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 | By Alison Blanchet

Commitment Lenten Lessons from a Potty Training Toddler

I had hoped it would just happen. I had hoped that one day, the toddler would simply decide to stop wearing diapers and do her business in the potty. I envisioned a heart-to-heart conversation where I explained that diapers were costing us an arm and a leg, so it was time to make the move. However, much like every other toddler I’ve known, ours was uninterested in what was convenient or affordable. Don’t get me wrong, she was cute about it. But all attempts were met with indifference and her most favorite word, “NO.”

Finally, I picked up a popular book on the subject and received the marching orders I needed. Prior to reading this plan, we had tried the usual — chocolate chips as a reward and occasionally asking, “Do you want to try?” However, according to the book, I needed to forget this gradual exposure or any hope that it would happen automatically. According to this book, the way to potty train is to pick a day and commit to do nothing else until this task is mastered.

It made sense; it didn’t look like fun, but it made sense. We cleared the calendar and rolled up the carpet. We were committed. This was it for the next few days.

This strategy was shockingly effective. There was reluctance and a few tears (shed by all), but by the end of the week The Toddler was confidently excusing herself. Two weeks later, she was shunning the idea of diapers (except for overnight and naps because we do have our limits over here).

We wanted change, knew we needed change and even had the lovely pink potty chair. However, until we committed to a time, this remained one of many tasks we hoped to get around to one day, hopefully before college.

Afterward, I thought about why this attempt worked when others failed (we didn’t even use chocolate chips!). I realized much had to do with the fact that we committed to a time to begin. All the supplies and sticker charts in the world didn’t matter when we kept putting off the moment we were going to use them.

A wise way the Church sets us up for growth is through the liturgical calendar. Giving us seasons of both rejoicing and penance recognizes that we are not as likely to grow if we wait for what feels like the “best” time to start. Much like my toddler approaching pre-kindergarten, the season of Lent often finds me feeling unprepared and thinking that I need more time to decide what to do.

However, this is also the gift of Lent and our liturgical calendar. Lent will arrive whether I feel ready or not, whether or not I have it all figured out or if I even know exactly what I’ll do. When it comes to spiritual growth, the first step for success is recognizing that we have to commit to start — even if that start feels imperfect.

I’m not a person who loves giving things up or embracing penance. I find feasts far more pleasant than fasting. What I do love is that each year I know there will be 40 days set aside for me to offer penance that is both predetermined — like fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the other Fridays in Lent — as well as encouragement to consider what specific penance will most benefit me.

Ready or not, on Feb. 14, we begin the season of Lent. We all have ways we want to grow in our relationship with God. We can hope things “just happen,” but this season offers designated time and space. Our plan doesn’t have to be perfect and if we realize we need to do some things differently, we can adjust. And on Feb. 14, we can all commit to start.

Alison Blanchet lives in Panama City with her husband and three children. She works as a therapist for children and teens. Email her at