Obviously Mom and I have never had this challenge, but several people have asked what to do if your aging parent is the opposite gender and needs help using the restroom during stops. This was of particular concern to a young man who is planning a trip with his elderly mother, but doesn’t have the resources to bring the female caregiver on vacation with them.

I consulted with the expert: Mom. When asked what she would do if she needed help and only my brother was with her, Mom responded that she would “wet her pants before asking Eric for help.” When pressed, it was only because she would be embarrassed to have a man (any man) help her (don’t worry Eric, she still loves you).

I think the thing to understand is that it’s uncomfortable for everyone. No parent wants to be in a position where they need help in the restroom nor does a child desire to see their parent’s with their pants down. That said, it’s a job like any other and sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with it. Know it’s going to be a bit awkward, so try to approach it with empathy and humor.

The first time I assisted Mom (after a bout of Montezuma’s revenge), I reminded her she took care of me when I was little although I added “I’m sure my poo smelled like sweet cherries in spring time.” We laughed so hard the awkwardness was gone. It’s still a little embarrassing, but it’s not traumatic like it was the first time (and knock wood, it’s only a rarity when mom needs help).

If you’re utilizing a caretaker now, consult with them first on your parent’s needs. Perhaps your dad just needs assistance getting up from the seat which means you should always try to find a restroom with a grab bar (assuming they can pull themselves up). Take advantage of the caretaker’s knowledge to help you prepare.

Aging parent is the opposite gender and they need help using the restroomOne of the things I’m seeing more of is the family restroom. It’s basically a unisex single-user large bathroom (often called a handicapped restroom) that is helpful for people with family members, young or old, as it offers privacy and typically more amenities than a regular bathroom (a changing table, grab bars, lower sinks and towel dispensers, etc.). This is really a lifesaver when traveling with someone needing assistance although these restrooms are not commonplace.

If a family restroom is not available, there are different ways of handling nature’s call. I discovered that many women take their older father, husband, or, in the case of a female caregiver, their male client into the handicapped stall in the women’s room. Some folks find it’s easier as everyone else is already in a stall. It’s also pretty common place for moms with young kids to take male children into the women’s restroom so it’s just not as big of a deal. In the case of the reader who presented the question, I would advise him to merely announce “male caretaker coming in” before bringing his mom into the restroom.

I also spoke with my friend Diane who used to care for her father (until he passed away) as he was more comfortable using the men’s restroom. She had a similar strategy to what I suggested above. She would announce “female caretaker coming in” and then use her hand to shield her eyes from the urinals. This gave anyone using them time to finish up. Interestingly, she said she wasn’t embarrassed by the situation – it was always the men who were doing their business that were uncomfortable. She did say don’t gawk (which I felt went without saying but I promised her I would mention!). 

Now, I struggle with whether or not I would have a conversation about this before hitting the road. Yes, in theory you should, but I would be concerned it would make a parent not drink water (because they didn’t want to have to go to the bathroom) which can lead to dehydration. Play it by ear, but it may behoove you to handle it when a parent has to use the restroom. Nothing like really having to go to eliminate unnecessary arguing or chatter!

Would love to hear what our readers have done in this situation. I feel the more information and advice, the better off we’ll all be. What say you TWAP readers? How have you handled this situation?