Co-parenting after divorce brings it's own challenges. Even after custody and access is worked out, there are little issues that seem to pop up regularly.
One of the most frustrating things I've had to deal with is the exchange of the children’s clothing and other items with my ex. Even though we have a specific agreement regarding the exchanges that I stick to 98% of the time, my ex routinely does not.
My children are still young. I can't expect them to be responsible for their own clothing. They’re not interested in keeping track of which item which parent purchased and where it is. Nor should they be.
In the beginning of our co-parenting almost seven years ago the issue of clothing loss frustrated me a lot. Three years ago, we started working with a parenting coordinator. We refined a part of our parenting plan to address return of items:
1. To specifically list items that we expected back at the time of exchange (we do an exchange e-mail).
2. Items would be returned on the next exchange, unwashed.
3. Communication was essential. If an item didn't arrive that was listed, we'd let the other parent know immediately. If something wasn't returned, we'd e-mail so the other party could locate it (or if they knew it had gotten lost at school, we'd know to look for it there).
As we have a 50/50 custody agreement, we both keep sets of clothing for the children in our own homes. The main problem I continued to have even after we'd worked out our agreement is that clothing just doesn't get sent back. I've realized that it's really the communication around the exchange that frustrates me the most. I send a specific list of clothing. I'll remind my ex that things are missing and instead of owning up and saying - yeah, I just don't know where that is, my ex ignores me.
He will also email me suggesting that I (for instance) lost the snow pants from his home several months ago and demand their immediate return. Typically when this happens, he can't even tell me when or where they were lost so I can assist him to find them.
I'd really just like a little bit of respect. I've already taken the burden of purchasing the "big" items like winter coats and school and lunch bags. My ex doesn't cost share on these items. I can't afford to supplement the children's entire wardrobe at his house - and I shouldn't have to. My ex and I make almost the same income and we have 50/50 custody. I've also done my best to be respectful of the items that he purchases. Even if he e-mails months later saying he's lost snow pants - if I can help him to find them, I will. I don't think a little reciprocation is too much to ask for.
I have developed coping mechanisms. Here are seven things I do to reduce my frustration:
1. I don't send the children in new clothing. I have a couple of friends/family members who provide hand-me-downs. It's no different from what they usually wear. I'm also not averse to shopping in our local consignment stores for clothing. That way if something goes AWOL, it's not the new sweater that they got from Grandma for their birthday that they really liked.
2. The only items that I buy new (for hygiene purposes) are socks and underwear. I buy a specific set of socks and underwear that is for exchange days. They’re inexpensive and replaceable. They’re a specific color and I've marked the back of the underwear. It makes them easier for their father to identify and return - because it's always the same three or four pairs of underwear or socks.
3. With the exception of my daughter's underwear, I don't send anything white, because my ex doesn't use bleach or separate colors. At the beginning he'd wash everything (which is why our agreement specified that things shouldn't be washed). Items would come back dingy and grey - and once they've done that, no amount of bleach will make them sparkle again.
4. I provide SPECIFIC descriptions of the clothing in my exchange e-mails. If my daughter is wearing a pink shirt with a dragonfly on it, I note it. I only do this in part for my ex’s benefit. I’m that specific so if it doesn't come back, I remember what it was so I can tell him what to look for.
5. The big items (the ones they only have one of) have labels on them with the children's names. Coats, shoes, boots, eye glasses, school and lunch bags. That way - if they get lost at school, they can make their way back too.
6. The children change clothing when they return to my home. Their clothes from the father’s house go in a specific basket, that I collect from and put in a plastic bag for return. I don't wash them as we've agreed.
7. As communication is my biggest issue - I'm careful with my communication. I make my e-mails matter of fact and try to avoid being accusatory when I'm asking for missing clothes. I remind my ex only three times about the missing clothing. If I get no response (which is typical), especially with the smaller items like socks or underwear, I let it go. If he does respond with an excuse (i.e. I never got it or it was lost in the wash), I thank him for the explanation and let it go. It missing items do return, I acknowledge them as well.
Since my ex has started to get on board, more often than not the big items (coats, boots, school bags) get returned. Most of the time, shirts, jeans and dresses get returned eventually too. Socks and underwear still go missing on a frustratingly regular basis - but I'm learning to let that go.
With some hard work, it’s only the rare occasion where an item that was “lost” returns months later. The ex is sticking to our plan more. He's also started e-mailing back with his own list of clothing (it took almost three years to get him to start - it wasn't an issue for him as I'd always return everything). And he's finally stopped washing the clothes.
It’s the little things can make or break “co-parenting”. I've been using a trial and error approach since we stopped seeing the parenting coordinator. In addition to trying to encourage communication - a lot of my strategy involves not sweating the small stuff. Sometimes I still end up frustrated but I try to think about the long term and what’s best for the kids. Sometimes it's just a matter of being willing to let it go.
Do you have a strategy for exchange of your children’s items? Is it working?