If I had a dollar for every article I’ve read about a blended family parent complaining about how “the Ex” doesn’t keep up with their kids’ stuff, I’d have a well-padded nest egg! I understand this issue first hand and Technology Man and I found a simple solution. The stuff doesn’t go with our child. Why? See the above mentioned reason. “The Ex” doesn’t (can’t, won’t…read into it whichever word fits!) keep up with the stuff.
I can speak with some authority on this subject as I have witnessed and been involved in my stepdaughter going back and forth between her biological parents for almost 14 years. Way, way back when she was only three and four years old, we learned some valuable lessons as the custodial dad and step-mom. Clothes that we loved were returned after she had grown out of them. The blanket or toy she was holding during an exchange was never returned. Sippy cups or snack containers never resurfaced. It was getting expensive and ridiculous. So we decided to take matters into our own hands and solve this problem before it got seriously out of control.
We began a “re-entry” routine that was stable and predictable. As soon as our daughter was returned from her mom’s weekend, we would collect what she came with and put it in the “exchange bag,” give her a warm bath and wash the clothes she came in that belonged to the Ex (because ours weren’t returned). It was like taking off the “other” and putting on “us.” We began to see a metamorphic change in her personality and attitudes after we started that simple plan. After one-on-one time, clean clothes and hair fixed up pretty, who doesn’t feel special and refreshed?
Then conversely, we started a “leaving” routine. Thirty minutes before she was to be picked up, we would change her into the “other” clothes that were clean and retrieve any items that were in the “exchange bag” from the other house for her to take back with her. Then we spent some one-on-one time talking, playing, and assuring her we would be ready and waiting for her when she returned. So from the time she was four, nothing went back and forth until school started. NOTHING. She would leave in exactly what she was returned in. It helped smooth over the difficulty of transitioning. “The Ex” didn’t get any more of our stuff and our daughter knew our predictable routine.
School brought in some new challenges especially since “the Ex” had school overnights the first four years. But again, the only things in our daughter’s backpack were school related items. No toys, no loveys, no money, no cell phone. We did lose one Disney Princess backpack which was never seen again, but to this day we believe our daughter threw a big enough fit with her mom that it has never happened again. The exception was the occasional medicine, which always had to be handed adult to adult.
Fast forward with me to today. Our daughter is now a freshman in high school. No school overnights with “the Ex” for the last six years. What was true then is still true today. NOTHING goes with her on those weekends except exactly what she needs. She changes clothes thirty minutes before she gets picked up (back into the clothes she came in) and takes only her band instrument and whichever spirals, folders or books are necessary to complete homework. Although 90% of the time no homework is ever done, papers can still get lost in that 48 hour vortex. It’s absolutely amazing and sadly predictable! But now our daughter is able to reach some conclusions on her own without our help. She knows from experience that anything taken over to the other house may never be seen again.
Our daughter is making the choices about what to take and what not to take. She knows that if she takes the iPod or cell phone we have given her, there is a chance her mom may take it and refuse to give it back. If so, who’s the loser here? Our daughter. If the school band shirt or the coat isn’t returned, who’s the loser? Our daughter. If the homework isn’t done, who’s the loser? Our daughter. If she was picked up from a soccer game and the uniform doesn’t come back, who’s the loser? Our daughter. We can’t parent to the other side. We can’t control what goes on at the other house. We certainly can’t take responsibility for consequences that arise due to issues related to the other house.
We simply tried to put order into an area of chaos in her life. I challenge you to do the same. Take control over the areas you can. For us that means, oh no, the stuff doesn’t go!
How do you handle exchanges? How does stuff go back and forth in your co-parenting arrangement?