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I'm currently potty training my oldest son.

It goes a little like you'd expect: he'll happily sit on the toilet sometimes and other times he hides behind the couch and refuses.

The other day I was trying to coax him from out behind the couch.

"Don't you want to use the potty?" I asked.

"No. I don't like it," he announced. He crouched behind the couch, clutching toy cars in both hands.

I restrained the urge to tell him all the things I regularly did that I didn't like. Even though I knew potty training would be a one step forward, two steps back process, I still had hoped it might be different for us.

My husband often accuses me of being impatient. I like to move forward in a straight line, which is basically the opposite of what anyone's life looks like, including mine. In other words, I'd prefer things to be easy most of the time. Or at least, easier than they often are.

I like to make lists and check things off. I like the feeling of accomplishment and finishing things. However with young kids, there is no point when anything is truly finished. Because soon as one challenge has passed, another raises its head, asking for your time, energy, and attention.

For me, this is where expectations and reality can meet in a head on collision called perfectionism and disappointment. Real life is messy and not progress oriented. And sometimes, the more I try to make it orderly and linear, the more my kids resist my efforts.

I was recently talking with a friend about perfectionism and being progress oriented. We talked about how when you're hard on yourself you can also be hard on others, the pressure to perform well spreading from your own life into expectations you put on others. While putting pressure on yourself can be great in order to accomplish things, the downside of this mindset is the distance it can put between you and others. Which is what I've felt happen between my kids and I.

Often, it's because when I get that attitude with them I'm treating parenting more like a job than a relationship. I treat certain things they need to learn like tasks that need to be accomplished. Instead, kids learn things organically, as part of life in relation with others. They benefit more from me going through life with them than from me setting timelines for them.

Which isn't to say kids don't benefit from some expectations--expectations can give kids an idea of what they're capable of and spur them toward growth. It's becomes a problem when those expectations are more focused on results than growth. And growth is often more of a one step forward, two steps backwards process.

Yesterday, I decided we'd take a day off potty training. It was a rainy day and the grey sky made us feel more cozy inside. My son and I spent more time snuggling and doing puzzles and reading books. Who knows if that means today he'll be more responsive to potty training. But he always seems more responsive to learning when we've first spent quality time together, enjoying each other's company.

Kassandra Montag

Parent Storyteller

Kassandra Montag is a fiction writer, award-winning poet, and freelance writer. She enjoys being outdoors, preferably on the banks of the Missouri River with her boys. She lives in Omaha with her husband and two sons. Learn more about Kassandra at ...

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