Funding the kids toy stash at your ex’s house

One of the turning points in my ex and I stabilizing the situation with our kids after we separated and then divorced was for us to agree that things we bought the kids were their property and that they could take them from one house to the other without us intervening.
It’s a recommended philosophy in co-parenting (e.g., parenting after a divorce) books too and saves the kids lots of stress about “toys at mommy’s house” and “toys at daddy’s house” and it also just makes intuitive sense.
I know that if I were a child of divorce and I got into a new toy or game, I’d want it to migrate with me, not be shackled to a specific building, address or parent. Ideally, it’d all just work so smoothly and my parents be sufficiently close geographically that I’d never even really think about it.
But from a parent’s view, from the view of the person who certainly seems to buys the majority of these things, well, it doesn’t always work out as desired…

Here’s the problem: if one parent (me) is more likely to take the kids shopping or buy stuff for them while we’re out, then it seems inevitable that eventually things I buy migrate to the other house far more frequently than they come in the other direction.
Given enough time, the situation could end up where I’m stocking the toys for the other parent’s household, even while child support is supposed to be the mechanism in place to balance out money so that each household can afford what the kids need.
Now let me add another wrinkle: what if we were talking about clothes, not toys? Expensive shoes, nice jackets, jeans, skirts, and even mundane things like socks. Fortunately, Linda and I have figured this part out and occasionally “resync” clothes as she often seems to have lots of the clothes I buy the kids, but we never try to resync toys, sporting goods, or similar.
This week A-, my 13yo, really wanted me to buy a nice volleyball, which I did without complaint: she’s on the school volleyball team after all and is also a very good player with a potential sports scholarship in her future. She explained to me “we don’t have a volleyball at your house, Daddy” and I agreed. Problem solved.
Until I went to drop her off at her mom’s place and she insisted that she take the volleyball with her and not only keep it there, but take it with her when they subsequently go on a multi-week holiday with Mom to a family summer house.
Been here, done this before, and I had no doubts that it would be the demise of the volleyball. To say “yes, you can take it” was to say adieu to a pretty nice $30 ball.
So I said “no”. Instead I said “the ball was bought to live at my place. I’ll leave it in the garage. If you need a volleyball to take on your trip, ask Mommy to get one.”
With a bit of a huff, she grudgingly consented.
Still, what bothers me about the situation is that it made no sense for me to buy things for my kids to just take to their Mom’s house, and yet that’s exactly what I have tried to do anyway, let the things I buy my kids become their property, for them to do with as they see fit.
Does that mean I should stop worrying about things, stop keeping track of the stuff I buy my kids (esp with a teen girl just getting into fashion) and just let things migrate where they will? Or is there some sort of middle ground where before things are purchased, they are denoted as “portable” or “stationary”?
If you’re divorced, dear reader, or from a divorced home, how do you suggest I should have handled the volleyball situation?
ps: after some thought, I texted my daughter that if Mommy wouldn’t buy a new volleyball for her, I’d buy her another one for her to take on vacation with her. She hasn’t responded…

4 comments on “Funding the kids toy stash at your ex’s house

  1. We have had the same exact issues, but came to a different conclusion (yours made me feel a bit like a meanie, but I don’t think we’re going to change it). We got sick of losing everything we bought for the kids (and not just losing them to the ex-wife’s house but learning that they get lost altogether); so we just laid down that rule of things we buy (or which their relatives from our side of the family buy) stay at our house, period. There has definitely been some grousing, but we are a low income family (as in, just below the poverty line, to where we qualify for $20 a month in food stamps), and it’s a really big deal for us to shell out, for instance, over $150 for new bikes, helmets, lights, and locks. Given the track record of other things we had bought them in the past and never saw again, there was just no way we were going to let those things go over to their mom’s house.

  2. Not divorced here, but the situation struck me as one in which the kids could start to play Mom and Dad off each other. Most kids do this even when their parents live together, but it could become even more difficult in a situation where the parents live separately and don’t realize they are getting played. For instance, maybe Mom turned down the request to buy a new volleyball, so Daughter goes and asks Dad, knowing that if he buys one, she can just take it back to Mom’s house.
    I’m not saying this is what she did, or what any of your children might do, but if you pose it as a more general hypothetical situation, I could see this happening. If there is an ongoing problem of items migrating mostly just one way and occasional meetings to balance everything back out isn’t an option, then it sounds like designating one home for each item most of the time might be the better way to go, at least for a trial period.

  3. This is an old post, I understand, however, I want to comment. Being in a step-family situation and as the step-mom, my husband and I have the ground rule that what is received at Daddy’s, stays at Daddy’s and vice-versa. There are some things that we do allow the kids to take as long as they can prove to us that it’ll come back. Items from their mom’s house isn’t a big deal to us unless we do not agree with what has been given them. Everything that comes into the house had to be approved by us. Only a couple things have been returned and never seen again (books, music, movies, clothes that are too mature for their eyes, ears, bodies).

    In regards to the volleyball situation, your ‘no’ was perfectly fine. However, if you are willing to buy another volleyball just for your ex-wife’s house than I would suggest that you, instead, allow the child to take the original one with her and if she loses it or anything happens to it then the child will need to replace it herself. If it is her responsibility then it needs to be her responsibility the entire way. “You break it, you pay for it.” That way, if it never comes back to daddy’s house then, oh well, daddy’s not buying a another. That will teach them responsibility and that daddy isn’t a money mule.

  4. Could someone press charges in this case? Does the volleyball technically still belong to the parent who bought it for the kid? And could that be considered stolen property? What if you asked for the volleyball to come back and the spouse wouldn’t return it?

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