The Potty Problem

When a parent of the opposite gender takes their child to the bathroom, which door is the right one?


I took my two young daughters to the Children’s Pavilion at the Denver Public Library today, for a special toddler story-telling session called “Tales for Twos.” As usual, the room was packed with little ones and their mothers—and me, the only father and the oldest male in the room by at least 27 years. It was a blast, filled with dancing and books, and followed by a crafts project afterward.

We finished up our construction paper pizzas and wandered the stacks looking for new books to read at bed time, stopping to tackle a wooden puzzle of the alphabet, pausing  so my youngest could wrestle with a stuffed dragon, as she’s known to do from time to time.

While hunting for a copy of Curious George Rides a Bike (for no particular reason other than I like the picture of George riding his bike “bronco style”), my oldest daughter started doing the dance. You know the dance. Yes, there she was, doing the pee-pee dance, which I’m certain would be popular on MTV if it had a different name.  I asked the reference librarian where I could find the nearest bathroom and she proudly proclaimed, “Right over there, and it has a little toilet for her, too!”

I’ve grown to love little toilets more than is clinically normal, but I resisted the urge to hug the librarian out of gratitude.

Normally, I pull my daughter into the men’s loo, scuttle them past the urinals and we take care of business in the privacy of a stall. When I’m lucky, I’ll find a changing table for my youngest daughter and we’re ready to rock in one trip.

But here, in the Children’s Library, I faced another problem: the signs read “Boys” and “Girls.”  For the sake of consistency, we headed into the Boys Room.  And sure enough, while my two girls and I sardined ourselves into the little stall, in walked two older boys with their grandfather. The old man tooted loudly “See? It says ‘boys’ right there, so this bathroom is for boys only!”

Yes, we finished up, washed hands and left the bathroom without incident, avoiding exposure to unfamiliar genitalia or screams of disparity from either party. When I asked the librarian if they had a protocol for this sort of thing, she replied “Gosh, I don’t know! That’s never come up before. You definitely cannot go in the women’s bathroom, I know that.”

I’ve seen mothers get into mens bathroom with the occasional shout of “Watch out, Mom coming in!” but fathers are male, and thereby lumped together with other males, and as we all know some males are dangerous sexual predators, so NO MEN IN THE LADIES BATHROOM. Period.

For a father who knows this will happen again—and will grow more complex as my daughters further discover their gender—that answer doesn’t settle well with me. The issue still feels unresolved.

So I ask you, my friends, what’s a boy with girls to do?

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13 responses to “The Potty Problem”

  1. Jennifer Fink

    Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Obviously I have the opposite version of your problem — I’m a Mom with boys — but it’s never been an issue for me, b/c all us girls do our thing behind closed doors, so if I walk my son into a stall to do his business, it’s no big deal. Usually, we get smiles from the other women, if there are any. But for a dad-with-girls, I can see how this gets tricky. I’d guess that by the time they’re 4 or so, you can pretty safely send them into the girls room alone. Til then? Improvise.

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say.

  2. Denise Schipani

    I don’t know, Ron, but I’m unbelievably grateful that in our library, aside from the men’s/women’s bathrooms, in the children’s area there’s a single bathroom. Love,love, love the single bathroom. Now I’m in the position of having one son who’s fine going into the Ladies’ with me (almost 5), but my older, almost 7 son is on the cusp of being too old for that. I hold my breath (sometimes literally) and let him go into men’s rooms solo. Luckly, it happens infrequently; my son has a bladder the size of Kansas.

  3. Jenn

    Are you there for moral support, or do they still need your help with wiping, etc, to use the restroom? If it’s a moral support thing, start sending them into the “girls” bathroom together. My girls *love to need to pee “right now” at the most inopportune times, like when I’ve just paid for $200 worth of groceries. I wait by the door & send them in. I think I started when they were 6 & an older 3. My oldest helps her sister with the soap, etc, if it’s too high up.

    With that approach, it’ll only get tricky when you’ve got to go, too. In that case, I just don’t know. For hygiene reasons, I’d still want to send the girls to the little girls room. Maybe snag a “restroom closed for cleaning” sign & kick the women out for a while?

    1. Ron S. Doyle

      My oldest daughter is two and a half and my youngest just turned one year old, so I’m a long way from independent wiping and public bathroom trips. I guess I should be consoled that I won’t be letting them go into a men’s room alone.

      And yes, I cringe every time I must set my younger daughter on the floor of a men’s stall to help my toddler. For more reasons than three, I’d love to let them use the ladies loo.

  4. Michelle Rafter

    Ron: First I have to say we own “Curious George Rides a Bike” and you could borrow it any time!
    I took my boys into the women’s bathroom with me until they were old enough to notice that boys and girls had different “parts” – probably about age 4 or 5, after which I sent them into the men’s room alone but stood by the door and hollered in after them if they took too long. My husband did the same with our daughter. At the local community center, boys can come into the women’s dressing room and girls into the men’s until they’re 5.

    But what I can’t understand is why a public library in a progressive town like Denver doesn’t have family bathrooms, which would completely solve your problem. That community center I mentioned has a bunch, which I used on a regular basis for swimming lesson changes. I think more and more public venues – libraries, malls, etc. – are starting to build these for this very reason.


  5. Ron S. Doyle

    Michelle: The Denver Library might have a family loo, but not in the Children’s Library. Yes, I’m particularly fond of the “Family” restrooms—but infuriated when I find one and some random single guy is enjoying the privacy of the bathroom for his morning constitutional…

  6. MarthaAndMe

    I always took my son into the women’s bathroom and I think that is almost never a problem – most moms in there understand and have no problem. I do remember though being in a locker room with my daughter when she was about 10 or 11 and a mom had her son of about 7 or 8 with her looking around with big eyes. My daughter was so uncomfortable we ended up in a stall in the bathroom to change. My husband did have to take our daughter into the men’s room on a few occasions and usually he did what you did – checked it out and scurried her into a stall. If there were men there when they came out, he sort of turned her head (she was clueless then anyhow) if he could and hustled her out and used the hand sanitizer we carry instead of the sinks. I agree that when they’re older it’s ok to send them into the women’s and just wait by the door, even propping it open a little to listen if you want. I think the guy was out of line who got upset at you with them in the men’s room- your girls are so little what does he expect you to do? And I agree, family bathrooms are the best. At some airports I’ve even seen some described as caregiver bathrooms and the sign shows kids, adults and wheelchairs to signify it’s for anyone who needs someone to assist them.

  7. Claire Walter

    My son is now 27, so this is ancient history. We were living in NJ but flew to Colorado when he was 3 1/4. He had to go to the bathroom at the old Stapleton Airporty. Before I could bring him to the ladies’ room w/ me, he folllowed some man into the men’s room. I stood outside the door hollering, “Get back out here and come with me.” But of course, he didn’t. Then I figured he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life going into the ladies room, and an airport was just about the ideal place for this to happen. If he didn’t come out after a reasonable interval, I could ask a uniformed airline employee to send him out.

    I waited outside — and finally asked an airline guy whether a little boy with curly blond hair was in there. He said, “Yes, he’s playing with the water.” I chose not to inquire just what water he was playing with, but asked him to send my son out. My son never came into the ladies’ room with me again. It makes me sad when I see paranoid moms bringing their too-old-for-this sons (7, 8, 9 or so) into the ladies’ loo — sad for the worrywarts who believe there’s a pervert in every corner, sad for the kids whose helicopter parents never let them learn to handle themselves, and sad for our society that has come to this.

    1. Ron S. Doyle

      Brette: Oy, the locker room. Swimming lessons have been interesting, to say the least. Lots of raised eyebrows…

      Claire: I love your take on the situation—and especially your story. It’s hard not to be a helicopter papa (after all, my girls are 2 and 1) but I know you’re right.

  8. Lu

    My interpretation is that Grandpa was subconsiously volunteering to take your little ones to the Girls’ loo! Try taking him up on his offer next time and see what his response might be. Just kidding, sorry you are not receiving more public support. My take is unless it is a unisex or family bathroom you have to take them into the Mens bathroom until they are old enough to go to the Ladies alone. Ignorance be damned in this situation.

    1. Ron S. Doyle

      I think the Grandpa felt bad when he realized two girls were already in the bathroom—but my hands WERE full, so maybe I should have asked for some help… 😉

  9. Tino

    get a nanny

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