulebook and him throwing it back at me in the form of tears and wet Spiderman underwear.  I violated every tenet of the parenting version of the Hippocratic oath: I made my child cry; I hurt his feelings; I injured his spirit.  I did harm.

The worst part is that I knew in my gut that the approach just wasn’t right.  Every instinct told me that the plan was both punitive and went against Big Boy’s wiring in every way.

But I didn’t listen to my gut voice.  Instead, I stuck to the plan.  And, ignoring my instincts completely, I found myself at sea (no pun intended) when the plan failed.

Thankfully a fortuitous double nap that afternoon allowed me to sit down and revisit our tactics.  A knotted stomach and the echoes of Big Boy’s sobs provoked me to do what I should have done long before: focus on the child.   Think about all of the progress he had made that day.  Think about how to reinforce that progress.  Think about how to help him listen to his body.   Think about how to help me listen to my instincts.

And I did better.  And he did better.  There were accidents, but there were triumphs.  There was celebratory ice cream.  There was a four-man family bobsled made out of pillows and a rocking chair.  There was “I love you, Mommy” while reading Shel Silverstein poems in the bathroom.

I went to bed that night still feeling guilty about the way the morning had gone.  Husband reassured me that no great damage had been done.  As I lay falling asleep, I wondered whether I would be able to retain my own lesson from the day: to let my instincts speak as loudly as the voices of the experts in my books.

Are you good at listening to your instincts?  Which do you tend to trust more – “expert” advice or your own gut voice?

Will you forgive me for making my 29-month-old son cry?

Image: when things go wrong potty training DSCN9426 by johnbullas via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.