"Disgusting!" the older woman muttered to her friend, glancing over at my son. "He should be using the gents at his age."
My son is just nine, and frankly, I don't feel when in sprawling shopping malls, huge cinema complexes, or anywhere where the loos are several flights of stairs or endless corridors away, that he should be going in them on his own. So when he needs the lavatory when we are out, he accompanies me to the ladies.
He is a little boy. He goes in, does what he has to do, washes his hands and leaves. What upset could this possibly cause?
Apparently, quite a lot. I've had cold stares, eye rolling to companions, and pointed 'excuse me's' barked at my son if he has dared stand in front of the mirror or spend too long under the hand-dryer.
Most people are not as rude as the old witch who branded it 'disgusting' in a west end department store recently, but 'looks' are always plentiful.
Whereas prams, pushchairs and shopping trolleys are seemingly welcome to block access to the sinks, hairspray, perfume and deodorant can be liberally and chokingly sprayed in the air, and the loos left unflushed and with all manner of unmentionables littering the cubicles, a little boy - there for his own safety and well-being - cannot be tolerated.
And it is not as though I am the only mum doing it – most of my friends and colleagues with sons the same age as mine also insist on them using the ladies – and for the same reason as me.
"When we go to the cinema, or to the loos in the shopping centre, my seven-year-old son comes in with me," says mum-of-one Laura, "And to be fair in those sorts of hugely busy places, I often see boys who are easily 10 or 11 in them, too."
So do I. And does it bother me? No.
The children are in there to have a wee, for goodness sake, not to undertake a biology lesson or gain some naughty sense of pleasure at being somewhere where women remove their undercrackers. They are CHILDREN.
And given that all activity is taking place behind closed cubicles (or SHOULD be) what could other women possibly object to? (Unless they are using the lavatories as make-shift dressing rooms for a night out as recently witnessed in a department store, but then, frankly, that's their problem – my child's well-being and safety and far more important than your need to strip down to your Wonderbra and thong and change into your glad rags in the middle of the room).
Obviously if my son was objecting to my insistence that he uses the women's toilets, then I would probably change my stance - and some of my mum-chums have pointed out that their kids have now reached the point where they do refuse to use the ladies, and so they have had no choice but to let them go unsupervised into the gents.
"My son is nine and hasn't come into the women's loo for at least a year," says Katie, "There was no decision about it - he reached a stage when he just didn't want to do it. I think in many ways it's the child who sets the age, not the parent."
My quick straw poll did actually only produce one colleague who objected to young boys being in the females facilities – going so far as to suggest that if there was a parental worry about safety, that they should 'possibly' use the disabled facility. However, this tends not to sit well for with some of those for whom the disabled lavatories are intended.
"It is absolutely not acceptable," says Louise, "I use the disabled loo myself and it's restricted to the able-bodied for a reason - they can use the regular loos with numerous cubicles. Disabled people can't. Particularly if they are a wheelchair user, there's no way a regular cubicle will meet their needs. It is utterly selfish to deprive someone who needs a designated toilet the ability to use it."
I am inclined to agree. I don't want my little boy using the disabled toilets, and unless it's in a small, family orientated facility, I also do not want him using the gents on his own, and that is how it will stay until he and I decide he is old enough for things to change.
And as far as I'm concerned, those tutting, scowling and disapproving 'ladies' who don't like it, can just cross their legs and go and spend their pennies somewhere else.
More on Parentdish: How old is too old for a pushchair?
What do you think?
At what age should little boys stop using the ladies?
And is it ever acceptable for able-bodied children to be encouraged to use the disabled facilities?
More:Advice And Health
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