My father died of lung cancer. He started smoking when he was in high school and quit when he was about 60. It caught up with him and killed him.

Dad was remote to me. My siblings loved Dad. They all have fond memories. I don’t. I don’t have bad memories. I just don’t have many memories at all. He was away a lot on business when I was an adolescent and teenager, but even when he was around, he never took much interest in me.

My older sisters – simply by being older – were more interesting. By the time I was age X, my sisters had already put him through the adventures of a girl of age X. My younger siblings had the novelty of being boys. We were all good athletes, but, in the rural Midwest, girls’ athletics are recreation while boys’ athletics are life-and-death. Also, as my sisters and I moved out, the family at home got smaller and more intimate.

More than that, Dad and I never shared any interests. In everything important to either of us, we were opposites.

School and books were everything to me. Dad had been an indifferent student at best, more interested in basketball and girls. He went to two colleges but never finished a semester. I don’t remember him ever reading a book until after he retired.

When Dad was in school, teachers constantly compared him unfavorably to his older brother. My uncle was the most brilliant student ever to graduate from their school. Dad resented the comparison. I imagined, rightly or wrongly, that his resentment transferred to me. I won all the academic medals at school, was valedictorian of my class, graduated with honors from an Ivy university and earned a graduate degree in a highly quantitative discipline. But Dad never gave me a single word of encouragement or praise. He went out of his way to belittle academics and academic achievement. He mocked any perceived lapse in my intelligence. Only after he died did I find out that he held me out to my younger siblings as a model.

He never understood why I left town for the city, why I left the Midwest for the East. As I get older, I start to see some of the charm of my home town, but I could never live there. Conversely, he could never imagine living in a city.

When I was young, I didn’t understand why Mom married Dad. Mom is a lot like me, which is unsurprising: I’ve always tried to be as much like Mom as possible. Love is a funny thing. Dad and Mom loved each other more than any two people I have ever known.

Dad and I grew to appreciate each other over the last few years. I’ll miss him.


What I learned from Mom: Later Childhood

For several years after my oldest sister started school, Mom didn’t think much about her kids’ bedwetting. My brothers – all pre-schoolers – were too young for her to be concerned about their bedwetting. It was just a matter of changing in the evening and morning.

My sisters were even less trouble. They took care of themselves. They changed discretely and accepted their condition without a fuss. All Mom had to do was provide an adequate supply of protection. She had to buy their diapers from a medical supply store rather than from the grocer. But it was all just part of the diaper budget.

Mom discussed it annually with our pediatrician. He gave my sisters thorough examinations, always concluding that the cause was immature anatomy and recommending patience.

My sisters were beyond an age that almost all kids have stopped wetting the bed. For most kids, that would be a shameful secret. But for my sisters, it was just a fact of life. It didn’t affect their social lives. On a sleepover, they were adept at putting on a diaper secreted at the bottom of a sleeping bag, and taking it off and secreting it in a plastic bag at the bottom of a sleeping bag. They were big, bold, mature girls, so no one would suspect their secret.

I was oblivious. I shared a room with my sisters. I saw what was on their shelf in our bathroom closet. I woke up to their morning (and middle-of-the-night) bedding changes. I knew that my brothers wet the bed. But it was all just part of the background noise of a large family.

So it went until my oldest brother was 6 or 7. My sisters are a little more than a year apart. I’m two years younger, and my oldest brother is two years younger than I am. I didn’t wet the bed, so nothing disrupted the routine until my brother was in first grade. He struggled against wetting and wearing a diaper. And Mom was concerned that she had three overage bedwetters – two of them almost teenagers.

Mom worried that she and my sisters were too complacent, too ready to accept that there was nothing they could do. On the other hand, my brother was not complacent at all. He wanted to stop wetting the bed and particularly to stop wearing a diaper.

Mom made a push to try everything. She had always limited drinking in the hours before bed, and always required a final trip to the bathroom before bed.

She tried waking them in the small hours of the morning. (Mom called it “lifting”. Why? I don’t know. Nobody was lifting anyone.) That cut out a couple of wet nights a week, if she woke them before they wet, and they didn’t wet later in the night. But it left them tired and irritable (and affected their schoolwork).

She tried anti-bedwetting drugs. They cut down the frequency, but they all had side effects and weren’t completely effective.

She tried alarms, which only trained them to wake up after they had wet. The alarm woke up everyone else, too, announcing that somebody had wet the bed.

They tried going without diapers, with only a pad and the plastic sheet to protect the mattress. My sisters did not last long with that experiment. My brother refused for several more months to wear a diaper, but finally even he got tired of waking in a puddle.

The net effect was a few dry nights a week. They were all still wetting most nights, so they still needed protection.

Every few years – as one of my brothers came of school age, or one of my sisters got frustrated at wetting the bed as a teenager – Mom would make another push. But it always came to nothing.

My oldest brother’s bedwetting started to taper off a few years later. By the time he was 12, he was dry most nights. My older sister, 17, was having more and more dry nights and longer runs of dry nights. She was hoping that she might be completely dry before starting college. My other sister, 16, still wet almost every night, but was starting to have a few dry nights (and even two or three dry nights in a row).

And at age 14, I hadn’t wet the bed in more than 10 years.

What I learned from Mom: Childhood

Mom told me that her relaxed attitude toward our bedwetting was a combination of experience, necessity and bluff. She tried hard to keep her worries from us kids, so that our bedwetting (and dealing with our bedwetting) were much harder on her than it seemed to me.

Mom confirmed the genetic aspect: She wet the bed until she was a teenager. (She didn’t say anything about Dad, and I didn’t ask. But my nieces and nephews on that side are late bedwetters as well.) It had been hard on her – waking (and sleeping) in a puddle, feeling shame and inadequacy, fearing friends’ discovery, hearing the contempt of relatives, avoiding overnight stays, smelling the odor that lingered in a room and on clothes. Her parents did not allow her to wear protection, believing that would remove the incentive to stop wetting. They tried all the available cures: Drugs, alarms, waking, no drinks before bed, …

Because of that, she knew that bedwetting wasn’t something that one could control. She resolved to be relaxed, sympathetic and reassuring to her own children, and provide us protection against a wet bed.

She wasn’t at all concerned that my sisters wet the bed as pre-schoolers.

When my oldest sister was about to start first grade, Mom raised her bedwetting with our doctor. He confirmed that it was likely not something my sister could control, and that Mom and my sister should not be too concerned. Some kids took longer to outgrow it. While there were drugs that sometimes provided relief, he didn’t recommend them for children. They weren’t a permanent solution and they had side effects. He didn’t recommend alarms or waking, either. Sleep is just too important to children. Unless she showed symptoms beyond just wetting the bed, the only thing he would recommend was to manage the consequences.

My Family 2

I didn’t do the posts I promised in my last post. That turned out to be a good thing. My family was together again for the Fourth of July. Now there is a lot more to write about.

At Easter, I showed Mom this blog. With about 30 people (most of them kids) in the house, we didn’t have a chance to discuss it. At her urging, I also told my sisters.

Mom thought about it between Easter and the Fourth. She’s not techie (she doesn’t even have an email account), but she managed to read and re-read the blog.

She sat down with me for long talks over the Fourth weekend: She liked the blog, but thought I idealized some things (particularly her and her approach to things) and had not noticed, or not remembered or glossed over many other things.

My sisters didn’t say anything in the weeks after Easter. I thought that they might have forgotten about it, but they were both waiting until the Fourth. Although they hadn’t talked to me about it, they had talked to each other.

Nobody suggested that I tell my brothers or my dad. Some things a girl can discuss with her mother or her sister, but she’d die if her dad or little brother knew. But somehow my brothers found out.

My Family

My family – Mom, Dad, six kids, six spouses, 17 grandkids – were together last month. I’ve been floundering around trying to organize my thoughts on all that chaos (while distracted by a particularly busy run at my firm and the kids’ activities).

Now that I’ve got a long weekend (with weather that’s supposed to be awful), I’ll break the mess into separate posts over the next few days.

Effects of bedwetting

Medical surveys of children and parents report that bedwettters have a sense of “social difference and isolation“. Wetting the bed causes “distress and low self-esteem“. Bedwetters  have significantly lower self-perception of their scholastic skills, physical appearance and athletic competence, which worsens if bedwetting continues into adolescence and teens. Children in one survey rated parental fighting and divorce as the only things more stressful than bedwetting.

Interestingly, self-esteem improves if bedwetting is managed, even if it isn’t cured.

Parental anger or frustration is strongly correlated with negative emotional and psychological effects.

In my experience, that’s correct: A parent who is tolerant and reassuring and helps manage the physical consequences will also minimize (or even eliminate) shame, isolation, fear and loss of confidence and competence.

I didn’t feel shame or fear or isolation as a teenage bedwetter. It didn’t make me shy or withdrawn or wary. I didn’t feel physically, emotionally, intellectually or socially diminished.

For me, the bad effects were physical: The sodden wretchedness of a wet bed; the bulky discomfort of a diaper; greasy, smelly rash creams; the time and effort of putting on, taking off and laundering diapers.

My first teenage wet bed was a shock. The next few were disheartening, as I realized that it wasn’t a fluke. I didn’t just wet the bed; I was a bedwetter. I was even more unhappy when disposables proved inadequate and I started wearing a cloth diaper.

But within a few weeks, all that had passed. Neither wetting the bed nor wearing a diaper bothered me. After a month, it barely registered on my consciousness. A diaper dealt with wetting, and the washing machine dealt with a diaper. Changing was just another bedtime and morning routine. I could easily hide it on a sleepover or trip.

Perhaps the reason that I wasn’t afraid or ashamed was that my basic personality was already formed. I was already confident and happy.

On the other hand, my siblings were all chronic bedwetters before (and into) their teens, so their personalities were formed under the influence of bedwetting. Although we range from artistic to nerdy to pragmatic, none of us is shy or lacking self-esteem. If my siblings had any shame or fear about wetting the bed, they didn’t show it.

The difference, it seems to me, is family. My parents didn’t treat it as a shameful problem. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t even a small deal. It was what it was, and it was easy to deal with. It was a private matter, and easy to keep private.

My older sisters were as big an influence as my parents. I idolized them. They were smart, outgoing, athletic and confident. They were daredevils. They both wet the bed regularly until they were 16 or 17.

Wetting the bed didn’t seem to affect their personality or outlook. It certainly didn’t hamper their social lives or dampen their enthusiasm for sleepovers or trips. They certainly didn’t seem to fear discovery.


All my siblings were chronic bedwetters until at least age 10. My sisters wet the bed until they were 16 or 17.

My parents didn’t make a fuss about it. It was just a fact of life. Mom helped my siblings try various strategies — alarms, waking in the night, limiting drinking after dinner. But she never pushed us into any of them. She had no faith that any of them would help; she believed that it was all a matter of maturing anatomy.

Diapers were a fact of life, too. Mom kept a supply of necessary sizes of disposables for my brothers in their bathroom and for my sisters in our bathroom. She did not require any of us to wear protection at home. But she provided the option, and all of us took it. For my siblings, it was second nature. They had always wet the bed and always worn protection.

It was different for me. I hadn’t wet the bed since I was a toddler. Managing bedwetting was new to me at age 14. Mom didn’t tell me that I had to wear protection, but she did suggest that I would be more comfortable if I did. After the horrible experience of waking up in a pool of urine, I did so promptly and without shame. I had the example of my older sisters, whom I loved and admired. They had each always worn protection without shame, and still did at ages 16 and 17.

Bedwetting wasn’t a secret in the family, although we were discreet. I shared a room with my sisters. I knew that they each wore protection to bed, but I never saw it. Each of us changed in private, behind a closed bathroom door. I never saw a wet sheet or wet pajamas, either. I did hear my sisters changing wet things (and occasional blue language from a stubbed toe) during the night.

Mom’s one rule was that everyone was responsible for oneself. Dispose of one’s own wet disposable; launder one’s own wet sheets and clothes; let her know when it was time to buy disposables or replace worn diapers or pants. No wet sheets left on a bed. No wet things left anywhere but the trash or the washing machine. Mom would run sheets and clothes through the dryer or hang them on the line while we were at school, but we folded and stored our own laundry. The house never smelled of urine.

None of it affected our social lives. We all went on sleepovers and class trips. We all knew how to discreetly change and how to get wet things in plastic bags before they started to smell. The discipline and discretion at home helped me keep it from my roommates in college.