Imagine you are at your local shopping centre, toddler and baby in tow. Toddler (currently being toilet trained) has announced he is dying to go to the loo, and the timing works – you figure you can pop into the Parents Room and feed bub while you’re there, in relative privacy. All is going well. You arrive at the Parents Room and the doors open. It appears to be empty – great! Then it hits you – the most pungent smell, and not the kind of baby bottom odour you have come to expect. It’s of some kind of baked tuna casserole-burnt-to-the-pit-of-hell smell, clearly the microwave has had a workout – and not heating up a bottle of milk. You head to the toilet and it’s locked and very quiet inside. Toddler is crying and bursting to go. You wait as the door finally opens, reassuring your little one. But it’s that minute too long and he has wet himself. Out comes a woman with a swag of shopping bags. And no child. “Sorry” – she mutters, and skulks off, shopping in tow. Now you have a wet hysterical toddler and a hungry baby. And the lingering smell of someone’s burnt tuna lunch in your hair.

Sadly, these are all too common occurrences in Parents’ Rooms these days.

Don’t get us wrong –  at Tot Spots we are grateful that Parents’ Rooms are now a common place amenity, and are considered the norm in most shopping areas. Imagine what our parents had to put up with before they existed?

Having said that, it appears that all too frequently these rooms are being misused by the general public. And while they seem like minor indiscretions (and sometimes can be misunderstood – for example the toilets might be genuinely needed urgently by someone with a medical condition), they can often result in really negative (and often unnecessary) experiences for those who the rooms are actually intended for. At this juncture we’d like to point out that this misuse might be driven by a mere lack of awareness – we know that, pre-baby, we had no real idea what lay behind those frosted glass doors. Was it a safe haven where parents went to take time out from their children? Some kind of exclusive club where you need to produce your kid’s birth certificate upon entry? Or was it somewhere you go and have a sleep or a massage, while someone watched your child and gave the pram a clean at the same time? Who knew.

So – in publishing this piece, we have one simple goal: We’d like to raise awareness regarding the need for, and appropriate use of, Parents’ Rooms. And next time, dear general public, we ask you to please think twice before using one!

Please think twice

We spoke to one Sydney mum, Mandy*, who, tired of constantly having unpleasant experiences in Parents’ Rooms, posted her feelings about the matter on a social media forum for mums in her local area. The feedback she received from other mothers was consistent – several had their own negative stories (to say the least!), and were frustrated by the fact that these rooms were not being used for the right reasons.

Mandy decided to take action and write to her local shopping centre, requesting that both patrons and staff be gently reminded of the intended use of Parents’ Rooms. She’s given us permission to re-publish her letter here. We feel that it pretty much sums up how parents and carers feel, and the concerns we have around the misuse of these rooms.

See below for Mandy’s letter.

Dear Centre Management,

I am writing to you in concern of the parent feeding and toilet facility on your premises.

It is apparent that the vicinity is regularly being frequented by members of the general public that the facility is not intended for. I recently posted this on a local social media page for mothers and there seemed to be some concurrency with regard to this issue among other mothers - I am not alone in my concern.

The issue being that general public members and staff are using the area to go to the toilet and heat food, making the area less than pleasant for those that the space has been intended for. 

Whilst I understand that some people have pressing medical conditions and need access to this area also, and should be allowed to use them with no issue at all, I am inclined to believe that a small poster around the entrance point of the room may discourage use by those that should not be in there. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the space has been designed for families; or parents and adults accompanying children; or those with need or conditions which mean they need to use a toilet quickly and privately. 

Of late on entry, I always notice someone leaving that has no children attached to them; and are not waiting for others. Whilst some may have chronic conditions I suspect many don't. I was unable to feed in the area the other day it was so pungent, and I've had many occasions where I've had to wait for the toilet or my toddler has been forced to wait due to it's over use by the general public. 

The space should offer a safe and clean environment for children that is accessible. My daughter still needs her bottom to be wiped and I'm unable to fit the pram into the cubicle, thus have to do this with the door open... the fact that Joe Random walks in randomly is an issue for me; in terms of the protection of my daughter's privacy. 

I think a gentle notice to remind people of the intended use of the space would be helpful, something to the effect of:
“Please use this space respectfully and bear in mind it's intended use is for babies, children, accompanying adults; breastfeeding and pregnant mothers and those with medical conditions”.

I understand that it's not reasonable for you to physically man the facility, nor would I expect this. I also understand that people that may need urgent use of the toilet have the right to do so, but a gentle reminder of what the space is intended for might act as a deterrent. I also think it's an important part of your management to remind retail outlets that staff should not be using the microwaving facility in these spaces also: they are intended for bottles and baby food. 

Should you want to discuss any of the points addressed in more detail, please do not hesitate in contacting me.

Incidentally, Mandy’s letter has led to a happy outcome – she’s told us that her local shopping centre were quick to respond and are looking into how they can improve the situation. A dedicated kitchen for retail staff (if they don’t have access to a microwave) might be a good idea too!


*Mandy’s not her real name – whilst she’s happy to be a Parents Room crusader, she’d rather remain discreet about it :)