Tuesday, August 25, 2009

he's only six years old

Today's scheduled post is being pre-empted by a story I want to share with all of you.

My younger son, D., had an appointment at the dentist's today. I decided to turn the day into a special outing and go out for lunch and then to the movies (G-Force. I still do not like rodents).

When the movie was over, he announced that he had to go to the bathroom. As I wrapped up a phone call with my spouse and went to open the bathroom door, a man stepped towards me and said, "I think he's way too old to go in there with you. He looks like he's at least four years old."

I thought he was kidding. I smiled and said, "He's six."

"Six! You really shouldn't be going in there."

He was serious. And outraged (I'll bust some stereotypes and tell you that he was young - no older than early 30s). As I stepped around him and gently pushed my son through the door, I heard him say, "I'm going to talk to the manager."

I was flabbergasted.

D. was quite upset as he has been really reluctant to go into the women's washroom for the last year or so (although lately he's gone in with me when we are out alone without complaining).
He was mortified.

I am not an overly protective parent nor am I prone to paranoia. I also know all that so many more children are harmed by adults they know than ones they meet in the bathroom at the movie theatre.


He can barely reach the taps in public washrooms, let alone the soap dispenser.

He often can't get the stall door to close.

Sometimes, he can't get it open.

Despite his protestations, he's afraid to be by himself in an unfamiliar place.

He's six years old. And it is still several years before I am going to let him out of my sight in any public place.

When I was six years old, a stranger exposed himself to me.

I let my 11 year old go into the men's room by himself. Once, when D. had a friend with him at the movies, I let both boys go in together and stood outside with my heart in my mouth until they re-appeared (I asked if they had washed their hands. My son said, "Yes!" His friend said, "No, you didn't!").

I think the answer to "When is your child old enough to [fill in the blank]?" depends very much on the individual child and on the parents' comfort level (I often say that it's really good that my boys have two parents, otherwise they would never be allowed to do anything). I am, however, very comfortable asserting that my six year old will be coming into the women's washroom with me for a while yet.

And what's the big deal, anyway? Women's washrooms have stalls. It's not as though D. is peeking under the doors. When I went to university, at least one of the residences had only co-ed bathrooms. Now that was weird - brushing my teeth in the morning and having some guy walk by in a little towel.

How do you handle the bathroom situation when out with your kids? How do you feel when you see a child of the opposite sex in a public washroom?


Kaylen said...

I don`t have kids, but seeing any pre-pubescent child in the bathroom wouldn`t bother me. As you say, there are stalls.

Susan said...

Though your logic certainly is flawless in that the child can't see anything he shouldn't, I would be uncomfortable with his presence in the lady's room.

jana said...

I'm paranoid about restrooms because one of the more traumatic experiences of my _teen_ years happened with a creepy guy in a public restroom.

Mine went with me till he was about 12. I never had anyone bug him about it, at all. But we live in California--most parents here are pretty overprotective.

Texas Susan said...

My sons are older now (ages 17 and 14), but I still feel a little nervous when they go in a public bathroom! You're absolutely right to be concerned about YOUR comfort level, as well as your child's. I wouldn't let someone else tell me what's best to do for my child. It doesn't bother me to see kids his age in the women's bathroom.

Anonymous said...

I have 5yr old and 7yr old boys. I will let them go to the men's room together, but if I've only one kid and I'm the only parent, or the washroom *isn't* a single or a family washroom, where they're the only person inside, they come to the women's washroom with me.

I've never had a problem with this, though I have had to take a stranger's girl into the women's washroom with me, as the parent was a single Dad and we were at a Quebec rest stop (would you want to take a girl into the men's there?!). I don't think I would be comfortable having someone I didn't know take my child into the men's room.

I might be uncomfortable if I saw 13yr old boys coming into the washroom, but kids younger than that really don't bother me in the least.

bushidoka said...

You are way too paranoid, and I think you need to start reading this blog : http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/

laurie said...

i am enjoying the comments here. i do feel the need to clarify that among my reasons for hesitating are the facts that 1)my son cannot wash his hands effectively if at all in most men's rooms and 2)i worry that he will lock himself in a stall and not be able to get out. and that's not paranoia.

Anonymous said...

In my circle of friends, all 6-year-old boys go to the ladies' bathroom with their mothers (unless Dad is along, of course).

I grew up many years ago in a smaller city. Kids did things by themselves (e.g. ride buses, use public bathrooms, walk to the park) at a much younger age than kids in the place where I currently live.

I think there was an implicit assumption in my hometown that adult strangers would help the children if they needed it. For example, in my day, an adult man would have helped your son to get out of the stall or wash his hands,if he needed it.

Also, I think women handled the situation differently. I think sometimes a woman would ask a non-threatening looking guy on the verge of entering the bathroom to take her son in and keep an eye on him. Or she would ask an employee on the premises for assistance.

These days, there's no way that we'd ask random adult strangers for help -- nor would we expect them to spontaneously come to the aid of a child who needed a bit of an assist.

The norms have changed.

So parents out in public with opposite-sex children -- and kids out in public with opposite sex parents -- are in a tough position.

I wonder whether the man who challenged you is from a place where the norms are different.

Or maybe he had a young daughter in that bathroom and was worried that she would be uncomfortable about your son's presence in there?

That man certainly handled the situation badly -- he didn't express himself or his concerns very well.


Christy said...

Why was a man saying it was inappropriate? Not his bathroom. What a weirdo. Glad you stood your ground!

Anonymous said...

We receive many comments from strangers and others (neighbours, family members, friends, just folks) and most often those comments don't have anything (or much) to do with us or the activities about which the comments are focused. People say things that come from their own experiences, both positive and negative, and their consequent fears, angers and anxieties.

In my unsolicited opinion, it is best to not waste emotional energy on other peoples' mishagoss. I've learned to be polite and move away quickly. At least that's what I'm aiming to do when these comments are heaped on my head.

A man who tells you ANYTHING about women's washroom attendance by ANYBODY is not playing with the proverbial full deck. You have all 52 plus some Jokers.

Funny story though.

B in T

Rebecca said...

I think you acted appropriately, Laurie, and I, no doubt, would do the same under the same circumstances, when my son is the same age. Have already felt the need to make a joke about there being a "boy" in the women's washroom, and he's not even one! A big one, mind you!

Capital Mom said...

I would probably be taking my son in with me at that age. We will have to see. But I am cautious, not paranoid. When a child can do the things he or she needs to do (like the tap you mentioned) then I would be okay if they did it alone.

Rebecca said...

Too bad there wasn't one of those "family" bathrooms that are popping up. I actually think that they are handicap accessible bathrooms with a family friendly sign.

I don't mind well behaved / under control boys in the ladies room. The ones that want to peek under the stall doors, or play with everything they can reach... they can use the boys room or get a more conscientious parent.

nonlineargirl said...

My thought is that this man does not have children.

Anonymous said...

Probably the most awkward moment is for a father to take a little girl into a men's lavatory. He can't go in the women's room but at the same time he doesn't want to subject his innocent little girl to possibly seeing a bunch of men standing at a urinal.

Really embarrassing if she pipes out, "What's he doing?"