To pee or not to pee in public? That’s a hot debate among potty-training parents. Some say it’s no big deal for a small child to do an occasional “nature pee,” while others think public pottying should be a crime.
In some places it is. Philadelphia mom Caroline Robboy recently got slapped with a ticket – and a lecture on bad parenting – when she let her 2-year-old son pee in public. She and her three children went out to dinner at a Johnny Rockets, then visited a nearby clothing shop, where her 2-year old son announced he had to go. Robboy told NBC News the store wouldn’t allow them to use the restroom.
They headed back to the restaurant, but little Nathaniel just couldn’t hold it. “I told him to go over to a grassy patch and make pee,” Robboy told NBCPhiladelphia.com. The next thing she knew, a police officer was giving her a $50 ticket for public urination — and a lecture about how she could be allowing a potential “pervert” to get a look at her son’s private parts.
Robboy says she’ll fight the ticket. A police spokesperson told NBCPhiladelphia.com that the department is looking into the matter.
When your little one has gotta go…
The story has some parents scratching their heads about just where little kids can and can’t pee.
Potty training rarely happens without a few emergencies. But public urination is a crime in many areas, regardless of age, and local laws can vary by jurisdiction. In some places, like Philadelphia, it’s a ticket, while in others it’s a misdemeanor charge.
Shouldn’t we cut 2-year olds a little slack here? It’s not like we’re taking about little kids defecating all over the place. Scientifically speaking, urine is relatively clean.
Mallory May, the mother of two little boys and a jewelry designer in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, says her 3-year old will son will drop his drawers just about anywhere outdoors. When he peed on some seaweed at the beach the other day, May was conflicted about what to do.
“I certainly don’t want to discourage his potty training process,” she explains. “But there is a certain decorum that we aren’t living up to in my mind when we pee anywhere in public, at any age.”
Anh-Van Nguyen, a New York City mother, said there are worse things than peeing on the bushes. She once saw a child take off her underwear and pee in the middle of the playground. “Other barefoot kids ran all over it,” she says. “It was disgusting. If you’re not potty-trained, I think you should take a minute and find a more proper place — a tree or bush would have been more appropriate.”
And while boys and girls both pee in public, Stephanie Sulzbach, a Connecticut mom of two boys, thinks boys pay attention to their male role models. “[My husband] will pick peeing outside any day over using a toilet. He’s convinced that this is why men are ‘plumbed’ the way they are… We live in a rural area, so going outside really isn’t a big deal.”
It’s true, this debate has a rural/urban divide. Allowing your child to pee in your own backyard or in a field is different from them pulling their pants down on Madison Avenue (which one parent told TODAY Moms she did witness, and is still traumatized by).
But as Julie Buxbaum, mother of a 2-year-old girl and the author of the novels “The Opposite of Love” and “After You,” points out, dogs urinate all over cities (and the suburbs) every day and nobody thinks twice about it. “When [kids] have to go, they have to go. My thinking: if dogs are allowed to pee [on] trees, why can’t kids?”
She says more clean public toilets could save us all a lot of potty angst. She’d love to be able to take her daughter to public restrooms in parks and playgrounds, but after living in London, New York, and now Los Angeles, she says public toilets are mostly too gross to visit with a toddler.
Of course, letting a child pee in public means you risk judgment from people who don’t yet have kids. Ashley Jacobs, social media manger for a personal finance blog, says she’ll never let her toddlers pee in the grass when she has children. She doesn’t want them confused about appropriate behavior in public. “I’d be worried,” she says. “If I let them do it once, they would think it’s OK to do it all the time.”
Are Americans just making a big stink?
Parents in other countries have been letting toddlers pee in public for generations, and diapers are only starting to become more popular in China. In fact, Chinese toilet training often involves wearing special pants, called kaidangku, that are split open in the crotch area, so small children can squat and pee whenever they have to, right there in the open.
Lauren Apfel, an American mom living in Glasgow, says letting toddlers pee in public is very common in the UK; it isn’t really even a topic up for debate. “Before I had a toilet-trained kid myself, I remember being slightly shocked seeing a friend’s 3-year old peeing against a tree with absolutely no compunction, surrounded by several other toddlers all doing the same thing. When I pointed this out to my friend, as if to alert her to the disaster, she explained it was par for the course around here.”
She quickly adds that discretion and common sense play a large role in where parents allow kids to drop trou. “People here would look askance at a kid peeing on a car or shop window. [But] almost all grassy areas are fair game.”
Jacoba Urist is a journalist and mom in Manhattan. She is also a contributor for Forbes, where she covers legal, financial, and current parenting news. Jacoba received her J.D. and LL.M. in taxation from New York University Law School. Follow her on twitter: @Thehappiestpare.
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