Theories of Potty Training

June 23rd, 2010 7:40 pm cmt bgky

With the war going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, our concept and application of war has changed from 60’s cold-war tank columns and nukes to counterinsurgency: the idea of applying as much firepower at one time and place has morphed to restraining firepower as much as possible. This got me thinking that our whole potty training thing has got to be rethought, in light of our continued failures and the loss of too-many-to-count diapers and stained carpets and funny smelling corners and the obvious odor of a house that contains kids.

So I googled “potty training” and surprisingly google’s first suggestion is “potty training boys” and not “potty training” which you think would’ve appeared first, a bad omen. Go ahead and try it yourself, if you don’t believe me. Turns out the Internet is surprisingly spare in advice or theories; most posts offer a few pieties, clap you on the back and wish you good luck.

So. We have to rethink our approach and maybe reclassify what exactly is going on.

Freud: Did you know that calling someone anal retentive actually originated with Freud. The idea is that if a child holds on to his poo and never lets go because his potty training is too severe, he will grow up to be compulsively neat and neurotic to unimportant details, hence anal retentive. Neat, no? As for the opposite, that’s more of a let down: he’s anal expulsive. Anyway, it has merit and makes you wonder how much of what you are now is dependent on those first few toilet flushes. (An extremely existentialist point of view, which we get to later. sort of.) Anyway this doesn’t actually help in furthering my understanding of what is going on other than making sure the pooing experience is calm and enjoyable but not going overboard.


Marxist potty training theory: This might go somewhere. Just as the worker is unjustly prevented by capitalist pigs from enjoying all the fruits of his labour, so maybe we need to think what’s in it for the boy. He clearly owns the means of production but he is asked to produce in only very circumcised circumstances; even dogs have more freedom. So maybe we need to let him form his own rules, his laws. But this would lead to total chaos where anything could be used for a toilet and no, this is headed in the wrong direction; it would eventually lead to the total collapse of society and to rule by Anarcho-syndicalist societies. I just want to have him potty trained.

Capitalist, Pavlovian theories: pretty self-explanatory and not working at all

Foucault-ian historical analysis: Maybe a deep and penetrating study will reveal that the history, traditions and rites of using toilets are not just biologically based but serve to maintain the ingrained and enslaving power relationship of men over women. Maybe Mac is really trying to help us sunder these chains. Why are toilets round or oval shaped? Oval is derived from ova which is plural for ovum, a women’s reproductive core, and we men sitting down, doing “our business” from top, des(f)ecrating all over them. It has merit, but I don’t have time to spend, strong bitter coffee to drink, a small poorly-lit french cafe to sit in and those blunt, incredibly foul-tasting Gauloises to smoke in order to engage in serious Saussurean structural analysis nor Derridaen deconstructionism to reach some consensus just so I can end up just putting a sign on our toilet: “Ceci n’est pas une toilette.” and teach him that the existence of his poo is its own exigency and to just poo in the dang toilet, already.

Neitzche: “Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker.” Translation: “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” I kind of like this one. He was probably potty training his own boy when he thought of this one and said it to his boy or to himself. I imagine it was dark time for him and his boy when he said this. And so at some point, when every last ounce of parental duty had been worn away to just bone and the thousand-yard stare has set in, I will find myself sounding like the GodFather and making Mac an offer he won’t refuse. I am not proud of this.

A Heideggaerian approach: If Mac would only realize that his poo is already a Being-in-the World and that he already knows what to do with the poo, understands its zuhanden, its readiness to be handled by him in the appropriate manner, then pooing will be as simple as breathing and we won’t need to engage in high-level analytic discourse. So maybe all I need to do is teach him that there are no Platonic forms, no ideals standing behind the reality of what he sees and get him to understand his own Dasein and thus do the doo.

Any suggestions on Potty training will be appreciated. Please be sure to cite sources and to provide a Précis of the theoretical framework of said suggestions.