The debate: Do you let your kids pee outside?

Two parents, two very strong opinions on kids using nature as their outhouse.

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“Yes, I let my kids pee outside.”
Jan Silverthorne, dad of two

There’s nothing like the feeling of leaving a truck stop, having just topped up the coffee in your Thermos. You ease back into the middle lane and transition from early-’90s hip hop to late-’70s folk as the sun sets in your rear-view; you’re calm and prepared for the long drive ahead. Suddenly, from the back seat, you hear, “Daddy, I have to pee!” as you motor past the “Next rest stop in 59 kilometres” sign.

When my 10-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter were younger, I would have switched back to hip hop and hit the gas for the next roadside stop. My bravado would inevitably—and swiftly—be met with a waft of urine from the backseat. These days, upon hearing that plea, I pull off the highway onto the broadest shoulder and point to the closest patch of tall grass.

And that’s usually where I lean, no matter where we are, no matter if it’s my boy or my girl. Schoolyard? Ok, sweetie, go behind the portables. Beach? Don’t worry, son, no one will notice the water getting warmer. On the street? Heck, there’s got to be an alleyway around here somewhere. Kids’ bladders are tiny and inconvenient. Why make it hard on yourself?

Far too many times I’ve grabbed my kid’s arm, hustled into the nearest coffee shop and, upon pulling open the stall, turned to find he or she had already peed. They’re embarrassed, my stress level is through the roof and, as we make our walk of shame past the cashier, I hear a familiar reprimand: “Washrooms are for patrons only.” And then I am obliged to pay for the pee stain on the front of my kid’s jeans.

Nope. If shamelessness pays off in any way, it is behind a tree, under a bridge or in the alley behind the store. Sure, there’s potential for public humiliation, but when faced with the anxiety of the just-hold-it approach? I’ll tell my kids to water the plants every time.

“No, I don’t let my child pee outside.”
Lianne Kerr, mom of one

It’s dusk at the Little League field, the air thick with early-season mosquitoes and grown-ups’ cheers (read: muffled yawns). Inevitably, a parent rises from the bleachers, a small boy’s hand in theirs, as they furtively head toward the forested edge of the ballpark. My eyes narrow. It’s happening again. 

Letting our kids pee in public shouldn’t be a thing. For starters, Mother Nature doesn’t need us whizzing on her any more than we already do. There’s something about it that seems disrespectful, like we’re teaching kids to use the outdoors as a dumping ground when we’re too lazy to do things properly (like find a toilet, as I do with my son, every time, even in near-bladder-bursting conditions).

The whole issue also raises a troubling double standard. If it’s fine for boys, can girls start dropping their undies whenever, wherever they want? What about grown-ups whose supersized iced whatevers are weighing too heavily on the bladder? See how fast the debate turns into a urine-slicked slope? Gross.

But let’s say your kid asks to pee in your own backyard. Still no. What a great time to teach him about impulse control. Tell him to enjoy the convenience of indoor plumbing. Tell him he should no sooner pee outside than play croquet inside. Tell him he should have gone when you asked him five bloody minutes ago.

Can’t we agree that holding tight to whatever civility that still glimmers is a grand idea? Giving a courtesy wave after merging onto the highway, unballing your socks before throwing them into the laundry and, yes, keeping your penis in your pants are all timeless behaviours we should heartily encourage in the young. 

Plus, on a selfish note, I want to go to my local ball field and see it as it should be: a leafy recreational paradise. Not your wide-open urinal.

A version of this article appeared in our July/August 2015 issue with the headline, “Do you let your kids pee outside?”, p. 122.

Read more:
Trouble down there: 7 common reasons for your kid’s discomfort>
10 things that will likely happen on your family road trip>
Public washroom concerns>

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