Spring Cleaning - a Follow-Up
First, thank you to all who have been reading our posts, following us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and who have provided us with very thoughtful comments and feedback. We really like hearing from you and we very much appreciate your support. One of our followers reached out to me with a comment regarding my spring cleaning post that I wanted to share with you all, as I suspect that some of you might have encountered the same issue.
The commenter said that she enjoyed reading the spring cleaning blog post but that she found it difficult to apply the “ditch the bag” principle in her life. She stated that when her kids go with their dad for the weekend, the kids take all their clothing with them in a bag because she buys all of the children’s clothes. Dad does not keep or maintain a set clothes for the children at his home and refuses to purchase any additional clothing when the kids are with him because he “already pays child support.”
This is particular circumstance is especially problematic when the kids (as most kids are want to do) dirty up all the clothes that they wear daily or have taken with them. Recently, one of the commenter's children needed an extra pair of pants and rather than ask dad to provide, the child called up mom and asked her to bring a pair of pants, otherwise the child would have had no choice but to wear a pair of dirtied pants to a friend’s birthday party. Since the mom was at work, she had to call her mother to take the child a pair of clean pants. The commenter stated that this is not the first time that this has happened and that the children basically have been conditioned to not ask for anything while with their dad and they no longer expect that he will provide them with any clothing other than what they have packed in their overnight bags.
Before people get upset and start calling me a dad basher, I want to be very clear. In my years of practice, I have seen this type of behavior from moms AND dads AND step-parents. The gender assignments/parental roles in the story above could be switched very easily and my opinion and analysis below would still be the same.
Now, getting back to the story. Let’s unpack all of this for a second and try to see this from the child’s perspective. Nothing says “You are a visitor here, this is not your home,” like going over to your parent’s home into a room stripped bare of any familiar possessions (other than the errant toy) with nothing more than a weekend bag. The child undoubtedly feels as if he/she cannot rely upon the parent to provide him/her with basic necessities other than what is contained in the bag. The child feels compelled to provide for his/her own basic needs (such as making independent arrangements for clothing) in order to avoid an argument between the parents. No child, whether they are 7 or 17, should be put in this position.
I would like to think that parents do not intentionally put their children into these awkward situations. As parents, our job is to provide for our children. Food, shelter and clothing are basic human necessities and are, in my opinion, a no brainer. The provision of these fundamental items does not stop upon the filing of divorce or separation -- nor does it stop once support has been deducted from your paycheck. Most of all, kids do not need to know who pays what and how much for support. Those are adult matters which a child need not worry about. Children should be comfortable asking for basic necessities from either parent. If there is an issue about payment or if there is an imbalance of payment, these are matters for the parents to discuss outside of the presence of children.
So how do we get to the middle ground? As I stated privately to the commenter, you have to start from the position that both parents are equal and willing participants in the coparenting model. That starts with abandoning the idea of “keeping score.” Brendan addressed this point more abstractly but I concur with his overall assessment on this topic. Clearly, the other parent in this situation above not only keeps score but openly states that his child support obligation is enough in the presence of the children. It is my hope that the other parent in this situation will reconsider his position that the children not keep and maintain their own clothes at his home.
In my view, children of two households need first to see that BOTH parents are responsible for providing for their basic needs. I also hope that both parents in this situation will think about working cooperatively to evenly divide the responsibility of purchasing and dividing the children’s clothing, and other items as Brendan and I have discussed in previous posts. This way, one parent doesn’t feel as though he/she is doing more than his/her fair share. Again, we (in practice) start from the principle that these items belong to the children and not us - the parents. Most importantly, maintaining like and similar items at each home creates a feeling of comfort, connection, and welcoming to the child. They are more a member of the household rather than a visitor. This is especially important in households with blended families.
I don’t entirely fault the dad in the situation presented by the commenter. He is probably coming from a place where all he knows is the antiquated model of post-divorce parenting. Further, this dad may not be aware how his behavior and open complaints about child support may be affecting the children. Brendan and I created this site and decided to share our experience with the hope that we can change the narrative from one of an adversarial model to one of cooperation. Hopefully, the parent in this case above will be open to exploring a child focused coparenting model that focuses on the needs of the children first and leaves the business of finances with the adults where it belongs.
Again, many thanks to all of you who have shared your stories, comments, and concern. We welcome the discussion and look forward to hearing more from you all in the future. Until then, be well. - Vanessa