By Rob Watson | The Next Family
I am a fan of blog writer Shannon Ralph. She recently wrote a piece that hit me right in my dad-spot called "11 Things Only the Parents of Boys Understand." While my generalizations meter was on high guard as I read the piece, I was charmed. I laughed. I cried. She killed me softly with her song.
So, it was with measured excitement I read my next Shannon Ralph, a tongue-in-cheek piece called "A Lesbian Mom’s Struggle With the Men’s Room." When I got to the end of the article, my tongue had long left my cheek, it was clucking.
From the perspective of the article, one would think that the men’s room was an ongoing display of male nudity and the epicenter for child molestation threats against young boys. Her concerns were so great that she had resolved not to let her son go into the dreaded men’s room zone solo until about age 9.
Many of the comments in the discussion section from some other moms seemed to enforce the 8- or 9-year-old age range as appropriate. I was shocked. My son’s have been going there on their own since age 6.
How could I see something like this so differently as someone with whom we clearly related in terms of the vision of our boy filled families? I had to see if I was the anomaly, so I sounded out a bunch of dads. Their attitudes were like mine—their sons were venturing in as early as 4 years old, and certainly were autonomous pros by 7 or 8. The dads I talked to had no concern about predators, their leading concern was cleanliness.
Then I got it. Just as the women’s room is essentially a strange territory to me—you know, one of those places where women grab all their social circle and head there together (what is THAT about???)—and likewise the mens room seems to impose that element of unknown onto some single and lesbian moms.
Rather than be pissy about perceived men’s room aspersions, I thought it might be helpful instead. Here is an insider’s view to aid the single and/or lesbian mom, with some tips and observations. Bear in mind, this assumes the restroom is in a decent location. Parks, beaches and locations where people camp out in the restroom would take extra scrutiny—and maybe avoidance all together.
1. You have every right to check the facilities as a single or lesbian parent. You are considering sending your opposite gender child into a location that you in theory, cannot go rushing into should you feel he has been gone too long. For that reason alone, you have every right to ask the server if you can check the room. Simple knock and waiting for a minute until it is vacated is all this would take. (If the restroom is too busy for you to reasonably check it, it is also less likely to be unsafe. Predators like a controlled environment.) My partner and I were no stranger to women’s rooms when our boys were babies since those facilities often had the only changing tables. We asked permission and jumped the gender line, you can too.
2. Bodily exposure is not a men’s room requirement. All restrooms are not created equally, especially in how urinals are configured and how exposed they are to other patrons. Most are now set up with dividers, or the urinal itself is designed so that the modest can relieve themselves easily and out of sight. Below are a couple of examples of urinals you might encounter, and some recommendations. Here is a sampling to the various urinal options your son may encounter:
This is the most common—urinals with privacy partitions. There is very little chance of exposure or visibility. Urinals that are lower to the floor are meant for kids, usually one such fixture is at either end of the urinal row.
These are also common—urinals without partitions. The sides of the urinal are designed in a way that the user still can stay hidden if he stands properly. His neighbor may stand less hidden, but if the user avoids the temptation to glance over, things stay essentially private.
The stalls. Maximum privacy. The biggest caution here is the seat. Make sure that your son is instructed to lift it before peeing, or to wipe it down and use a paper seat guard before sitting on it. Unfortunately, a pee-splashed toilet seat is a common issue in even the best restrooms.
This is an older “what the heck were they thinking” design of urinal. Little privacy and pretty awkward. If your son does not feel comfortable using one of these—have him use the stall.dad guide mens room
Let’s call this “what the heck were they thinking” II. These are worse than the ones above however. Not only is there maximum exposure, but if one pees straight ahead, pee mist bounces back on your pants. If you pee towards the floor, it bounces back on your shoes. Avoid.
These are the new water-free urinals. Privacy protected, and the user walks up, does his business, and it flushes itself.
3. Don’t pass on homophobic restroom tips to your son. Teach respect instead. In the comment section of Shannon’s article one mom was relieved to find online “help.” “Vanessa” declared, “There are YouTube videos for little boys that show him how to behave in the men’s restroom. There are unspoken rules apparently, and little boys who are frequently with women aren’t typically told that men don’t retreat to a bathroom to talk and primp. They may not know to keep a few empty spaces between them and another person in an empty bathroom.” The sound you may be hearing is me pounding my head on the desk. Sorry Vanessa, those are not helpful tip videos. They are humor videos that play on straight guys having to deal with their homophobia while holding their genitals and interacting with other men. Your son does not need to avoid any specific urinal, and he can follow whatever rules you give him in terms of greeting a stranger standing next to him. What is important, is to make sure your son is respectful of people’s spaces and privacy.
4. While your body does not have to follow him into the men’s room, your eyes can. While almost every single dad I spoke to was comfortable with a younger age of autonomy in terms of going to the restroom, one factor was a requirement: that the parent be able to see the restroom door. Author of Free Range Kids Lenore Skenazy states, “ the world is not a perfect place. Criminals do exist. But to operate as if predators are prowling behind every plate of Swedish meatballs, ready to pounce on a table full of children, in public, in broad daylight, is the stuff of bad Bruce Willis movies. A watchful eye and concern for those kids will keep them safe!…A pervert attacking, all in the 90 seconds between the time the mom is not present and then is? Can anyone seriously think this is probable? Not whether it is POSSIBLE. Anything is possible. ..There’s a big difference between possible and probable — a difference that parents are being encouraged, by busybodies and sensationalist media, to ignore. That’s what is making parents so fearful these days: We are “What if?”ing ourselves to death.” In other words, a parent watching the door, even from several feet, is significant protection.
5. If your concerns are higher, use your voice to have full access to the men’s room. If you are still nervous or your guy is younger, then go full throttle protection. Go to the mens room door open it (don’t worry, most doors are strategically placed so that this will not be invasive), and say in a clear mom voice, “OK, here you go. Call me if you need anything and I will be right in.” Not only will your son be now under the invisible cloak of protection of mom, but some patrons may expedite their business and clear space. As far as some know, you are standing right outside the stalls.
The women’s room will give you a heads' up on legitimate concerns in the men’s room. As I pointed out earlier, from those of us in the “know,” predators were not the concern of most dads, filth was. We have all seen some amazingly disgusting things left in restrooms, stalls and even urinals. Should you choose to do an arrival inspection, it is this situation that I would look most for. Should you not inspect, you will likely get a good heads up by seeing how well the women’s room is maintained. From what I have been told, neither gender can take a prize for being the least possibly gross in a restroom space… and the same cleaning crew maintains both facilities. If the women’s room is a dump—the men’s room is likely not healthy either.
Reassess your safety paradigm. Here is the good news: the restroom is likely safe. It is highly improbable, like the odds of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning, that anything will happen. The bad news has to do with another comment in Shannon’s article, she said, “Now, I know some perfectly lovely men … Men I respect. Men I love. Men I trust completely. But I am leery of sending my son off to the men’s room all alone with strangers.” Here is the most likely portrait of someone who would target the son of a single or lesbian mom for molestation: According to 4,000 admitted child molesters in the Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study: “He’s married, just like 77 percent of the more than 4000 child sexual abusers in the Child Molestation Prevention Study. He is religious, like 93 percent of the abusers. He’s educated. More than 46 percent had some college education and another 30 percent were high school graduates. Like 65 percent of the admitted abusers, he is working.” According to the Children’s Assessment Center, most victims know the perpetrator, who has targeted the family and worked to establish trust. Single parent households are often at greater risk. In other words, it may be more prudent for you to relax more in the public restroom arena, but make sure you have a healthy guard up with men who are seeking to be ones you “trust completely.” For me, I have trained my sons in terms of what is acceptable in their own privacy and what violates it—no matter who the person trespassing might be.
So, single and lesbian moms, enjoy your evening out with your kids and have no fear of the dreaded men’s room. Your son will appreciate the vote of confidence and the independence. It is a rite of passage to conquer that private/public space.
Don’t forget, you are formidable. You are a trail blazer in this society. That mysterious smelly room behind the slamming door, will never hold anything over you. It is within your control.
Your son will also see it as nothing to fear, and with your love at his back, he will know he can accomplish anything, from his solo trips to the restroom and beyond.
Rob Watson is a writer for The Next Family and Evol Equals. He lives in Santa Cruz with his family.
Also on The Next Family:
Interview With Wanda Sykes on Her Wife and Kids