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Problems Over Child's Bedwetting

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I have a five and a half-year-old daughter who was born at 28 weeks or three months premature. She wasn't daytime potty trained till she was 3 1/2-years-old. She still doesn't make it through the night without wetting herself. This has led to many arguments with my husband, (her stepfather), because he believes it's my fault. After all, he was fully potty trained at nine months and his mother and family all back him up. Of course, I want her to achieve nighttime dryness. I have talked to her doctors and other doctors about what to do. Everyone says to leave her alone, and that this is not uncommon. I know my little girl is a deep sleeper. It's hard to wake her up. I have tried the "wake her up every two hours to go to the bathroom" routine. It doesn't matter what I do, she still wets. If I get her up at 10 p.m., she's wet by midnight. I think the doctors are right and we should let her grow out of it. I don't want to traumatize her. But my husband believes she needs to be disciplined (spanked, yelled at, told she's wrong, or yucky). In his words, "How else will she know she's doing something wrong?"I don't believe in his way and have threatened to leave him if he ever degrades any of my children that way. I don't know what to do. I don't want this to traumatize her. I don't want other kids to make fun of her. I don't want her to feel bad about herself. I don't want to feel like a failure and I don't want to keep fighting with my husband. This fighting can get very ugly. I don't want my in-laws and husband to degrade her when I'm not around. I have caught them doing it before. How can I help her? What do I do ? Please don't print my name. Thank you.

A: My heart just aches for you; this is a tough predicament and you are certainly receiving no positive support from your husband or his family. I must tell you, however, that your husband's responses of shaming, punishing, spanking, etc., are very disturbing parenting reactions. I think there is more to this family problem than just your husband's responses to your daughter's nighttime bedwetting. I think the main problems in your family exist between you and your husband and that they are being played out in this dramatic, ugly manner through this bedwetting situation. Clearly, you have several medical opinions telling you this is normal behavior and she will mature out of this. Your husband treats this explanation as baloney and blames your daughter for not being normal "like he was." His biggest concern seems to be his own embarrassment over this "shameful" behavior. Clearly, you cannot allow your husband and/or his family to humiliate your daughter; she is a defenseless little girl who needs to feel just fine as she is, not like some unlovable, bad failure.

I would not be surprised if your husband does not share your views on how to relate to and support your kids. There is no candy-coated way I can say this to you -- if he will not go with you to a good family therapist and work on the problems that the two of you have that are affecting your children, then you need to think seriously about at least separating from him. You are your children's advocate and you must protect their hearts and minds at all costs, even if it means an uncomfortable separation. I don't know why your husband is behaving so shamefully; he needs help, and so does your marriage if you want to make it a rewarding one. Meanwhile, this little girl has been caught in the crossfire and needs to have no more of this degrading talk. I understand my suggestions may upset you, but in all good conscience I had to offer this advice to protect your children and to encourage you to make some decisions that have to be made. I admire you greatly for wanting to do right by your kids, even though it brings trouble to you.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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