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 It didn’t make me shy or withdrawn or wary.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.