The One-Bathroom Family: The Struggle Is Real

by Wendy Wisner
Natali Dronova / Shutterstock

When our family of four moved out of a crammed one-bedroom apartment to the three-bedroom duplex we live in now, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. Not only did we now have about three times the square footage we’d had before, but we had a yard, a patio, brand new appliances, and more storage space than we knew what to do with.

At the time, I didn’t even think about the fact that our new home only had one bathroom — more square footage was really all that was on my mind then. Plus, our youngest was still very much in diapers, so we were only really talking about three people using the one bathroom.

But fast-forward three years: We’ve totally settled into our space, our youngest is out of diapers, and our is tween starting to take these long-ass showers. Now the fact that we only have one bathroom is starting to become a bit of an issue. A pretty freaking big one, actually.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes everyone in your house will have to poop at the same time? Maybe it’s something you all ate. Or maybe it’s just that time of day when everyone is relaxed enough to just…let it go, as they say. Well, if you have more than one bathroom, you might just kind of chuckle when that happens. But if you have only one bathroom, and if everyone in your house just consumed a burrito — well, you definitely won’t be laughing then.

And don’t even get me started on what it’s like when your one toilet has been clogged by someone’s overactive colon, or a rubber ducky that somehow magically found its way down the pipes.

But it’s not just about pooping or clogged toilets. Showering and basic grooming is a pain-in-the-butt, especially when you are all trying to get ready and out of the house on time. Bedtime can be a disaster too, with the kids bumping into each other, spilling water, and spraying toothpaste in each other’s faces. I would totally like to segregate them into different bathrooms then.

And then there is the matter of a little thing called privacy. I know it’s not something I should count on too much while I still have young kids at home. But sometimes I would like to use the toilet in peace, maybe wash up, pluck my eyebrows, experiment with that new under-eye cover-up I just bought online, etc.

However, I am never, ever allowed more than a few minutes in the bathroom without someone barging in on me because they have to pee so bad their bladder is going explode (although it often turns out that this is a gross exaggeration, and what my child really wants is some company, because god forbid mom is out of his sight for five minutes).

If I were to acquire another bathroom, I would want one all to myself, a kind of “mom’s only” spa. A place I can escape to for a few minutes for a bit of self-care, or to run for cover when my kids are clobbering one another over the head and screaming like a banshee. A place where I can lock the door and shovel Ben and Jerry’s down my throat without worrying about an invasion.

The truth is, though, I know that having another bathroom (or two) won’t solve all of life’s problems. I also know that the home I have is lavish by the standards of many all over the world, and to even have one working bathroom with decent plumbing and running water is a first-world privilege. I remember my grandfather telling me about growing up in the New York City tenements, where his whole building had to share one bathroom!

And the fact is, we rent our home, so the only way for us to upgrade in the bathroom department would be to move, and that’s not happening anytime soon. So as much as I complain about the one-bathroom thing (and hell, there is absolutely nothing wrong with complaining as far as I’m concerned), it is what it is, at least for now.

If I think about it, there are definitely some upsides to having to live modestly in this way. Our family has no choice but to learn how to cooperate, take turns, and just deal with the stresses and annoyances of having to share one tiny bathroom among the four of us. My kids are learning that things like extra bathrooms aren’t necessitates in life, and they have learned to be grateful for what they have.

Also? I would say that we have all definitely developed some very strong butt muscles, and that is not something to take for granted at all.