Co-Parenting and Clothing Exchanges - A How NOT to Guide

Ugggghhh!!!  The Clothes!!

Go to Google and type “clothing exchange after divorce”.  You’ll find a number of frustrated parents (both men and women) who haven’t been able to constructively solve this little issue.

I’ll admit it.  I’m one of them.  It’s one of those nitpicky things that for way too long, I haven’t quite been able to let go.

My children are with their father, the Goblin King, a full 50% of the time.  We each have a full wardrobe for them in our own homes.  I dress them in clothing from my home and prepare a list as part of our agreed e-mail exchange which I send to him.  I also return any clothing or items that were from his home on the last exchange.

We have agreed (with the help of the parenting coordinator) on a specific format for the e-mail.  We agreed to check the list when the children get to each of our homes, put aside the clothing and return it on the next exchange (either the children will wear it back or it will be in their backpacks).  If there is clothing listed that isn’t there, we’re supposed to note that it was missing on return.  If we haven’t returned clothing (ie it’s still in the wash), we’re supposed to note it in the return e-mail and send it back the next time.  If clothing that we sent is missing and not noted in the e-mail, we’ve agreed to send an e-mail requesting return on the next exchange.  We also agreed that toys and other items would not be exchanged.

The problem is this:  even though we’ve gone through the above with the parenting coordinator and come to an agreement – and even though I stick to the letter of that agreement 98% of the time, the Goblin King routinely does not.

Clothing just doesn’t get sent back.  It disappears into a dark hole.  And instead of owning up and saying – yeah, I just don’t know where that is, the Goblin King ignores my requests and reminders.  And then, several months later, when both Puck and Flower have outgrown the clothing, they reappear.

So I’ve developed my own coping mechanisms.

  1. I don’t send the children in new clothing.  We’re lucky to have a couple of friends/family members who provide hand me downs – usually in pretty good shape.  It’s no different from what they usually wear.  I’m also not averse to shopping in our local consignment stores for clothing.
  2. With the exception of underwear, I don’t send anything white, because the Goblin King doesn’t know how to use bleach or separate colours.  In the past few months, he’s gotten better about just not washing the clothes and sending the kids back in “his” clothes.
  3. The only items that I do purchase new (for hygiene purposes) are socks and underwear.  They each have a set of socks and underwear that is specifically for their father’s house.  Puck has a set of Fruit of the Loom boxers and grey sweat socks from Walmart (10 for $5).  Flower has a set of Fruit of the Loom plain white with coloured stripe waistbands and multicoloured socks with hearts on them.  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.
  4. I provide SPECIFIC descriptions of the clothing in my e-mails.  If Flower is wearing a pink shirt with a dragonfly on it, I note it.  Only in part for his benefit.  Mostly for mine.  So when it doesn’t come back, I can tell him what he’s looking for.
  5. The big items (the ones they only have one of) have labels on them.  With the children’s names.  Coats, boots, etc.  The parenting coordinator suggested putting little black sharpie marks on the tags – but the Goblin King has taken to removing the tags so I don’t know what size the clothing is.  And I’m reasonably certain that it’s really dark in the black hole and he won’t be able to see the mark.  So now only the big things get marked.  That way – if they get lost at school, they can make their way back to us too.
  6. The children change clothing when they return to my home.  Their clothes from the Goblin King’s house go in a specific basket, where I collect and put in a plastic bag for return.
  7. When all the items do return, I thank him.  I make my e-mails matter of fact and try to avoid being accusatory when I’m asking for missing clothes.
  8. I remind the Goblin King three times about the missing clothing.  Only.  If I get no response (which is typical), I try to let it go.  If he does respond with an excuse (I never got it, it was lost in the wash, black hole), I thank him for the explanation and let it go.

And it seems to be working.  More often than not, at the very least, the big items (coats, boots) get returned (I’m currently missing one of Flower’s pink sweaters, but with my third e-mail last exchange, I’m letting it go).  And most of the time, shirts and jeans eventually get returned.  As socks and underwear are fairly inexpensive, I don’t worry about them any more.  And finally, as of last month (after agreeing to but not doing it for two years including the time when we were seeing the parenting coordinator), he’s started e-mailing back with his own list of clothing.

It is frustrating at times to deal with my ex.  And this is just one little thing that I’ve let have too much power over me for way too long.  Each time, as today, I commit to let it go.  Because it doesn’t have power over me – I’ve taken that back and it’s mine.

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  1. Question: Should co-parents own their own baby strollers or exchange along with the child every time?

    Hi, I am a co-parent and I have just purchased a very nice stroller I feel like the mother does not take care of items as well as I do and I know this stroller that I put much time and consideration into the purchase I know I will cringe at the sight of unavoidable stains, scratches and damage.


    1. Author

      We owned our own everything. He even had his own car seat. The only things that traveled with the kids were the clothes on their backs. Hence this post. Good luck to you.

  2. I remember this 18 year struggle that I had with my ex too. Clothes are expensive especially when you are fastidious about how it is washed and dried versus just thrown in with a pile of anything. So frustrating.

  3. Ouch! I think you may have channelled my experience in my divorced life. I would include an itemized list of clothing that I wanted returned, many items never making it back to my house. Beyond frustrating! Clothing exchange was a constant source of contention. Ironically, our mediator suggested that since my ex paid for a part of those clothes (a piddly monthly sum) he was entitled to the clothing as much as I was. She had a point that was hard to refute. Years later, our daughter told me how awful she felt when I insisted she change out of one set of clothes and into another. She was embarrassed to go to dad’s with a bag of his clothes, always afraid an item left behind would make her parents would fight even more. I could not have felt worse. I hope you are not reluctant to post this comment. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had not made such a big deal over the clothes, although it was infuriating at the time.

    1. Author

      Your perspective is refreshing. Now that they’re a bit older maybe it is time to have a chat with them about how to do it and how it makes them feel. Thank you.

      1. The fury about the clothes channeled how angry I was at my ex. It was my opportunity to lash out and I enjoyed every minute of it. Looking back, high end consignment stores can fill in for “lost” items. Best to spend the time negotiating holidays and birthdays, visits to family members, bedtimes, etc. Now that’s another blog post!

  4. Oh Hugs!!! Good lord, I hear your pain. There has never been a format as to how we discuss the missing items, but like you, i always return things in good faith. One time, he harped on me for a lunch container that I *swear* i did not have, and then he threatened to deduct from CS to replace it. Guess where it turned up? at SCHOOL. Geez, you’d think he’d look. But thankfully, for the most part, he’s been pretty good at returning things. I just feel the pain about the communication and the black hole crap. So relate!! More hugs! And wine.

  5. Preach sister! It’s freaking stupid that you have to go through a systematic email exchange when common sense should prevail. I fight it every freaking day with my ex!

      1. My is hell bent on bitterness and destruction, even though she is the one that left me. It’s expensive and comical.

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