When Can My Sons Use Public Restrooms... Alone?

3 years ago

I find myself outside the men’s bathroom, staring down every man that enters and counting every one that leaves. I am not ready for this. I did not prepare. I did not see it coming, although I probably should have.

I am the proud mom of two strong-willed little boys and, like many military families, I am far from my support network and my husband is gone a lot. I spend a lot of time on the road driving back and forth to visit families, to celebrate holidays, and to vacation. All of this involves a lot of trips to public restrooms.

The first showdown with my boys happened innocently enough, at a Carrabba's restaurant. On the way to the bathroom, there was a complete revolt. Both boys refused to enter the “mommy bathroom” and bolted into the men’s room. Since that break for it, every single trip to a public bathroom is a major tug of war.

Where is the line? At what age is my son too old to take him in to the ladies’ room or, as he calls it, the “mommy bathroom?” Is that age is different for little girls venturing into the men’s room with daddy? I don’t even know how to educate my boys on men’s bathroom etiquette. I can hear them chatting up the men in there, asking their names. I’m pretty sure that’s taboo.

Credit: scobleizer.

After that experience, I threw it out to the village and asked my Facebook diaspora: At what point do I have to just let go and let my son go into the men’s room on his own? The answers ranged from “I have been letting my son since he was four” to “NEVER.” I am the director of a security management program and I counseled rape victims for over a decade; I know that kids are more likely to be kidnapped or sexually assaulted by a family member than they are by a stranger, but that doesn’t convince the mama bear in me, the one stalking the men’s room door.

I still grapple with it, but this is how I decided to handle it: We had a family meeting about restroom rules and my husband talked to them about the dos and don’ts of the men’s room. I let them use the men’s room with a family member if one is available.

If there isn’t one available, I judge the traffic and size of the place. Rest stop on I-95? NO WAY. Carrabba's? OK. If you have to go #1, you can go on your own together (with ample hand-sanitizer) but #2 only happens in the mommy bathroom.

Once daddy gets home I look forward to peeing solo, and I will prepare for my next battle as queen of the locker room. Hopefully it doesn’t involve hand-sanitizer or staring contests.


About the Author
Kristen Obst, Ph.D. is the Program Director for the Public Administration and Security Management Programs and Associate Professor of Public Administration at American Public University.  She is the proud mother of two little boys and her husband is active duty Army. 

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