Are 6-Year-Old Boys Too Old to Use the Women’s Public Restroom?

image source: thinkstock
image source: thinkstock

This weekend, Ashton Kutcher took to Facebook to lament the lack of changing tables in men’s public restrooms. He deemed it was time to make all public restrooms family-friendly. I totally agree. When I’m out and about with my son W, there are no two words on a sign that are more welcome than “family restroom.” The two of us are able to run in and out without any need to grapple with gendered public restrooms. For his entire life, when W has had to go, we go to the women’s restroom because that’s where I can assist him or be ready to assist him. Now that he’s in school, a place with very clear boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, he has started indicating that when the two of us are in public and he needs to go, we should take turns. Sometimes he can come to the women’s restroom with me, and other times I can go to the men’s room with him.


Most of our kids have appropriate comfort levels regarding public places that, as parents, we have nurtured. We don’t want our kids to go running off without us. We don’t want them to talk to or be in a position to interact with strangers. At nearly 6, W clearly knows he is not ready to go to a public restroom without me.

This week, a photo of a sign taped outside of a public restroom in a mall has been circulating online:

image source: Twin Cities Moms Blog via Facebook
image source: Oklahoma City Moms Blog via Facebook

The validity of the sign and its actual location have not been determined, but just the idea of it has been the spark behind some very passionate feelings among moms online.

I noticed that the sign doesn’t say “must,” so it is a request and not a demand. Things like this become filed away for consideration, but ultimately it comes down to me and my son making the best choice for our family.

My friend and fellow single mom champion, Issa Mas, pretty much sums up how I feel about this, saying:

“Theo goes into the women’s bathroom with me until *I* say he can go to the men’s room all alone, and if they don’t like it they can arrest me.”

Moms of special needs children have been especially vocal about pointing out how insensitive the sign is. Tanis Miller is a writer and mother to a son with special needs. She read the sign and remarked:

“I guess that means I’d have to start taking him into the men’s washroom. Won’t that be fun. HAHAH. Because a boy over 6 in a washroom isn’t near as disrupting as an 11-year-old and his 39-year-old momma in the men’s washroom.”

Activist and advocate Sunday Stillwell has two sons, aged 12 and nearly 10, with special needs. They both require assistance in public restrooms. Sunday says she has never gotten any comments from other people in the bathroom when she has her sons with her, but there are “definitely looks and eye rolling.” She wishes she had time to educate people who give her looks, but she is always focused on simply getting out as fast as possible.

I asked Sunday what she would say if she was walking by a public restroom and saw someone taping this kind of sign up.

“I would explain to them that individuals with special needs may require assistance with buttons, zippers, wiping if they have had a bowel movement, and reminding them to wash their hands, not pickup things that belong to others (purses, bags, etc.) So sending them into a restroom unassisted is just not possible.”

Mona Darling, a mom to a trans child, found the note ridiculous and absurd. She wonders what people could possibly be afraid of and adds:

“When you work hard to keep the sexes separate from a young age, you increase their curiosity to explore the other sex as soon as they get a chance.”

Many of the parents I spoke to were incredibly understanding and nonchalant about boys accompanied by their moms in the ladies’ room. As mother and artist, A’Driane Nieves says she has “no issue with boys in the women’s restroom until they are ages 8 to 10. And they should be accompanied by an adult.”

I feel like this is one of those “stay in your own lane” parenting decisions. Only you know your child and what they are capable of and ready for. It’s not really our place to decide for any other mom, kid, or family. The biggest thing to remember is we have no idea what kind of situation or circumstance (if any) is going on with another family in a public restroom.

If I saw a sign like this near a public restroom, I would dig into my purse, pull out a pen, and make a few changes:

public restroom
image source: Oklahoma City Moms Blog via Facebook | edits by Dresden Shumaker


Update: The owner of Oklahoma City Moms Blog where the photo was first posted reached out to Babble with more details. The sign was posted at the Outlet Shoppes of Oklahoma City but was supposedly not endorsed by them and apparently taken down as soon as it was brought to their attention. The Outlet owners aren’t sure who put the sign up in the first place.

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