Family life

Public washroom concerns

After being confronted by well-meaning strangers, Jennifer wonders when children should start using gender-appropriate washrooms.

By Jennifer Pinarski
Public washroom concerns

Photo: slobo/

Having two potty-trained children (plus a pregnancy-battered bladder of my own), washroom trips are always an ordeal.

Last week I was with our children at a family-friendly restaurant in our small town when my two-year-old daughter bolted for the bathroom. My nearly six-year-old son decided at the exact same moment that he needed to use the bathroom as well. For the past few months our son has been using the men's room on his own, but I've always stood outside the door in case he needed help. On this particular day, I left my son to use the bathroom on his own and took my daughter into the women's bathroom because in my potty triage rule book, a toddler falling into a public toilet is worse than a five-year-old forgetting to flush and wash his hands.

As I pushed open the men's door for Isaac, two older women (ironically from the Red Hat Society) stopped me to ask if I was sure I was OK with letting my son go in on his own. At this point, both kids were clutching themselves, ready to pee their pants and, honestly, I'm wasn't in great shape myself. Isaac rolled his eyes and ducked under one woman's arm and Gillian and I headed for the largest stall in the women's room. Both women followed me into the bathroom and continued to ask me questions while my daughter and I took care of business.

  • Didn't you know that children should always be with an adult?
  • Didn't you see that episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit where that young boy gets abused in a public bathroom?
  • Aren't you worried about him?
  • Can we watch your little girl for you?

For sure, the whole scenario sounds like it belongs in the Free Range Kids newsfeed: Stranger confronts mother who dares to let her young son use men's washroom ALONE! And, of course, comments would follow that the well-meaning stranger is the crazy one, not the man using the urinal next to the little boy, who offers to turn on the taps and give the boy paper towels.

So I thanked the women, who I'm sure watch entirely too much TV and accompany their grandkids into the loo. And it's not that I don't think small towns are immune from horrible people because, sadly, they're not. It's that at nearly six years old, my son flat-out refuses to come into the women's bathroom — and I trust him to keep his wits about him, as we've raised him to do. I hope that the generation of children you and I are raising will be less pampered and overprotected than the generation before.

If peeing independently at six (or eight or 10, or whatever age your family chooses) is no longer considered safe, then what is?

Do you let your kids use the public washroom on their own?

This article was originally published on Nov 21, 2012

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