How we avoided battles over clothing during the 12 years we shared custody.
I’m always surprised that the first thing fellow co-parents ask me is, “How did you handle the clothing issue?” My youngest stepson was in first grade when I moved in with my husband, and he’s 22 now, so I’ve been at this co-parenting thing for quite some time. Over the years, we had very few conflicts about clothing going back and forth. Of course the boys frequently forgot things, but that’s to be expected. How many times have you forgotten to pack something for vacation? Now imagine packing every week (or every few days) and having your parents get mad at you if you forget something. It’s hard! But it doesn’t have to be a battle. Below are the ways we avoided fights over clothing during the boys’ younger years.
Expect them to forget things, and don’t punish them for it.
Kids don’t magically become less forgetful or more organized because they have two homes. In fact, it’s the opposite. They will forget their favorite jacket. Their gym uniform. Their baseball bag. Their homework. Expect it, and don’t punish them for it. It’s not their fault they have two homes, and it’s not developmentally appropriate for you to expect them to manage it alone. I’m 38 years old, I own two homes, and I forget something (or multiple things) EVERY SINGLE TIME I travel back and forth. Having to swing by your child’s other house to pick something up or drop something off for them is part of your co-parenting duties. Period.
Double check their packing list. Every. Single. Time.
The key to successful co-parenting is organization and involvement. Consider the packing list your job, not your child’s job. When the boys were young, I printed a list and helped them gather everything they needed for transition day the night before. As they got older, my job simply became shouting, “Did you remember your _____?” But when they were young, it was all hands on deck. It was my job to know what they needed to take back and forth, and my job to make sure they had it.
Remember, their clothing belongs to them, not you.
I cringe every time I hear a parent say that the clothes they buy have to stay at their house. Divorce is hard enough. Pick your battles. Don’t make clothing one of them. Don’t make your kid live without their favorite shirt because YOU paid for it. If your child’s other parent is truly stealing the clothes you purchased on purpose, then you have more important issues to deal with, but I think you’ll agree that no matter what they are, your baby deserves to be comfortable and confident in their clothing 100% of the time. Find a way to manage the situation without putting your child in the middle. Maybe that means making the transition at the other parent’s home so you can make sure your child has everything before you leave. I understand that many co-parents avoid communication at all costs, but sometimes it’s necessary to talk. You’re the adult. You created this situation. It’s your job to make it work.
Buy doubles, when possible.
Our custody schedule was week on/week off, and I didn’t want the boys having to drag basics back and forth, so we simply bought an extra set of underwear, socks, and pajamas for our home. Also, GYM UNIFORMS. I can’t explain it, but Jackson’s gym uniform was constantly at the wrong house. We finally wised up and just bought two.
Our kids aren’t picky about brands, so it was really inexpensive for me to provide them with a second set of everything. One trip to Target and we were done. But most kids are not so easy. If their jeans cost $150, buying doubles is much less feasible. Plus, it’s silly to buy two of EVERYTHING. They really don’t need two winter coats. Speaking of which —
Check the weather.
Be sure to glance at your weather app before transition day. Is it going to get cold? Does your kid need a coat? Remind them to pack one. Did you check the weather a week in advance when you were a teenager? I doubt it. Stop expecting your kid to do that.
If my tips seem unsympathetic, it’s because they are. I have very little patience or sympathy for co-parents who put their children in the middle of unnecessary conflict. We spent 12 years sharing custody. The boys are both grown now, and I can tell you that none of the conflicts that mattered then mean anything to any of us now. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t important at the time, but it does mean that I’m very happy we didn’t drag the kids into the middle of them.
There are so many things in life that we can’t protect our children from. But we absolutely can protect them from feeling stressed about something as silly as packing, and we absolutely should.
This post was originally published October 2020.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.