We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: When Should a Child Use a Public Restroom Alone?

©clambert/stock.xchng

Is there a right age for letting a child use a public restroom alone? ©clambert/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

Last weekend, a friend and I went to the history museum with our kids. We each have a nine-year-old son and she also has a six-year-old daughter.

After lunch the boys both said they had to go to the bathroom and I was shocked when she said she was going to bring her son into the ladies’ room instead of letting him go to the men’s room with my son. Now I’m as cautious as the next mom, but I don’t think a nine-year-old boy belongs in the ladies’ room any more than a little girl belongs in the men’s room. I planned to stand outside the door and give my son the same words of caution I always do when I send him in alone, and even said to her that they would be better off going in together. But she insisted, and took her son in with her instead.

Obviously, she’s entitled to make her own decisions about the safety of her kids, but what’s the right age to expect that your son will have to be responsible for himself in the men’s room when you’re out in public places?

– Bathroom Breaker

Suzanne:

Well thank goodness there are a lot more of those “family restrooms” popping up in public places. It’s so much better when either a mom or dad can bring any or all of the kids into a private bathroom and not have to worry about making these tough choices. But obviously, when that isn’t a option you still have to resign yourself to (a) embarrassing your child and bringing him into a place where he doesn’t quite fit in, or (b) holding your breath and hoping for the best as you send him behind closed doors where you don’t belong.

I’ve been in both camps at one point or another, and as you saw with you and your friend, no mom is going to budge from doing what she feels is right for her child at a specific time and place. Well except maybe the child’s other parent.

My husband was the one to convince me to let our son go to a bathroom in a restaurant by himself for the first time when he was around seven. “We can see him going in and coming out from here,” my husband said attempting to reassure me. “There’s only one way out.” Humph, I thought, my mind overtaken by images of evildoers, small windows and back doors. He was fine. And from then on, my biggest concern is always if he washed his hands and avoided the door handle on the way out.

But if I ever had to travel with my son alone (and he’s almost nine now) I’m not quite sure I still wouldn’t run him into the ladies’ room at an airport. I think this is where the mommy math comes in, a formula only your subconscious can calculate. It’s something along the lines of your child’s age multiplied by the number of bathroom stalls divided by how many times you twitched thinking about your innocent little child going through those doors alone.

So leave it to your friend to find her own comfort zone and be confident in knowing that for you and your son, the time has already come.

Amanda: When I was younger, I would go out alone with my dad somewhat frequently. And, as children are want to do on occasion, I would have to go to the bathroom. So he’d bring me to the entrance of the women’s room and promise he would stand outside and wait until I was done.

“Scream if you need me,” he’d say in a loud, booming voice, making sure that everyone around knew that he was waiting for me.

If I took too long (or maybe he’d do it anyway) he would call inside the door, asking if I was O.K. As a tween, I remember being somewhat embarrassed by his blatant display of fathering, but now as the mother of three, I admire my dad for his boldness and sometimes am tempted to employ his methods. Because this is a question I struggle with myself. Not only with my 10-year-old son who wouldn’t be caught dead with me in a women’s room but with my 8-year-old daughter who would rather I didn’t accompany her either.

My kids do go to public restrooms alone. I allow it because I do feel like they are old enough and I need to start letting go (a little). Still, I’m not happy about it. But this is one of those situations where a parent (and only a parent) has to make this call.

I don’t think there is a set age for allowing a child to use a public restroom alone — my neighbor still brings her 11-year-old son into the ladies room with her, much to his chagrin. I think the key is, to make sure your child is aware of where they are going, what they need to do when they get there and that they need to do it all quickly. They should also be told what to do if something goes wrong.

Whether we like it or not, that’s what parenting is lots of times, isn’t it? Giving your child the proper tools and then letting them use them. Watching them grow up.

(And taking comfort in the knowledge that you can always stand outside the door and shout if you need to.)

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How does it work when you are out with your children? Is there a good age to let a child use a public restroom alone?

If you have a question that needs more than one answer, send us an e-mail at advice@wearebothright.com

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