Sacred Spaces

Sometimes You Just Have To Hide In The Bathroom

We’ve earned five minutes of blissful time alone.

One of my ultimate won-the-lottery, dream home fantasies is having my very own bathroom, one that nobody else is allowed to use. The reasons for this are not just practical, but emotional. Bathrooms, to me, aren't just places to poop and pee and get clean; they are a refuge. I suspect I'm not the only woman who feels this way, and when we become moms, that bond between woman and stall deepens… and extends to the home bathroom, which is sometimes our only sanctuary.

Here’s why:

It’s a private place to cry

The bathroom was the only place I could go to at work to have my crying moment and move on. (Think Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, but dial it down a little.) If the rare event occurred that someone else was in there crying, there was no shame, just solidarity — no discussion required.

When my kids were little and my mom was dying of cancer, I didn’t want them to be frightened by the depth of my grief, so I would do a lot of my deep crying in the shower. My kids are older now, but sometimes I still need a good cry, and the shower is still there for me, where nobody asks why I’m crying, and nobody can tell what I’ve been doing once it’s over.

It’s a place to hide

From people. From conversations. From others’ needs. From expectations. From any sort of interaction whatsoever. Sometimes you just need to cut off all the constant requests (from kids, coworkers, spouses) and the relentless input of the world and STOP… like, don’t-take-your-phone-with-you stop. Even if you’re a mom — because hopefully your coworkers respect your privacy in the bathroom, although I have documented exceptions — just shouting “I’m in the bathroom!” through the closed door will buy you at least another five minutes.

Of course, toddlers are the outliers here. A friend of mine just posted this exchange from the last time her preschooler popped into the bathroom while she was pooping.

Mom: Can you let me poop alone?

Kid: No, I have to be here for safety.

Parents, this too shall pass… in phases.

Phase 1 is when they burst in, as if you’re just sitting at the kitchen table instead of on the toilet.

Phase 2 is when they get a bit older and wait while leaning against the door, asking every few seconds when you’ll be done. (And yes, you can hear them breathing.)

Phase 3 is when they’re teenagers, and they wait nearby so they can pounce on you (often scaring the crap out of you) the minute you emerge. But hey, at least they’ve stopped walking in on you, a thought more terrifying to them than to you.

It’s a place to be contemplative

At home, it’s all about the shower. You can think through creative ideas without interruption, have conversations with yourself, have pretend conversations with celebrities, practice your Academy Award acceptance speeches, and yell every single think you’re thinking about your kids, your spouse, and anyone else who deserves a vent. No one will ever know.

This is good for work too, although you have to do all that shouting and singing inside your head. Nobody will get mad at you for going to the bathroom, and then you get a place to sit and think, distraction-free.

It’s a place for that self-care everybody keeps talking about

Tired of doing everything for everybody else all day long? Retreat to the bathroom to brush your hair or put on makeup or whatever your grooming thing is. It’s not just another reason to postpone whatever need is imminent with “I’m in the bathroom”—you also get to spend a little time doing something solely about yourself, for yourself. And nobody’s allowed to begrudge you that. I think.

Hey, this is starting to sound really selfish…

But it isn’t. You know why? Because there’s a reason we need the sanctity of bathrooms. We have people tugging at us all day, and as much as I hate generalizations like the one I’m about to make, women have it way worse than men. Not always and not all of them, but let’s face it: in most families with heterosexual parents, you’ll hear “Mom!” first 99% of the time. And in my experience, work is the same, no matter what your position. We’ve earned that bathroom time.

Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, parenting, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.