Father and son brush their teeth in the bathroom together.
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What My Kids Are (Re)Teaching Me About Privacy

Mar 30, 2018

A few weeks ago I had an adventure. It was like one of those escape room experiences but entirely free and I didn’t need to leave my house. It all started in my upstairs bathroom: I had stripped down to my skivvies, nabbed a towel and ducked in there, locking the door behind me. That’s when I remembered that fixing that bathroom door lock was item number three or four on my to-do list.


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The irony of this unfortunate, and entirely preventable, situation was two-fold. First, I was entirely alone in the house, so there was really no reason to lock that door behind me. Second, locking doors is a pretty new habit for me.

Toilet training gives the phrase hands on new meaning. When you’re a parent, boundaries melt away fairly quickly.

I have three children — eight-years-old and under — and I am their primary childcare provider or ugly mother, as stay-at-home dads are known in my circle. I have spent a good six years as a mostly part-time, but occasionally full-time, stay-at-home parent. And during that time the bathroom door has remained wide open. So entrenched is this policy that we actually have doorstops permanently deployed at the high-traffic locations. If something happens in there, everyone knows about it. Or they used to.

I’m not sure exactly how the open door policy started. Probably when the youngest of the brood were busy toddlers and I felt I couldn’t leave them out of sight, or at least out of earshot, for more than a few minutes. But the policy ramped up, big time, as they each learned to use the bathroom on their own — with considerable guidance. Our main bathroom is roughly two metres by three. There were times when four of five family members might have been found there in various states of undress. Toilet training gives the phrase "hands on" new meaning.  When you’re a parent, boundaries melt away fairly quickly.

Since the kids started school, I have re-learned a lot about boundaries and personal privacy:

Lesson one

Human bodies have private parts. These are mostly the things found beneath your underwear and may or may not include nipples (for boys or girls). Covering these things is mostly a matter of circumstance, good manners and personal preference and does not necessarily preclude streaking the living room from time to time, as the urge strikes you. A change room at a public pool might be a circumstance where nakedness is permitted, a pool deck is not.

Lesson two

The bathroom is a private place. You should always close the door and probably lock it as well. Knocking before entering a bathroom is apparently more of a guideline. It is, however, permissible to raise a fuss if someone walks in on you.


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So far the kids have been very patient with me. I’m sure my lessons will soon expand to encompass privacy and boundaries as it relates to bedrooms, diaries and information that we share on the Internet. At the moment they are moving slow and allowing me plenty of time to adapt.

In the meantime, I have learned to lock the door. Except in that upstairs bathroom. Fixing that lock has soared to number one on my to-do list.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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