E.M. Forster and 3 Day Potty Training

I have read two things quite intensely recently: a collection of essays by E.M. Forster, and a copy of 3 Day Potty Training.  While Forster hasn’t specifically referred to potty training in any of his essays (hard to believe, but true) and has instead tended to talk about the Nazis, and freedom, and the League of Nations, I have come to realise, while on this toilet training journey, that Forster has a lot to offer to parents looking for child-rearing tips.

The first clutch of essays in the Forster book were written between 1938 and 1945 and are mainly about why the Nazis are bad, and what is important in a civilised society.  The flagship essay is called What I Believe, and begins:

I do not believe in Belief.  But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one’s own….  Tolerance, good temper and sympathy – they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long.

The most famous section from these essays is this:

Personal relationships are despised today.  They are regarded as bourgeois luxuries, as products of a time of fair weather which is now past, and we are urged to get rid of them and to dedicate ourselves  to some movement or cause instead.  I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.

Forster ardently believes in the individual and opposes causes and beliefs that attempt to eradicate personal relationships and promote uniformity.  I suspect that the individuality Forster has in mind is the quietly pottering along individualism of the eccentric Englishman who is muddling through rather than the stereotypical brash individualism of the American.  As a fan of individualism Forster is a fairly ardent supporter of democracy.  I say fairly ardent because, remember, Forster doesn’t like causes, and he can see democracy’s faults (his collection of essays is called Two Cheers for Democracy).

[Democracy is] less hateful than other contemporary forms of government, and to that extent it deserves our support.  It does start from the assumption that the individual is important, and that all types are needed to make a civilization….  The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power, and such people get more of a chance under a democracy than elsewhere.

Forster extends creating something to decently raising your children or quietly helping a friend.


3 Day Potty Training is written by an American woman who promotes a potty training system that is messy, full on and takes… three days.  We introduced Eleanor to this system about two weeks ago.  It is a very strict system.

Through working with thousands of parents, I cannot tell you how many times inconsistency has resulted in delayed or prolonged potty training….  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can use this method and cling to the security of using diapers or pull-ups….  No.  Avoid the padded “training” underwear as well.  I consider pull-ups and padded underwear as “crutches”.

I consider pull-ups and padded underwear as pull-ups and padded underwear, and not as proof of my mental weakness, but then I am a poor deluded parent who needs telling.

For some reason, parents believe that keeping a child on the toilet helps with the potty training process.  It does not….  Don’t let them read books while sitting on the toilet, as this can backfire.  You may feel that it is ok to keep the child on the toilet  if you just “know” they are going to go.  Don’t do this.

DON’T.  DO.  THIS.  YOU NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY PARENT.  Still, there are moments of light relief in this booklet.

I have a few strategies for dealing with bowel movements.

Me too.  Actually, no, I just have one strategy, and it’s not this:

Get a stick and paint it.  Put it by the door with a note that it’s a magic potty wand and that when he holds it, it helps him poop without it being scarey.

Sure.  Like pooping will ever stop being scarey.

After a few days with the method Eleanor pretty much got it and stopped needing nappies most of the time.  On the other hand it was also really beginning to stress her out at nights, and make her unhappy.  Her behaviour deteriorated and she was becoming increasingly unmanageable.  Soon she began to become defiant about wearing undies and began demanding nappies again.  As worried parents we stressed and fretted and felt like we had failed the 3 Day Potty Training guru.What should we do, we wondered?  Persevere with the method in all it’s proud consistency, or weaken?

We weakened.  We took it easy on Eleanor, and gave her some choices, and let her wear a nappy when she wanted to.  After a day she was back to her normal temperament, and after another day she herself asked to go back to underpants and now seems perfectly content.


E.M. Forster, I realised at the end of this gruelling process, had not only been talking about fascism, and God, and officious pen pushers in his essay on his beliefs, he had also been talking about the 3 Day Potty Training book.  After all “I do not believe in Belief” is simply a cry against the dogma or the cause that puts belief above the personal relationship, and what could be a more personal relationship than the one between a parent and their child?  And yet how easy it is to be swept away by a cause.  I’m old enough now to know that I will never know what I’m doing, but I can still trick myself into thinking that I do for brief periods.  I have often thought in the last two years that most advice about raising a child is largely subjective and can be safely ignored, but even knowing this I can still get conned by an expert.  Despite moments of clarity I will never, it seems, be immune to the insistent charms of the dictator.  However, I will do my best, and keep my Forster handy, for in the way of the potty E.M. Forster is eternally wise. 

In the end, thank God, with the good advice of family, and a little of our own fortitude, we were able to display the guts to betray our country, and the good sense to stick by Eleanor.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

5 thoughts on “E.M. Forster and 3 Day Potty Training”

  1. I’m glad this was passingly useful for you. Shame I’m only ever wise after the event.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. Entering the world of potty training and this is the soundest advice I have received.

  3. Girls get the potty thing sorted pretty well on their own. Boys are the problem.
    A wise old dad.

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