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Hot-Button Issues: Co-Parenting

7 min read

By Audrey Cade
Nov 17, 2020

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Want to know what causes the "angry meter" to rise in divorced and co-parenting exes? These three magic words: clothing, phones/devices, and hygiene.

Sure, there are plenty of other hot-button issues that can induce a spike in blood pressure, but these topics are plagued with conflict when it comes to the children shared by divorced parents as kids transition between one parent's home and the other.

Why is something like a simple pair of children's gym shoes so problematic? The tales parents shared on social media about their clothing woes will literally make your toes curl! Here’s a sampling of what the hubbub is all about:

I work hard to buy decent clothes for the kids, but even then I still buy a lot on sale or at thrift shops. I learned early after the divorce that anytime I sent them in something, I would likely never see it again! I've lost brand new shoes, nice dress-up outfits, and other barely worn items to the "black hole" at my ex's. As if that wasn't bad enough, everything my kids came back to me in was raggedy, way-too-small clothes that were long overdue to be donated or thrown away! My daughter would come back wearing old clothes that belonged to her older brother, and essentially my wardrobe for them was replaced, piece-by-piece, with absolute junk.
—Amanda, Colorado

My biggest gripe was that half of what I sent kids in (to my ex's) never returned. I have had kids come home with no shirt and shoes, in old Halloween costumes, or in an older sibling's way-too-big shoes because the new shoes I just bought were chewed up by her dog! It became a constant battle of the kids never having what they needed and me scrambling at the last minute to make sure they had shoes, coats, book bags, sports equipment, and so on for school.
—Joel, Ohio

I’m a firm believer of keeping everything we get at our house. Maybe one or two things can go, but not the expensive stuff. They try to take clothes with them when they leave, and they've told me their dad said to "steal stuff" to bring back. Basically, they hide it in their bag and run it outside before we see them.
—Sue, Kentucky

Most of the parents I reached out to have solved the majority of their clothing battles by labeling clothes, keeping a separate supply of clothes just for sending to the other parent's home, or simply returning the kids to the other parent in whatever they were sent in.

Phones and other devices, like tablets, cross the line between property, similar to clothing, and communication. Not only do parents worry about purchasing expensive devices, just to have them lost or destroyed, but the item has the extra added feature of potentially disrupting rules, routines, and visitation time with the other parent during his or her allotted time.

The biggest co-parent complaint about phones, however, is the intrusion into each home. Parents have differing reasons for giving kids phones, as well as different rules about devices. Most court-ordered parenting plans allow for a reasonable amount of daily contact between children and the parent they are currently away from. This contact is ideally accomplished without monitoring or interference from the other parent, and is intended to maintain a strong bond between child and absent parent without taking over visitation time with the other parent.

I bought my 13-year-old son a cell phone for his birthday so we would have an easy way to communicate during his week at his dad's, and so he could have a way to reach either of us if out with friends, and so on. Within four months, the phone returned to my house no longer working. I was told that my ex washed our son's coat without first checking the pockets, and the phone went through the laundry. No attempt was made to dry it out, and I never even received an apology, let alone any offers to help replace the broken phone.

These stories from divorced parents about their kids and devices will certainly make you think twice before bringing this drama into your home:

I bought my sixth grader a phone because my son and his father have a history of arguments and abuse, and I wanted him to always have a way to contact me; however, I can see the issue, when a parent consistently texts and interrupts the other parent's time. It's absurd to do it constantly throughout the day, taking away from the other parent’s time.
—Elizabeth, Wisconsin

Bedtime in my house is 9 p.m., and their mother knows this, yet she will make a point to call after she knows I've put them to bed to insist on her daily allotted time to talk to the kids. However, when I call her house during the day and ask to speak to the kids, she routinely will not answer, even though I text ahead to let her know I want to talk to them. As far as I'm concerned, the kids don't need phones at my house. They are nothing but trouble. I will let them use my phone any time they would like to call her, and she can always call them on my phone before bed. She has no concept of appropriate boundaries. Once, I figured out she was using my daughter's tablet (that I bought) to contact her while at my house. I thought my daughter was up in her room for hours working on a school project, but it turns out that she and her mom were binge-watching a show together on Netflix on each of their devices. Why can't they do that together on her week, and let me have my week with the kids, uninterrupted?
—Eric, Texas

My house rules trump "my mom bought it" because the kids don't have access to any electronics after 9 p.m.
—Natasha, Ontario

I don't think a discussion is needed to buy things for the children. I bought my son an iPad specifically so he can be contacted at any time by either of us, without going through the other parent.
—Krystal, Ontario

My husband took an iPad away from his 10-year-old daughter after finding out she was using an app to take pictures of herself to send to older men. He took it away, but her mom still allows her to have it!
—Brandi, Virginia

I think not enough parents treat both houses as two separate, and legitimate, families. Your house, your rules. If the other parent wants kids to have access to the phone at your house, they need to ask you. You know what's best for your family and your specific situation.
—Kali, Oregon

Tangled hair, cavities, kids who fight taking a bath because their other parent "doesn’t make them shower," and so on, are common sources of anguish in co-parenting. Most disputes and frustration about hygiene seems to boil down to differing expectations between homes, and one home having much more lax attitudes about showering, oral care, hair care, and so on. Stuck in the middle are the kids who still need a responsible adult to guide their daily care and teach proper health and hygiene.

Finding a middle ground where the children are still well cared for and both parents are satisfied can be tricky:

Every single weekend, I spend 2-3 hours detangling her hair. They barely shower at their dad's, and he doesn’t make her brush her hair.
—Tiffany, Missouri

My 10-year-old son has chronic constipation, which is being addressed by a counselor and his pediatrician, who prescribed him daily laxatives. He will have accidents if he doesn't get his laxative and isn't encouraged to use the bathroom frequently. I can't even tell you how many times he has returned to me with soiled pants that had obviously been soiled for several hours, if not a day or more. My daughter once remarked that 'I'm the only one who makes him use a toilet!' Usually, he comes home and I have to send him straight up to the shower, and then he and I struggle for at least the first three days he's home to get back in the routine of using the bathroom instead of just pooping himself. 
—Todd, Illinois

The hygiene issues are, perhaps, the most concerning because some of them are arguably neglectful treatment of a child. Certainly, any evidence that a child is not bathing or suffers ill effects from inconsistent care should be shared with the other parent, physician, and even child protective services, if necessary.

As children grow older, they can be imparted with the desire to be responsible for their own health and safety, so their needs are met even when you can't be there to oversee it. While most young children avoid baths, hair brushing, and other annoying rituals, with your help they can come to see the benefit of these tasks and come to care about them even when others don't.


Some of the issues described here are clearly a matter of extreme differences in parenting style and lifestyle, which probably contributed to the divorce in the first place. In many instances, issues attached to the children are being used as a means to control, or punish, an ex. Most likely, exes who play games with property and communication will continue to do so unless firm boundaries are put in place, and some level of respect is established.

In my own situation, many of my woes about clothing and other property were solved by closing the revolving door on my items. Whatever my children come home in, I will wash and send them back to their father in. I no longer lose anything I paid for, and my kids understand that I am leaving all decisions to their dad to dispose of too small or worn out clothes, because they are his property. My son has another phone, and he knows to be very protective of it if he wants to have one. I didn't immediately run out and replace the one his dad washed; instead, I waited several months until I was due for an upgrade on my phone plan, and he received my old one.

I learned to let the petty exchanges affect me less and less. Once I relinquished the hold my ex had over me, his attempts to control or manipulate decreased in power over my life. I also had to accept the fact that I have no control over what happens in his home; so, though some of his decisions or parenting style might aggravate me at times, my frustration was wasted in a no-win situation.

My focus turned to doing the very best that I can by my children while they are with me, to teach them to be good and responsible people. Beyond that, I have to have faith in them and my ex. We keep learning and improving all the time.

If you are experiencing marital difficulties, please visit ProConnect to speak with one of our experts. To learn more about our Community, visit www.DivorceForce.com. 

Written by Audrey Cade

Audrey Cade is the author of Divorce Matters: Help for Hurting Hearts and Why Divorce is Sometimes the Best Decision, and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is experienced in the areas of co-parenting, step-parenting, parental alienation, and remarriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids.

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