When Dad has to take his daughter to a public washroom

Ian wonders: What is the appropriate cut-off age for taking your child to an opposite sex bathroom?

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As a father, the six worst words you can hear from your daughter when you’re out in public are, “Daddy, I need to go pee.”

The statement isn’t a request; it’s an immediate demand. A young child holds in their pee about as well as a pregnant woman holds in her emotions. It’s coming out — and it’s coming out fast. So you need to get to a washroom before you’re sheepishly telling customer service there was an accident at the bench outside of Lady Foot Locker.   

But there comes a time when it’s awkward to take a little girl into the men’s washroom in public. I have two questions to pose to readers this week: What is the appropriate cut-off age when it comes to taking a child into the opposite sex’s bathroom? And as a father, how should I handle this situation when it comes up?

Our seven-year-old daughter Elissa has no problem going to the washroom by herself, so we have no issues there. However, our four-year-old Lily is another case entirely. I can’t send her to the female washroom by herself. She’s too short to reach the faucets to wash her hands and at 31 pounds, she could possibly get blown away by the automatic hand-dryer.

So if she needs to go to the washroom at the mall — and there is no family washroom available — I’m forced to take her inside the men’s restroom if my wife is not with us. While I would love to use this space to push our government to mandate family washrooms in every public venue, I know it’s never going to happen because they are too wrapped up with minor issues like balancing the budget.  

So when you’re a father taking your daughter into the men’s washroom, there are a few key points to consider:

#1 – The urinal factor
Little girls have never seen anything like a urinal before and you have to admit, they are fascinating structures of human innovation. We don’t have a son in our house, so Lily is completely unaware of how boys go to the bathroom. I can’t have her yelling out, “Daddy, why is that man standing up to go pee?” Awkward moments inside a men’s bathroom are never fun for anyone involved. As a man, I don’t know that I’d want a stranger’s five-year-old daughter watching me urinate. And since Lily doesn’t have a little brother, do I really want her first glimpse of the male anatomy to be at a restroom located next to a Manchu Wok? It just doesn’t seem like the most appropriate place to lay the foundation for healthy education about the opposite sex.  

#2 – Cleanliness is always an issue
Since little girls can’t use the urinals, they obviously have to use the toilets inside the men’s washroom. And in case you didn’t know, virtually every toilet stall inside a men’s public washroom looks like it belongs in a Mexican prison. These things are disgusting and filthy, so as a rule of thumb, remember this: Don’t subject your beautiful little princess to the horrors of a men’s restroom located within 75 feet of a food court that is filled with greasy eateries.  

#3 – What if I need to use the washroom?
I was at the theatre with my girls last year and after guzzling a 64oz Dr. Pepper during Despicable Me, I had to use the washroom right after the movie ended. As I walked into the men’s restroom with them, I quickly realized that they had never seen me go to the bathroom before. So, I basically had them turn and face the wall, while I used the urinal. It made them look like the creepy characters from The Blair Witch Project, as they had their backs to me the whole time. Should I have let them watch me — or is that just weird? Is it better to risk a mild bladder infection and hold in my urine until I get home and can have some privacy?

I would welcome any advice from fathers who have been in this situation or from mothers who have to take their young sons into the female washroom in public.

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