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.

8 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Hi Matt- I always enjoy reading your posts. I’m a mama to 2 wonderful boys, ages 4 and 6, who love to travel. We really appreciate the family restrooms, which thankfully are becoming more common. I still take my boys with me into the ladies restroom. Sadly, I believe that is more widely accepted than for men to take their daughters into the men’s room. However, I know my days of bringing them in are numbered. I love your “secret word” idea. We’ll try it out next month during our Spring Break travels!

    • Matt Villano
      Matt Villano says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. Interesting that you think it’s more accepted/acceptable for moms to take sons into the women’s room; I hadn’t thought of that but I guess you’re right. In any event, I hope the secret word works for you. Please keep reading!

  2. Robert
    Robert says:

    I have a three year old daughter and if she has to go when I take her out and there’s no family restroom I take her into the men’s room. Any men in there have always been very respectful and understanding about it and no one has ever seen embarrassed. I plan on doing this until she’s about 5 or comfortable going in the women’s herself.

    By all means, just enjoy your time with your girls.

  3. Gary
    Gary says:

    I have a daughter, recently potty trained, but still uncomfortable by herself and unable to undo her pants or reach the sink for hand washing afterwards. So I take her in the men’s room. I talk to her loudly when she’s in there and say things like, “That’s a good girl!” so any men know that there’s a young female in there and if they’re uncomfortable they can take precautions. I’ve never had any issues, though.

    I’m very glad when I see a unisex restroom and when she was younger, a diaper changing table.

  4. Matt
    Matt says:

    It’s most definitely what’s going on in the mind of the opposite sex person in question. This line you wrote sums it up: “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’ve been in a restroom and a father has brought his daughter, looked about 6-7, in while I’m using the urinal and this made me feel quite awkward. I’ve also been using one when a 2-3 year old girl has been in there and this hardly elicited any feeling in me. The older child has knowledge of gender differences and probably even being in the other restroom while the younger girl is completely unaware. So the few years either way makes a big difference.

    • Matt Villano
      Matt Villano says:

      Good feedback. And you’re right — as they get older they become more aware, which of course makes it more awkward and complicated. Thanks for reading and for checking in.


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