Spring Cleaning: from Closets to Connectedness
Spring has sprung! Well, not so much in Chicago, but hopefully there are warmer temperatures where you are. Spring is rightly viewed as a time of renewal. Windows long shuttered are flung open, closets are cleared, and all of the last vestiges of winter are removed or tucked away. It is a time to clear away the cobwebs and start fresh.
While it seems like a very small matter – this time of year has me thinking about one of the more frequent complaints I hear in my practice: kid’s clothes (and toys, books, and sporting equipment) that go with the child to the other parents home and never make it back. This seems like an insignificant issue to worry about – but it occupies far more time and energy for people than it should.
My advice: Don’t sweat it! In the co-parenting world, Spring is the perfect time to take stock of all of those little socks, shoes, pants, and polos that have migrated between households. When you have kids that flow freely from mom’s place to dad’s place, it is only natural that things will get out of balance from time to time. This is when you call up your co-parent and have a conversation about what they have at their place, what you have at yours, and what you need to even up.
I want to make a very important point here that has relevance beyond just clothes.
We do not pack a bag for our son when he goes to my home or Brendan’s home. I have always felt that packing a bag makes a child feel like a nomad carrying his meager possessions from temporary place to temporary place. Similarly, demands of “what goes in the bag must come back in the bag” create unnecessary stress for both child and parent. Such demands turn the child’s clothes into “mom’s clothes” or “dad’s clothes.” The child is required to scurry around and carefully inventory whether this is “mom’s sock” or “dad’s shirt”. One parent stresses about making sure that everything is accounted for while the other parent stresses about a missing pair of underoos or pajama pants. Sounds absurd doesn’t it?
Remember, these are the child’s clothes, not yours. And the same is true of his or her toys, books, and games. In order to create an atmosphere of stability and connectedness with each parent’s home, you have to ditch the bag and drop the sense of having a proprietary interest in mere things - whose real relevance is that they are your child’s and not yours.
Even though we share equal parenting time with our child and have good communication with each other, we do find that things get out of balance from time to time. While our son was away in Texas, Brendan and I took the opportunity to inventory the little guy’s wardrobe in each of our homes and made adjustments accordingly. First, we filtered out things Felix had outgrown. Next, we got rid of anything that was too worn. Finally, we made sure that each of us had equal amounts of necessary clothing and agreed on who would buy which replacements. We also do this type of inventory at the beginning of each school year.
On a day to day basis, the clothing reallocation conversation is quite simple and can be done over the phone or via text:
Me: Hi. I’m running low on undies and I have a bunch of mismatched socks. How are things on your end?
B: I have a bunch of undies and mismatched socks. I’m running low on long sleeved shirts and gym pants.
Me: Hmm. I didn’t even notice I had more long sleeves. I will bring you some shirts and pants and will give you the mismatched socks so you can have fun putting them together! Ha!
B: Ok. I’ll bring the undies.
Sounds easy, right? That’s because it is. Making the exchange of clothing (or books or toys) between parents and not vis-à-vis a child saddled with a bag, puts the responsibility where it belongs: on the parents and not the child. Taking the time to take stock of your child’s closets also gives you and your co-parent the opportunity to create and maintain a sense of balance. If you include your child(ren) in the spring cleaning exercise, it also will be a good lesson for all in cooperation and fairness.
Wishing you all warmer days and cleaner closets!