June 26, 2013 at 11:54 PM ET
It's a given: Little boys—especially ones who are potty training—like to pee outside. My young boys have an insatiable desire to water the plants on our lawn. My crafty older son will dart outside and announce that he has "an emergency" and start spraying. I'll concede that peeing outside can be fun (reference my college years here) but how old is too old?
My friend Emilee jokes that peeing behind a tree at a park a respectful distance from the playground is okay, girls are fine as long as they have good aim, and you should stop their piddling when the hair-down-there appears. We can all agree that 13-years-olds shouldn't be dropping trou, but what about 5-year olds? And are there sexist differences between what's appropriate for a girl and for a boy? What are the rules that we should all abide by so we don't become members of Urinetown?
I curse the gender double standard, except of course when it works in my favor. Having potty trained my kids, I'm definitely guilty of being more lenient to his public peeing because their boys. I'm not sure I'd be so easy breezy with a daughter. My friend bought a travel potty for her daughter for this very reason and now her little girl squats over the plastic baggy attached to the seat in the back of her SUV. At the same time, a Dad I know never remembers to do a potty check before taking his preschooler to the park and he always lets her pee on the same tree.
Beyond gender and age, are there situational circumstances that make public peeing okay? Is it acceptable for emergencies, but not when parents are just lazy? At the park yesterday, my little one announced he had to go and reached in to grab the hose in the middle of the playground. And if I hadn’t been right next to the watchful eyes of a lovely couple and their adorable one-year-old, I might have directed him over to a tree. But feeling that I was setting an example for these young parents, I was shamed into announcing loudly to my sons that we don't just go to the potty wherever we want. So I marched the boys to the (truly nasty) park bathroom a block away. No accidents occurred, and while there was whining (when isn't there whining?), we all successfully put our pee-pee in the potty.
Bottom line: There are times when the great outdoors is our only option (Woodstock, whatnot) and when you literally have no pot to piss in. But exercising respect for your fellow citizens by moving away from people, getting out of sight and stressing to your kiddo that when there's a bathroom nearby, you should use it, goes a long way to not falling down that slippery slope. Of course, what you do in your own backyard is your own business. Let's just hope you don't get fined for it.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.