We were at J’s parents’, with his brother and sisters and their families, for Thanksgiving weekend.
While we were there, my mother-in-law dressed down Ellen1, my sister-in-law, for “keeping her kids in diapers”. Mother-in-Law saw my niece, Sara, Ellen’s 12-year-old, disposing of a wet pullup.
Sara’s problem, according to Mother-in-Law, is lack of discipline. Wearing a diaper (Mother-in-Law’s word) gives Sara no incentive to grow up and stop wetting the bed. She has no signal to wake up. She is comfortable in a false security; it is as bad as letting her have an infant’s security blanket. She is lazy. She is looking for attention. She is emotionally immature, and will not mature. The diaper, and not suffering the consequences of wetting the bed, infantilizes her. If she had to sleep in a wet bed, she would stop wetting.
This is part of a larger picture, one convenient opportunity for sniping in an ongoing war. Mother-in-Law thinks her children and their spouses are poor parents. I’m the best of a bad lot; her own daughters and her other daughter-in-law are even worse than I am. I don’t think she really likes any of her grandchildren, although they are all terrific kids.
I am a more conservative, traditional parent than anyone I know. But I am too permissive for Mother-in-Law.
She is an intelligent woman. She has an advanced degree in nursing from a prestigious medical center, although she retired when her oldest was born (40+ years ago).
Without getting Freudian, I wonder if this is driven by something in her own experience. She had a tough childhood, as the only (and unwanted) child of a parents who were narrow-minded and demanding to the point of being abusive. I wonder if she wet the bed and was punished for it or forced to sleep in the wet bed.
Her attitude may have been shaped not only by her childhood, but also by the era in which she learned nursing. As I understand it from my Mom — and from the doctor who would not do anything for me when I was in college — that was the received wisdom at the time, frosted with a dollop of Freudian psychobabble.
Ellen gave as well as she got, which just confirmed Mother-in-Law’s belief that Ellen is a bad parent and insufficiently respectful of Mother-in-Law’s age and wisdom. I didn’t jump in because I didn’t need to. Ellen defended herself (and her kids), along many of the same lines as I have argued here.
Ellen’s kids are a little older than mine. They are seeing the light at the end of the bedwetting tunnel, but they still struggle with it. When they are away from home they wear pullups to protect their hosts’ beds.
I don’t know if Mother-in-Law knew that my kids were in pullups, too. I don’t know about my other nieces and nephews. They are all older than Ellen’s kids, so I assume they are probably beyond this.
If I had told her that I wet the bed — and wear a diaper, too — she probably would have had a stroke.
Nobody wants to be in a wet bed. Trust me: I’ve been there. I’m still there. You only need to have suffered through it once. It is miserable. It is humiliating.
Bedwetting is a symptom. For younger kids, it’s a symptom of slow-maturing physiology: a small bladder, inadequate hormone, deep sleep. The cure is time. The child will outgrow it. For a teenager or adult, it’s generally something more serious.
The idea that it’s laziness, or emotional immaturity, or attention-getting, isn’t just bunk. It’s harmful bunk. It’s bad enough to have a humiliating, demeaning problem. Far worse to be told it’s your fault, that you’re lazy, that you have a mental or emotional problem.
It also leads people to believe that it can be cured with the right incentives. But incentives only work to influence choices, and this isn’t a choice. Punishment, or forcing a child to sleep in a wet bed, might prevent a wet night or two as a child is in the last stage of outgrowing bedwetting. But it’s not going to make a bladder grow or glands produce hormones.
It will certainly cause misery beyond the considerable misery of simply being a bedwetter, of waking up in a wet bed and of having to wear a diaper. And it will cause real harm if it inhibits a parent (or a doctor, like the one at my college) from seeking the real urological, neurological or other medical cause.
Sara — a smart, mature and usually happy girl — was devastated by her grandmother’s attitude and beliefs about bedwetting and about her. My Emily, who heard some of it, and still wets the bed sometimes (and wears a pullup) at age 9, was bewildered. It took a long talk and some tears before Emily was reconciled with herself and her grandmother. I came this >< close to telling both Emily and Sara that I wet the bed, although I wasn’t sure whether that would help or hurt.
1 Names changed to protect the innocent.