The Perils of Public Restrooms with Kids


There are 7 words I dread more than anything when out in public with my kids, “I have to go to the potty”.

My first experience with taking a kid into a public restroom was a major fail. I was in my early 20’s and watching my younger cousins overnight. I was excited to be trusted with their care and planned two days of fun (more about those failings in another post). One was 14, the other 4, both boys.

While the older went to baseball practice, I took the younger to the local mall where I thought a visit to Friendly’s and a toy purchase would catapult me to favorite. A brilliant idea, except I did them in the wrong order and as we walked through the major department store that anchored the center to get to our car I was told, “I have to go potty” about 100 times.

With the mall only a few minutes from their house, I told him to hold it. Simply because I did not know:

  1. where there was a bathroom
  2. if I could take him into the ladies room
  3. if I could send him into the boys room solo
  4. that when a kid says he has to go, he has to go NOW

Needless to say, an accident ensued, complete with yelling at me for making him pee in his carseat and a huge mess for me to clean up. Not only did I not become his favorite cousin, he was angry with me for quite a while after that.

Fast forward about 10 years… I have kids of my own and public restrooms are both the best and worst part of my day.

When my kids were in diapers, a changing table was the best thing about anyplace I visited. Those establishments that opted out (why aren’t they ever in men’s rooms?) set me off on rants about human dignity, rights of babies and getting laws passed that required every public restroom to have ample changing tables for families. Needless to say, sleep deprivation and changes in my children’s potty use status put a stop to that crusade.

When my son potty trained, he was still an only child. It was July and we ran around the yard naked for a week until he got the hang of it. Then we left the house only when desired, visiting only places within a short drive of my house, with appropriate restrooms.

I brought him into the women’s room, with no doubts. And praised the Natick Mall to anyone who would listen because they actually have bathrooms with child-sized toilets (I exclusively shopped there for years because of their child friendly bathroom amenities).

Once he mastered timing and control, I bought a portable potty seat to put in my car, we’d pull over anywhere and let him use it; it saved us from countless car trip fiascos.

My daughter opted to potty train in January. We live in New England and this was not ideal as anytime we left the house we were bundled in more gear at once than most people in the south own. And use of a portable potty seat in the elements was risking frost bite.

With two kids and schedules to keep:preschool for him, ice skating and swim for both, ballet for her (all bad decisions on my part in regards to potty training), I was a bit less flexible as to when I left the house and where I went.

Four months into diaper free days, the weather has warmed, and we head out more often, but inevitably those seven awful words always pop up. If we make multiple stops, we visit multiple public restrooms.

When I’m alone with the kids I take two into every public restroom. My son wavers between helping, including offering to wipe for her (not allowed), and torturing her by insisting on peeing first, while she cries that she must go first (he refuses to go in his own stall). She may never be able to get to the toilet first because let’s face it, in the bathroom arena guys have it easier, but soon he won’t be by her side as she attempts to navigate the perils of the public restroom.

Making three stops today, and three public restroom visits, I was met with varying conditions. The first, a wildlife sanctuary, was surprisingly clean. The second, a national seafood chain restaurant, was a little gross with urine covering the seat, but manageable with a wipe (Clorox Wipes To-Go are a favorite) and a nest of toilet paper to sit on. The third, in an ice cream shop at a lifestyle center, was the worst I’ve seen in a while. The stench made me gag and the seat was coated in caked on poop.

With a two year old who had to go, and flashbacks of my 20 something self causing my cousin to wet his pants, I knew there was no way around it. I picked up my 30 plus pound girl, her tutu delicately resting on my forearms, while she used her third public toilet of the day. Then we washed our hands twice before finally escaping and making our way into the fresh spring air.

Maybe it’s just coincidence that I’ve been sick since mid-February with cold after cold settling into my head and chest and my daughter has had two stomach bugs, but I blame it on our increased visits to public restrooms. From the tidy to the downright disgusting, I’ve seen more in the past few months than I thought I would in my entire lifetime.

I know there are still many more to come, but when I glance into my future I see two kids old enough to go into a public restroom alone and I smile.

Armed with an undergraduate degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Teaching, Jessica began a career as an advertising executive before spending nine years as an 8th grade English teacher. In 2009, Jessica opted out of the workforce to be home with her kids.

In need of an intellectual outlet, Jessica was offered the opportunity to start a third career as a freelance travel & lifestyle writer and has never looked back. Having contributed to travel & lifestyle outlets: Nile Guide, Tripology, USA TODAY & 10Best Jessica is excited to be part of the Amazing Matriarch where she hopes she can encourage other women to channel the amazing within.

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