Fun Ideas versus Good Ideas: Lessons from an Overflowing Toilet


We have two kids under four.

This was bound to happen eventually.

But admittedly, we had never had an explicit conversation about it.

You know, about what should and should not go down the toilet.

Fun Ideas versus Good Ideas: Lessons from an Overflowing Toilet | Des Moines Moms Blog

All and all, it was a banner night in the bathroom department.

First, my three-year-old (who typically does awesome going independently) called to me with just a twinge of panic in his voice.

“Mama! I need some help!”

Okay, deep breath (not through your nose—just in case) and enter.

To spare you all the details, I’m just gonna give you two words: smeared everywhere.

Alright, this isn’t worth salvaging—up to the shower!


Stay calm.

Wonder if you can have a central sanitation hose installed in your house.

And send dad in with Clorox wipes.

A lot of Clorox wipes.


Bedtime. Singing songs. Reading stories.

Then another panicked yell.

“Autumn!! I need some help!”

Okay, deep breath (the coast is clear for nose breathing).

I run downstairs and there is water rushing out of the bathroom and into our dining room.

Grab every towel. Find the plunger. Start asking questions.


Back upstairs.

“Buddy, did you put anything in the toilet?”

I’m still expecting a no at this point. Neither child has shown any interest in bathroom shenanigans.

“Yeah, mama!”

Said enthusiastically and with a smile.

Crap (pun intended)!

“Um, buddy, what did you put down the toilet?”

“A toilet paper roll!”

I figure out this only means the cardboard part (small mercies!).

Relay message to husband so he knows what he’s dealing with.


“Hey buddy, why did you put it down the toilet?”

“Cause it was fun!”

Think, brain, think!

Don’t freak out.

Technically, that’s not a bad reason.

“It is fun to find out what happens when we do something new, isn’t it buddy? But there are fun ideas and then there are good ideas. Next time you think you have a fun idea, please check with mom and dad to see if it’s a good idea.”



I can happily report that, at least in a month since then, there have been no more overflowing toilets.

But there have been some overflows from mama’s mouth in the heat of the moment in dealing with other mistakes and messes.

I’ve been trying to think through what it was about this bedtime conversation that kept it from turning as messy as our dining room floor.

Here’s what I’ve got.

Was there instruction? I remembered—somehow—that we had never given explicit instructions regarding the toilet. We could definitely argue here about conscience and knowing something is wrong without being told, but I think it’s important to at least pause (the pause in and of itself might be the saving grace!) and consider whether there was intentional wrongdoing. Although there was big impact here, I don’t think intention was present, and I tried to respond accordingly.

Am I seeking to understand? I tried really hard here to ask questions rather than make assumptions. To be honest, it’s more likely that this is going to happen if I’m well-rested and able to focus. Yep, another plug for self-care. But really, the outcome might not change in the situation you’re dealing with (he didn’t get to go to the bathroom solo for awhile), but you might walk away with a better idea of your child’s thoughts and emotions. WIN.

I know we’re all dealing with situations far messier—and sometimes with bigger consequences—than an overflowing toilet. Many of them are probably far beyond our control. But, even if we can’t always account for what will flow out of our bathrooms, we can practice what comes out of our mouths with our kiddos. While yelling or using harsher words may not be fun, sometimes—in the moment—they can be satisfying. We’ve got to check our own “fun” ideas against the long-term good ideas.

What’s a messy, unplanned situation or conversation with your kiddos that left you with some unexpected insights?


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