Mom Freak-out of the Week: Public Restrooms and Kids

Posted March 6, 2009 by

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How do you know your child is old enough to use the public restroom by himself?

Last week, my husband was out of town, and I took my son to the “Super Great Wall Buffet” — our favorite cheap all-you-can-eat joint. I was all excited to have an evening out with my son, and also glad not to have to rustle up a meal using the minimal contents of my refrigerator. (“Hey Honey, how about applesauce-pasta-curry tonight?”)

So we were both happy with the buffet, until Alex announced he had to go to the bathroom. Then, I kid you not, he did a fake to the left and darted into the men’s room without so much as a “boo” to me.  You see, since he started kindergarten, my son has become more and more hesitant to accompany me into the “girls’ bathroom.” While I like the fact that he’s becoming more independent, another part of me has an internal freak-out every time this happens.  The first part goes like this:

“Oh my God. Is he putting toilet paper down on the seat? Is it clean in there? Has he shut the door of his stall?”

The second, major part of the freak-out runs more like this:

“OK, that man with the droopy mustache and Members Only jacket looks like a pedophile. If he touches my son, I will run in there and ram him with the busboy cart.”

I know this is not logical, and I know that it must be hard to be a man these days. I also fully realize that that my reaction is not fair, but I can’t help it.

So picture me standing right outside the men’s room, shouting, “You OK in there, Honey?” every few minutes, prompting many questioning stares from the men trying to get by, and pitying nods of sympathy from other moms who have been in my shoes. (Of course, Alex took his sweet time, never once suspecting I was agonizing outside the door. After about 10 minutes,  he came waltzing out of the bathroom, looked up at me and said, “Whaddya doin’, Mommy?”)

So, my question for you all is, how do you know when your child is old enough to use the public bathroom  by themselves? And how do you handle the situation without making an utter fool of yourself?  I also have a lot of sympathy for dads out there who have daughters…what do guys do?


Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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