Talking to your kids about an adult’s incontinence
Teenage girl doing housework in laundry room

According to the article When Kids Are the Caregivers published on November 2015 in U.S. News and World Report “about 1.4 million children between ages 8 and 18 are caregivers nationwide.” These figures are cited from the American Association of Caregiving Youth. The article goes on to say “evenly divided between girls and boys, about a third are between 8 and 11, and nearly 40 percent are between 12 and 15. Kids take on a wide range of responsibilities. Most common are chores like shopping, fixing meals and household tasks, or keeping the family member company. Hands-on care includes helping loved ones with day-to-day activities such as bathing, dressing and toileting; getting in and out of bed and chairs; and feeding.” One of the realities facing many caregivers and their families is incontinence.  

Incontinence can take many forms including nocturnal enuresis (the clinical term for bedwetting). There are many styles of garments available to manage bedwetting including reusable garments such as cloth diapers and plastic pants (also called “rubber pants” by some people even though this is a misnomer). Some married couples deal with bedwetting and have to contend with washing protective garments (if they use resusable products to deal with this issue).

Since people nowadays are crunched for time due to various obligations, it can be helpful for the family if children and teenagers help out with various household chores (including caregiving tasks). This article talks about how the spouse of a husband or wife that wets the bed can approach their children or teenagers about assisting with laundering the cloth diapers and plastic pants of the individual that wets the bed. Although the article is geared toward families who have adults with bedwetting problems, the article is applicable for other situations as well.        

The first step in this situation is to talk to the person that wets the bed and ask how he or she feels about involving their children/teenagers in this matter. The person that wets the bed may not feel comfortable having their children involved in this matter. Unfortunately there is a great deal of stigma associated with incontinence (especially adult bedwetting). As a result, the husband or wife may feel ashamed, and involving their children or teenagers in taking care of the wet garments may exacerbate the shameful feelings they’re experiencing . If the parent feels strongly about keeping the matter private, their wishes should be respected. If on the other hand the parent has no qualms about the youngsters helping out, the parent can approach their children or teenagers about laundering the bedwetting garments.

One key thing to consider is the following – the bedwetting parent may be more comfortable with a female helping out in this matter. The reason for this is that girls tend to mature faster than boys and in general are probably more sympathetic in handling delicate matters such as these. Guys tend to be particularly sensitive about bedwetting and some men think it makes them “less of a man.” Given this possibility, females would most likely be more cognizant and sensitive of these feelings. This is another point that needs to be discussed with the incontinent individual.  The next few sections discuss how to approach your youngsters about handling this task

The best way to approach your children is to have a family meeting. The following is an example of dialogue you can use  in this meeting “As you guys know your father has a problem with wetting the bed. To manage it he wears adult size pin-on style cloth diapers covered with a pair of adult size plastic pants. I was wondering if you can help me on laundry day with washing the protection. We can divide this chore up in a number of ways – one of you can put the diapers and plastic pants in the washing machine, another can fold the diapers and plastic pants up and put them in the laundry basket, etc. Or we can alternate by having you launder the garments on consecutive weekends. I spoke with your father about this and he’s on board.”  The task can be divided up differently depending on the number of youngsters involved. If the youngsters feel a bit skittish handling the wet garments the parent can purchase gloves for them – many online stores selling incontinence garments (as well as places such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and brick and mortar stores selling hospital supplies) sell gloves that caregivers use to handle incontinent patients. If you do go this route it’s important to make sure the child doesn’t have a latex allergy – if they do you need to purchase vinyl gloves.

As far as how old the child should be before helping out in this matter, this needs to be considered on a case by case basis. Some criteria that should be taken into account include the following – the maturity of the youngster, whether the parent feels the child can operate the washer and dryer in a safe manner, if the bedwetting parent feels comfortable with the child helping out in this matter, etc.

As mentioned earlier, although the focus of this article is on bedwetting, the general ideas can be used in other situations as well – they just need to be tweaked to match the situation. With the right amount of help (as well as encouragement and TLC) a parent that wets the bed can get through the situation with flying colors.    

by Colin Ellison

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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