My Eight-Step Process To Feel OK With My Daughter Using Public Toilets On Her Own

Mar 28, 2019

At the zoo or mall, gallivanting downtown or cruising through the countryside, my kids are forever realizing they desperately need to use a washroom at the least convenient time or location possible. When it’s our whole family that’s out and about, my wife and I can divide and conquer — she can take our daughter to the bathroom while I hang out with my son (or vice versa, depending on who nature is calling). But when I’m solo with the kids, things get trickier.

My level of comfort with sending my eight-and-a-half-year-old daughter alone into a public bathroom or having her patiently wait outside one while I go in with my four-and-a-half-year-old son very much depends on the situation.

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A couple of years ago, it was relatively easy for me to drag both of them into the men’s room. My daughter would go, and my son and I would hang out in front of the stall, ready to help.

As my daughter got older, I was unsure when exactly she became too big to come into an opposite-sex restroom. A couple of years ago, London, Ont. made headlines when one of its community centres nixed four-year-old boys from being in the women’s change room (the city has since clarified it’s OK up to age 12). People have different takes on this, for reasons cultural and personal, but for me, I arbitrarily had decided six-ish and seven-ish was fine, but once we reached eight, it was definitely time she be able to go to a restroom by herself while I waited nervously outside.

This is how we approach it:

  1. She tells me she needs to use the restroom, and I ask her if she’s sure (which, yes).
  2. I ask again if she’s certain she can’t wait, like, 10 minutes because we could probably… She cuts me off, and tells me she’s sure again.
  3. I waste three minutes reminding my kids this is why I told them five times to make sure they used the bathroom before we left home.
  4. I ask her if she’s comfortable going by herself while her brother and I wait outside. She usually is.
  5. We find a restroom.
  6. She goes in and does a recon sweep, immediately coming back out to tell me if it’s clean or if there is a lineup.
  7. I remind her to wash her hands and flush and not touch anything gross, and she gives me this look that I know she’ll be giving me for the rest of my life.
  8. I wait outside the door for three minutes that feel like an eternity, concerned I’ve made an unsafe choice for my child or, worse, other parents will judge me.

If it’s my son who needs to go, the two of us can both head to the men’s room, but we still need to figure out what to do with my daughter. Sometimes, she’ll head to the bathroom, too (she doesn’t actually need to go, but she’ll humour me so I don’t have to leave her alone in, like, a crowded museum hallway). Other times, she’ll sit for two minutes next to the friendly librarian/restaurant server/parent-at-the-coffee-shop who I have just met but immediately trust out of desperation.

The same thing usually applies if I’m the one that needs to do a pitstop. (I know — I should’ve gone before we left home.) In cases where I don’t feel comfortable about leaving my kid(s) alone for two minutes (or, uh, dramatically longer), then I do what countless parents before me have done: I hold it. Look, I know it’s not healthy for one’s digestive system, but what is parenthood if not a little sacrifice for your little ones? If I can endure sleeplessness, exposure to germs and sitting through entire episodes of Paw Patrol, I can harness the power of the mind to conquer my bladder or bowels now and again.

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We’ve used gross port-a-potties and restrooms for the wicked that actually made me long for the days my kids wore diapers. However, we’ve also found hidden gems (tip: hotel lobbies tend to have super-clean facilities). If you’re in an unfamiliar place, there are apps that can help you find bathrooms with varying success, but I tend to just look for libraries (rarely busy!) or coffee shops (plentiful!) in a pinch.

My favourite public restrooms to find, though, are the immaculate ones that are gender-neutral — and they are thankfully on the rise. With smart stall designs that allow privacy when you need it most, these inclusive spaces are important not only for trans people and those who rely on the help of caregivers, but also beleaguered parents trying to figure out which kid they can bring into the men’s room. They also reduce wait times for women, which means less time for my daughter to stand in line for a toilet while her brother and dad wait outside.

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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