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My 7-Year-Old Still Sleeps in a Pull-Up

Photograph by Twenty20

The first time my daughter stayed dry in her nighttime pull-up for a whole week, I threw away our diaper genie. It had been five long years of emptying a long tube of urine-soaked pull-ups, and I was thrilled to be done.

Naively, I believed we were home free. After all, her younger brother had stopped peeing in his diaper at night when he was 3.

When she had an accident two nights later, I didn’t panic. I was committed to being a pee-pee positive parent, so there would be no shaming her for a little backsliding. We would simply redouble our efforts to be sure she used the bathroom before bed and made sure she didn’t drink any Big Gulps at bedtime.

Soon, however, we were doing the wash a couple of times a week because she’d have an accident. The night-time training wasn’t sticking, so we went back to pull-ups and assured her that we’d try again soon. She was 5, so I was sure it wouldn’t be long.

That was two and a half years ago.

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At her seventh birthday, I suggested we try again. She was game for sleeping without the pull-up, but I ended up washing all the bedding two times a week on average.

I was still pee-pee positive, but I was starting to worry. Was there something we should address?Was her nighttime incontinence a sign of something? I pulled out a sheet from the pediatrician that said bedwetting after age 7 should be discussed with the doctor. So I made an appointment two weeks out.

Like every single aspect of parenting, I was going to have to trust and be patient and stop comparing my daughter to other kids.

Before we met with the pediatrician, I tried a few home remedies. Namely, we starting waking my daughter up in the middle of the night to make her pee. What we actually did was make her mad and disrupt everyone’s sleep. I also tried to cut off her liquid intake at night, but that didn’t make much of a dent in the nighttime peeing. Then, we tried this gizmo—a bedwetting alarm system—where you clip a monitor onto your underwear that goes off as soon as it detects moisture. Your bedwetter is supposed to wake up and go to the bathroom before peeing all over everything. At least that’s how it was supposed to work. In our case, the alarm would go off, waking everyone in the house except my daughter, who we would find sleeping peacefully in a pool of her own urine.

With those failed attempts, I surrendered to the pediatrician. She told me to stop with the gadgets and trying to control the process.

“Her body’s not ready,” she said. “She will be one day, I promise, but you have to be patient. She’s a really sound sleeper. That’s a good thing.”

“In the meantime ... ?” I asked, hoping she’d give me the secret to potty training my daughter once and for all. I was as pee-pee positive as I could be, given the massive amounts of laundry I was doing. The pediatrician told me I could be proactive by limiting her liquids in the evening and talking to her about going to the bathroom at night, but all the rest was wasted effort because she would get there when her body was ready.

In other words, like every single aspect of parenting, I was going to have to trust and be patient and stop comparing my daughter to other kids.

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In the past six weeks, we’ve had more dry mornings than wet. We aren’t quite ready to let go of the pull-ups, but we are closer. What helped the most is we started talking to other parents about the issue. Turns out many of my friends wet the bed until they were 8 or 9 years old, and they are well-adjusted, highly functioning human beings who hold steady jobs and contribute positively to society. There is hope. Bedwetting at ages 7, 8, or even later is not a mark of severe dysfunction.

The pediatrician said on her eighth birthday we can revisit the issue, but for now, I’m flexing my trust muscles and keeping a healthy stock of pull-ups.

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