“It’s Only Clothes”

KidsBy: Anne Sleeman
President, Kids On Time

“Those clothes aren’t coming into my house.” 

“You aren’t wearing anything bought by that person into my home.”

“Whatever they buy you, needs to stay at their place, I do not want to see it.”

The amount of times these statements and similar ones are said to children who split their time between multiple homes is absolutely mind boggling, not to mention, sad. The first time I heard of this happening was many years ago. I remember thinking to myself, wow, that person’s step mom is out of her mind. Why in the world would she put this kid through this? Why would this Mom put this child through the additional mental anguish of having to know “which” clothes are allowed and which ones are not on any different day? Call me crazy, but, don’t kids have enough to worry about? Don’t we all for that matter?
Over the years, it has become apparent to me, that this is, unfortunately, almost more normal than not. People who, with a straight face mind you, say that they care about the well-being of their child, that they would give them the world, that they would do anything for them, that their former spouse is the one who is uncaring, non-supportive and a monster, are the same people who utter these statements when their children return from their other parent’s home.
Hmmmmm…. I think it is time, and long overdue, for those of us in any shared parenting situation to step back and take a real hard look at ourselves and our actions. When we act with aggression, whether outward or passive, the only people who really suffer are the kids. Think about it. What message are you sending, when you do not let your child wear a pair of pants purchased by someone else? Does this sound rational? Does this sound mature? Does this sound supportive? Does this sound like someone who has the child’s best interest at heart? Choose to believe what you will, but the answers to all of the aforementioned questions are a large collective NO. In essence by not allowing the child to wear clothing purchased by another care giver or parent, you are not placing any value on your child’s emotions or feeling of well-being. Your divorce is about you and your former spouse, not about your child. They still have two parents, you, and the other. If the step or other care giver are the ones making said purchases, same holds true.
By not valuing your child’s emotions, you are in fact, doing the opposite of what you hoped. You are actually building a wall between you and your child, not your child and your former. Seriously, why this big deal about clothes? They are just clothes? Why do you care so much?
When I hear of these stories, all I think about is how this is essentially an adult form of passive aggressive bullying, where the intended victim is less harmed than the innocent child. You may have feelings of resentment, and dare I say hatred towards the person whom you share parenting responsibilities with. These feelings may even be justified, in your opinion. But, take a moment to think about how your hateful behavior effects your child’s well-being. What lesson are you teaching them by NOT allowing clothing? By not allowing clothing to be worn or taken into your home? You are not teaching lessons of respect, love and acceptance. You are teaching lessons of selfishness and self-centeredness. What a shame this is. You try so hard to be a good parent. You do so much for your kids. You make so many sacrifices for them. You would give them the shirt off of your back….ugh, there is that clothing reference again. You want only the best for your kids, yet you let past feelings show them only your worst.
The clothing is a symbol of control. You can change your behavior. You can teach your child that, despite your feelings, you love them and accept that they love and have a relationship with their other parent and that person’s significant other. You do not have to like the person, but it is time that you respect them. It may not be easy to make the change. You may not like their taste. But, you love your kids. You want to be a good example for them. You want them to know that treating people with respect is important. So, do that. Let them wear the pants, shorts, shoes, shirts, and jackets that are purchased from your former spouse. Your kids will appreciate it. You will eliminate another stressor in everyone’s life, which, will make everyone’s life just a bit better.

Remember…its only clothes. Give it a try. Cheers.

Anne Sleeman is the President and co-founder of Kids On Time, essential tools for co-parenting. She knew her life changed forever when she met and married her husband Joe, and became step-mom to his two children. Anne’s new found role of step-mom, friend, confident and role model led her to self-awareness and personal growth as she undertook the most important role of her life: Step-mom. Anne’s personal tag line for step-parents everywhere is that being a step-parent needs to be viewed as a privilege, not as a right. Anne is beyond proud of the co-parenting tools that she has co-created. Knowing that taking a wellness approach, as opposed to a litigation approach is viewed by some as outside the box. Anne is excited to offer her stories and expertise to all parents, step, blended and otherwise. Anne’s website is :www.kidsontime.com. Follow Anne on Twitter: @KidsOnTime and on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/mykidsontime.

Anne Sleeman

16 thoughts on ““It’s Only Clothes”

  1. Fantastic! I have seen this scenario on numerous occasions. It’s so sad. And you hit the nail on the head when you said its a control issue that just hurts the kids. It’s petty and harmful to the emotional well being of the children. It can be difficult to keep hurtful and resentful feelings towards an ex bottled up. However, that’s what friends and therapy are for. Let’s raise amazing, loving, adapting adults by acting like one.

    • HI Kat. Thank you for your response. It is overwhelming how many children are having to go through this scenario everyday. Parents get so wrapped up in revenge on their former that they do not fully process the impact that their actions have on their children. Love your closing sentence…so true…thanks again, cheers:) Anne

  2. I could not agree more. I wish I could get my kids dad and his girlfriend to read this. We just dealt with a similar situation where my daughter was so excited to wear her new fall boots she got that day. She came back to my home so sad the next day saying she could never wear them again to dads. They said what was I thinking buying them and they would hurt her anklesThey had about a 1/4 inch heal. When I talked to her dad he said well she was running in the house and slipping on the floors, so I only want her in sneakers or sandals. I said parent the situation, if you are doing something that the boots are not the right choice have her change and explain why they won’t work for that it is parenting. Don’t hurt her feelings by saying out of line things about my judgement and she took to heart because she picked it out and could not wait to show you. The kids want to share their favorite things with the other parent just like they are living in the same house. Bless their hearts sometimes that might takes a week or more to do based on schedule, don’t dampen that for them. Feel honor and privileged they loved you enough to want to share with you what their favorite things are and include them in your world.

    • Hi Nickole, Thank you for sharing your story. It is astonishing how many of these stories are happening, everyday, to kids all over the world. One of my inspirations for writing the piece, were people just like you, so you would fully know, that you are not alone in this lunacy. Good luck with you situation. If you ever want to run something by me personally, please feel free to email me at anne@kisdontime.com Cheers Anne

  3. I’ve been a family mediator for over 15 years and have noticed that it is parents of relatively greater affluence who engage in this behavior. It is not common among the working class families I see in my court-referred cases. My theory is that more affluent people tend to fight through property, while the less well off use verbal or physical aggression. Both groups use avoidance a great deal.

    • Jeff, That is very interesting! Thank you for commenting. If you would ever like to write for the website, a mediator’s point of view would be fantastic.

    • Thank you Jeff.
      I appreciate your insight. I haven’t actually broken down the socioeconomic factors, but will absolutely pay attention to them moving forward. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding avoidance, I believe that has become a cultural phenomena. Thanks for your comments. Cheers Anne

  4. Thanks for this. Very disturbing behavior – parentifying the children, making them responsible for caring for and protecting the parent from painful feelings arising from, among other things, the child’s continued relationship with that parent (which may feel like a betrayal and violation). Mediation is wonderful in that it has parents working together, from the beginning of the process, as a parental unit, continually placing their children’s best interests at the center of their decisions. It sets a healthy orientation for the family structure post/divorce.

  5. Yes, Ann, this is certainly something I see frequently, as a mediator, therapist and parenting and co-parenting facilitator. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Jeff, I wish that it were true that affluence is a factor. I have many lower/middle income families in which this phenomenon takes place along with another that, perhaps, is not so common in affluent families: one parent provides new clothes, the other keeps them and consistently send the child back in old, worn-out clothes. Again, this makes a pawn of the child or children.

    I tell my participants, particularly in co-parenting classes, that the most important thing they can do is etch: “In the best interest of the child” on the inside of their foreheads where they will see and act on it first…hopefully.

  6. I agree with you completely. I had a case where the child had to change clothes at the pick up and drop off so the parent could their things back. Another case I have now, mom forced dad to buy a second karate outfit and complete ballet outfit since the ones they had were bought by her parents. How malicious. I think it can create hypervigilance in a child or the thought that the clothing is more important than the child.

    • Rhoberta and Susan,
      Thank you both so much for your input. I hope that for the children or other parents who are on the receiving end of this (and other similar bizarre behaviors) they can be comforted in the fact that they are hardly the only ones who have to endure such nonsense.If either of you feel that your clients would benefit from my company’s software, please feel free to email me directly anne@kidsontime.com and I will be happy to provide you with more information.
      Thank you for all that you do.

  7. How about when the parent won’t let the child wear the clothing they bought the child to or while at the other parent’s home. It has to stay in their home… And the toys, and the bicycle that can’t go back and forth. Things only go in one direction, not back in the other. Then, sometimes, things get stuck at the other home and can’t be retrieved without arguments and more passive aggressive behavior. And all the school art projects that never even get seen by the “allowing” parent because the fall into the domain of the other parent?
    What about the presents bought by the allowing parent, or the grandparents, that the child wants to take to the other parent’s home that never come back?
    Some things are finally allowed to go back and forth, but only if the “allowing” parent bought them, or if they are jointly bought.

  8. Hi Rivka. Thank you so much for your thoughts. I know. It is so true and so prevalent and so unfortunate that so many kids have to deal with this behavior from their parents…aren’t the parents supposed to be the role models. I appreciate your obviously personal words. I do believe that it helps ease the pain, at least a little, knowing that you are not alone in this insane battle. I wish you all of the best with your situation. If you ever want to reach out to me personally, please feel free to do so. Cheers. Anne

  9. I wish my SS could bring things back and forth or wear clothes freely. Unfortunately, during his visits, if his mother doesn’t like his clothes, she throws them out or ruins them. I know this because she tells my husband. Further, anything we have allowed to come home with him has become an issue, where he gets in trouble for not bringing it back during the next visit. Maybe it seems cruel, but having one outfit that he wears and not allowing items to go back and forth is a way to limit his being put in the middle.

  10. I’d heard of these types of issues before among friends who were divorced and sharing custody. When I came into my husband’s life, he was recently divorced. His ex would pack a backpack full of clothes for the girls and send it it along when he picked up for parenting time, but I suspected that could become problematic, so one of the first things I did was buy them each a set of clothes and pajamas. I think bio mom was somewhat taken aback when she first realized they had clothing at dad’s house but eventually appeared to appreciate not having to pack and send a bag with them. We always make sure to wash, fold and pack the clothes that belong at mom’s house, and she generally returns the favor. There are occasional issues, but I’ve found that considerate gestures are helpful in sometimes contentious relationships.

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