Potty breaks while traveling solo with kids

Too old for the men's room? Then what?

Too old for the men’s room? Then what?

I travel a ton alone with my girls. And considering that they are developing female humans and I am a grown male, sometimes potty breaks while we’re out and about can be a bit, well, dicey.  Naturally, then, when a reader wrote in recently with a question about how to handle this very scenario, I figured it was time to address the point here.

The bottom line: There’s no good answer here.

At the heart of this issue is the question about the cutoff age for children of the opposite sex being in a restroom. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but generally speaking, I’d say the age is somewhere around 4 or 5.

This is the age when kids start to internalize differences in body types; the age when daughters might notice certain parts near the urinal, or when sons might feel the need to comment about sanitary napkin pails. It’s also around the age when strangers (in this case, other grown-ups) might become uncomfortable with your kids seeing them doing their business.

I know at my gym, the rule is that no opposite-sex kids over the age of 4 are allowed in locker rooms. I know other gyms and YMCAs have that same cutoff. Personally I use that as my barometer.

Of course it’s not always so easy; especially when complying with this (totally arbitrary) rule could put your child in danger. Let’s say I need to use the men’s room in a crowded airport—do I leave L standing by herself outside?

Sometimes, sort of, yes.

My first choice in this situation always is to look for family restrooms. These usually are private rooms that comprise one toilet and one sink—and have a door you can close and lock so you and the kids can do your thangs without fear of interruption. Many airports offer this amenity (one at PDX recently saved R and me during an extended flight delay), and a growing number of shopping destinations do, too.

If I can’t find one of these wonder rooms, I usually have the girls “give a pee-pee concert.” This is our code for my Backup Bathroom Plan B.

In this scenario, I go into the bathroom to do my business and have the girls stand right outside the door, belting out “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Let it Go,” or some other tune so I can hear that they’re safe. As soon as I’m finished, I race outside to meet them. Then I clean my hands with a wipe or their antibacterial gel.

I’m sure this strategy looks—and sounds—completely absurd to passersby. Still, it satisfies all objectives: I get to pee, we respect the privacy of other men, and the kids stay safe outside.

The Concert Plan certainly can backfire. My kids know that if they need me for any reason during a pee-pee concert, they are to scream a secret word (I’m not sharing it here to keep it secret). One time, one of the kids lost a hairclip and thought that constituted an emergency. I rushed out to find everything under control. My pants, however—let’s just say they didn’t fare so well.

(Obviously, there also are potentially more serious outcomes of this scenario, as well.)

Again, the rub here is that there’s no right answer. I’m sure other parents have other ways of dealing with this challenge. I suspect there also are some parents who scoff at social mores and bring along kids of the opposite sex when they must.

What’s your strategy? When do you think kids of the opposite sex are too old to accompany mom or dad into the bathroom? Please leave your thoughts in the comment field below.

Pro-potty parity for family travel

Yes! A changing table! In a men's room!

Yes! A changing table! In a men’s room!

You don’t have to be political to support equal access to baby changing stations in public facilities. The reality is that we dads often lack changing tables in men’s rooms, and when we’re away from home (or traveling) with a diaper-wearing child, the oversight can be a real pain in the ass (pun intended).

Adding insult to injury, of course, is this: Moms usually have changing tables in women’s rooms.

I’ve grumbled about this for years, even making a point of photographing changing tables in men’s rooms when I see them, just to document small wins (see accompanying photo; thank you, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay). Now other people (men and women alike) are doing something about it, in the form of a bill in the California State Legislature known as SB1350, or the “Potty Parity for Parents Act.”

The effort, which has been gaining national attention all summer long, aims to ensure that public facilities for changing babies’ diapers are equally available to both men and women in California.

Specifically the Act would require a baby changing station to be installed in the men’s restroom if one is being installed in the women’s restroom, or requires a diaper changing station to be included in a family restroom that is available to both men and women.

The bill, which targets places such as museums and other publicly funded spots, is being sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Huntington Park/Long Beach).

Personally, I’m proud to proclaim I’m pro-potty parity. Though our girls have grown out of diapers, passage of the bill truly would make a difference in the lives of millions of family travelers each year. When I consider the impact something like this could have on a national level, I see an entire nation of happy baby-bottoms. Also, we dads never would have to change our babies’ diapers in the trunks of our SUVs again.

Apparently there’s a public rally in support of this movement on Friday. I won’t be able to attend (it’s in Long Beach, down near L.A.), but rest assured: I’m on board. And if you’re a dad and you travel with diaper-aged kids, you should be too.

Where do you end up changing your child’s diapers when there are no changing tables to be found?

Conquering fear of potties on the road

For a while, this was the only potty L would use.

For a while, this was the only potty L would use.

We certainly have had our fair share of bathroom dramas away from home. Like the time L realized she was terrified of the “magic eye” automatic toilet flushers. Or the trip that R decided hand dryers are the corporeal manifestation of Lucifer. Or, most recently, the day that L followed a prodigious session on the toilet with a, “Look at my turd!” that echoed in the bathroom for what seemed like an eternity.

The list could go on for pages. And, when you’re traveling with little ones, it usually does. So, when a friend and loyal reader texted me last week asking for advice about how to deal with her daughter’s aversion to public toilets on the road, I sympathized completely.

Sadly, I didn’t have much to offer.

I mean, sure, there are all sorts of web sites (here and here, for instance) with formal advice from doctors—people who say things like “work on decreasing fears” and “model appropriate coping.”

My friend didn’t want any of that gobbledy-gook. She just wanted practical tips. She wanted to know what she could do to get her kid to make a @#!&@ pee without (wasting 30 minutes and) enduring a total meltdown.

I started by directing her to stuff I’ve written about the subject before (here and here). Then I told her the situation sucks but it gets better over time. I held back on my third piece of advice, largely because I didn’t want to discourage her. Instead (and now that this reader is back home), I’ll share it here: Pray for an accident.

Allow me to reiterate: I think an accident is the best way for a kid to overcome fear of using toilets in public. Because suffering the consequences of refusal is a powerful tool.

This opinion was forged out of first-hand experience with L, who grappled with this mortifying lesson during our first solo trip together (to Los Angeles).

I knew she had to go from the moment we arrived at LAX, but she simply refused to go. Then, on the plane, the flight attendant sensed what was up and offered to help; my kid refused again. Finally, at about 30,000 feet, somewhere between the animal crackers and the juice box, she couldn’t hold it any longer. I discovered the accident when I spotted a tiny puddle on her seat cushion. And I sprang into action.

Because I was worried about how she’d do with the whole potty-in-public thing, I was prepared, and had stashed a change of clothes in a Ziploc in the overhead bin, ready to go. As soon as I noticed pee on the seat, I grabbed the clothes, picked up L, and whisked her into the forward lavatory.

Yes, she was upset. No, she didn’t sit on that potty without a fight. But eventually, she did it. Somehow we even managed salvage the pee-soaked skirt for a trip to the dry-cleaner at home.

The rest, as they say, is history; since that day, despite minimal hemming and hawing every now and again, L hasn’t suffered the public toilets too much. She doesn’t necessarily like public potties, but she dislikes the embarrassment (and discomfort) of a public accident more. In the name of poetry, L even has started harassing her sister—who is still in diapers—about how it’s time for *her* to get with the potty program.

The lessons: Be prepared. Be patient. And weather an accident. No, this methodology is not ideal. But from personal experience, the only way to go from that situation is up.

How have your children overcome their issues of using the potty in public when traveling?

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