Do washrooms for babies guide fathers’ choice of restaurant?

Do washrooms for babies guide fathers’ choice of restaurant?

Who would have thought in this age when many fathers share child care responsibilities from newborns on up that a family restaurant would renovate their premises and not allot space for a baby change table in the men’s washroom, especially as there previously had been one there?

Yet such is the complaint voiced by a B.C. father of three young ones who discovered a McDonald’s in Kamloops no longer provided him a suitable place to change his 11-month old son’s diaper.

Management excused the oversight saying that following the renovations there was insufficient space in the men’s washroom.

The restaurant has no family washroom. He was forced to use the change table in the women’s washroom while it was closed to female customers. (One reader suggested the dad should have plopped his baby on the restaurant’s order counter right beside the till. That would surely have registered his inconvenience.)

I’ve not done a survey of Terrace public washrooms to learn how many of them provide comfortable, sanitary surroundings for fathers to change their babies. But if management cared about all their customers’ comfort they would make sure all caregivers have a welcoming space for the task.

I’ve read accounts of dads balancing their little one over their lap while sitting on a closed toilet. Precarious at best. Or worse, laying the child on the cold, germ-laden bathroom floor. Picture a squirmy distressed toddler under those conditions especially if other patrons are milling about. The kid could be trampled by an unsteady drunk.

This father objected to being surrounded by men at nearby urinals tending to their own needs in such close proximity to his baby. The child’s sex makes no difference; a situation like that is upsetting to any caring father. He asks for some sort of privacy wall or screen at least. Or better yet, have a pull-down changing table in one of the closed toilet stalls. Ideal would be a family washroom.

Besides caring for the youngest, the father may have one or two older children to supervise while he switches nappies. How should he manage that among the general washroom population? And don’t say, “Leave the older ones sitting at the table.” That would be unsafe in any community.

President Obama understood this father’s complaint and as early as October 7, 2016 signed into law a bill called the Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation (Babies) Act. The bill was agreed to by a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives and passed unanimously by the Senate before making its way to President Obama’s desk. It requires that changing stations that are “physically safe, sanitary and appropriate” be available in both women’s and men’s bathrooms in federal buildings open for public use.

That still leaves privately owned businesses to install or not install change tables in washrooms set aside for men only.

In Canada, many efforts including petitions have been spearheaded to provide fathers with equal diaper changing facilities, but so far only Ontario has taken a concrete step. In January 2015 the province got out in front of the U.S. amending its building code to mandate universal restrooms with change tables in all new and larger buildings – not just government buildings.

Balancing any loss of dining space — owners’ excuse for maximizing customer seating — a comfortable, happy baby might encourage this family and others to linger over an extra slice of cake or pizza, even to choose one restaurant over another on their next outing.

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