The truth about parenthood and wees

One of the many things no one tells you about having kids is just how hard it makes it to have a wee. If you are someone for whom toilets have always been perfectly accessible – if, for instance, you’re neither trans nor intersex, and don’t have mobility restrictions – it can come as an enormous shock to find that suddenly toilets are the holy grail. The chances are this is temporary. Your children will grow and leave you to wee in peace. Nevertheless, in the interim it can be enraging. You’ve always assumed that the world was built around the needs of “people.” Suddenly it’s obvious that this is an illusion only the privileged can entertain.

Today my sons got yelled at in Morrison’s and (for once) it wasn’t their fault. All they were doing was waiting outside the toilet cubicle while Mummy paid a call. Suddenly I heard a woman’s voice telling them they had no right to be there and should go to the men’s. My sons are four and six. I have no intention of sending them off to the men’s toilets unaccompanied, or leaving them to wait outside. I was amazed – unfortunately, too amazed to think of a cutting response to the woman, who’d left by the time I unlocked the toilet door.

This came as a bit of a shock. I thought we were over the worst of public toilet grimness. It’s years since the days when the only appropriate places to have a wee were Ikea in Bristol or Mothercare in the Cheltenham Regent Arcade (try as I might to restrict our diet to pickled herrings and SMA, I always found I needed to shop in other places). Back then it was hard and I always felt there was some secret “having a wee when you’ve got a baby” etiquette that no one had bothered to tell me. Prams and pushchairs don’t fit in toilet cubicles. You don’t want to shut the toilet door on your baby, but if you take your baby out, do you just plonk him or her on the floor, no doubt in someone else’s urine? Do you try to undo yourself and have a wee while holding your baby? What about wearing a sling (a total non-starter for someone as inept as me)? And if you have a toddler, is it okay for him or her to watch you or will it create some hidden Freudian trauma? With all this going on, there’s no way you’re ever going to try for anything more complex than a number one (as for periods, the ridiculous lengths one has to go to in order to ensure nothing remotely bloody comes into view don’t bear thinking about).

Obviously it’s better when you’re in the comfort of your own home – but not that much better (I really need to get a lock on the bathroom door). Your children WILL try to kill each other whenever you decide you need more than a piss (yes, I’m being coy). You find yourself turning into your dad (or to be precise, my dad), muttering “can’t a man even go to the toilet in peace?” Then again, there will be the rare moment when you nip in for a quick one and find that no one’s noticed, and then you’ll sit in the bathroom for a good twenty minutes, not exactly hiding from your loved ones but … okay, actually, you are hiding from them, but you’ve earned it given all the times you’ve been interrupted.

Outside it’s the worst, though. The world is not built with any acknowledgement of the fact that not everyone is free to be an independent wee-er. And of course, for parents – mostly mothers – you just have to suck it up, for the time being at least, until the world becomes more like Ikea (in the toilet, if not in any other, sense). But it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much almost every structure and facility around us is built with assumptions of privilege and non-dependency. Parenthood alone is just, temporarily, a tiny glimpse of what it might be like on the peripheries. But weeing has to be for everyone.

16 thoughts on “The truth about parenthood and wees

  1. A lot of bathrooms here have a little fold down bench in the stall that you can strap your toddler into while you go. Managing with 9 and 14 year old daughters (both deaf) was harder than when they were little, because everyone wants privacy, but all communication stops when the door closes.

  2. I can barely express how angry I feel that anyone should dare to think that they are in any way permitted to speak this way to small children who are not their own.

    So many people think that the behaviour of other people’s children is open to public comment and criticism with no understanding of the context for that particular family. It’s bad enough when someone makes remarks to the parent but to do so directly to small children is tantamount to abuse!

    Much sympathy to your and your children.

  3. very good point! I had twins and no way could I take the double buggy anywhere but the handicapped toilet. I liked the places that have family bathrooms. We had a policy where my children face away from whoever is on the toilet. I did too (so they can have their privacy) unless I heard a little voice call out that they needed their bottom wiped (usually the case). I agree I would never have let my son into the men’s room alone. Now I hover anxiously outside (he’s almost 8) because he refuses to go to the women’s room. He takes too long, you know I’m going in there — tough. Public bathrooms stress me out, especially since I know someone who was molested in one as a child.

  4. Perhaps it’s just me, but I never experienced any problems in this area. I looked after both my niece & godson when they were babies & toddlers. When they were really small, I just sat them on my knee, once able to stand just brought them into cubicle & had a gab with them. I’ve never worried about them seeing anything. I get changed in front of them, had baths with them. I see nothing wrong with children seeing a family members naked body.
    I never had any issues taking my godson into the ladies. I would have been angry if anyone had ever said anything to him .
    Would be interested to see if others have found this a problem.

  5. Actually it seems many non-disabled parents without thinking about the problems it causes instead try to co-opt the disabled loos. I’ve explained to so many the problems it causes when suddenly 50% of the public wants to use like 5% of the loos.

    We really need for all loos to be default non-gendered, individual bathrooms big enough to get a wheelchair or a buggy into. Not to mention for bathrooms to include changing stations at the right height for wheelchair using/wobbly parents and adult changing stations for adults or older children who need changing.

  6. Having an 8 year old who is still in nappies, the public loo is a big issue! I’ve recently come across a few ‘baby changing’ rooms that are huge but without a toilet .. It just doesn’t make sense .. Mums and dads with babies or toddlers (or children like mine) don’t need to pee? Sigh.

    Oooops .. I think you touch a raw nerve I didn’t know I have!

  7. This post really struck a chord. I remember going to the loo when my daughter was a baby was being incredibly stressful. Occasionally you’d find a family toilet or roomy stall or one with one of those little fold-down seats and safety straps you can pop your child into so you’re not juggling toddler, handbag, the belt to your jeans, etc.

    A big pet peeve of mine is bathroom stalls that don’t have sturdy hooks for handbags and coats. Such a simple thing that allows you to wee without piling your belongings on the floor.

    Most bathrooms seem to telegraph the message that what we’re doing in there is shameful, dirty, abhorrent so why be fussy about whether it’s clean, odour-free and family/disability friendly.

    The issue is compounded when you have little girls who never graduate to standing while weeing. While the idea of catching something from a toilet seat is mostly debunked, how often have I gone into a stall to see a set wet from inconsiderate “hover-ers”.

  8. Hm. Well I hate to break this to you but weeing in peace is a thing of the past now – FOREVER. My eldest son is fifteen years old and yet *still* attempts to engage me in conversation through the locked bathroom door. I have actual dreams about visiting the toilet in peace.

  9. I love this post and the issues you raise.

    First of all ignore the yelling woman in the toilet. She had obviously had a bad day. I would never let my kids out of my sight / earshot at that age.

    And personally I don’t think it is a big issue to go to the toilet in front of my kids, particularly my little boy who needs to see and learn how it is done.

    And lastly, yesterday I got 10mins of uninterrupted bathroom time on my own. It was joyful!


  10. Totally agree. My worst moment was a trip to Bristol zoo and ending up going in the end cubicle with the door open whilst clutching the handle of the baby’s pram. With him crying. Possibly my quickest wee ever. You’d think places aimed at kids might do better than that.

  11. You are as incisive and thought-provoking as ever, thank you.
    I am sure I read somewhere a theory that female politicians tend to adopt more progressive social policies, and that this was because sometimes the experience of pregnancy and birth and childcare gave them practical insight into what it might feel like, for example, to be physically disabled. (This would be a much better comment if i could remember anything about it. but i have been too busy trying to find ways i can get around london with three children, one buggy, hundreds of bags amd two scooters…) See also evidence that having daughters makes men more left wing.

  12. Now that my boys are 9 and 7 my biggest problem is nipping into the bathroom at home for a wee and finding that I’ve sat in a puddle.

    No matter how much I nag them, if I’m not looking they won’t lift the seat!

  13. The other thing is a lack of toilets. I have been very hampered often by travelling with incontinent toddlers. But at least with small children there is the option of weeing in the street or on a travel potty. I fear there must be loads of adults effectively on house arrest for lack of proper toilet facilities at regular intervals.

  14. Wait until all memories of group wees are a faded thing of the past and you have spent the last 30 years in glorious isolation in cubicles throughout the land, never giving it a second thought
    Then you become a grandparent…..

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