Fifty-fifty custody or a shared custody situation can be a pain to manage. If you thought one house was work, try balancing life between two homes. It's doubly hard for your kids who actually have two residencies and not just communicating between the two homes. With that said, however, there needs to be a method to the madness that is coparenting, and one of these battles is knowing what your kids should have, must have, and don't "have to have" at both homes in order to feel happy and at ease.
Both homes need toys, but not every toy needs to be at both homes. You know your kids' interests best. If a dollhouse or an art desk is your child's favorite, make sure both homes have one. Some kids will be very particular about having the exact same one, and if they are, indulge this need. There are a ton of dolls my daughter has at my ex's that she does not have at my home, but she has a drawing table at both homes as it's her favorite thing to do.
One of the surprise bonuses of coparenting life is that if two people buy our daughter the same gift for a holiday or birthday, it can be used at both homes so it's never a waste or a need to exchange at the store!
Dance, Sports, or Extracurricular Activities Uniforms and Supplies
I am torn over this. Uniforms for sports and other activities are so costly, but if it's within your budget, purchase two of the general uniform and accessories but just one of the competition or recital wear.
The other day my daughter had a dress rehearsal for dance, and I had forgotten the tights at my house. Dad had her costume . . . and I was at work unable to get the tights. Personally, I have no idea why I had the tights, but they should have been with him. Thankfully, Grandma saved the day and bought an extra pair.
Items like tights are cheap to buy two of as well as a jersey or a leotard, but a costume isn't. Be smart and buy two of what you can afford and also happen to use the most. This goes for "supplies" or tools like a baseball bat, knee pads, etc. It stinks to switch items between homes and keep track of who has what at each home. Trust me, more often than not, my ex and I call the other saying, "Who has the dance bag?"
Never again! Next year we will have learned our lesson. We will buy one set of shoes and costume . . . but at least two uniforms! Honestly? If I could buy two sets of shoes, I would.
My girl has a billion of her supposed "favorite" dolls, but some kids are loyal to one and one only. If your kid is a loyalist, buy two of her favorite loveys, whether it's a blanket or stuffed toy.
Bikes and Outdoor Play
Each coparent may not have the same amount of space as the other or the same budget. Be sure to have gross motor equipment within budget and space reasons at both homes. My ex had a bike for our child before I did, so I made sure to purchase one for her birthday when I had the money so she had one here as well. Her dad has space for a blow-up pool at his home, but I don't, so I got one for my parents' house instead. Getting out and moving is good for children, so they should have close to the same opportunities at both homes, within reason.
Vitamins and Medications
Prescriptions are given out as one, so that is something that will always be transported between the homes, but general medications like pain relievers and vitamins should be at both homes.
Obviously, kids need clothing at both homes, but it's not unusual for parents to try to share one set of clothes simply for financial reasons. Clothes add up, and kids grow all the time. For a long time, my ex and I did this — we tried to share what we had right down the middle, but after some time, we strayed from this as it always seemed that one of us "ran" out of the favorite things our daughter liked to wear. To some extent, we still swap and share items to reduce cost, but the reality is that even if you are amicable and share easily, kids need two sets of clothes. Your ex may not want this in his budget, but it's a reality for both of you. Two sets of clothes means not panicking when there are no more clean leggings and your kid is refusing to wear anything else. After age 3, when we first separated, my daughter refused jeans, and so we were sharing the same few pairs of leggings and it became a pain. Two sets of clothes: do it! You will thank me later. If money is a big issue, I highly recommend consignment, moms' group, and your friends for some gently used hand-me-downs.
My ex and I are strict about our daughter and electronics. She doesn't have a LeapPad or an iPad; she has one donated tablet from his friend that we share between homes and use every few months. Yes, every few months.
Even if your kid is a tablet junkie unlike ours, electronics are costly. If you can both afford to have tablets and laptops at both places, that's wonderful, but a very young child doesn't need this. You can always transport between homes, but remember if your little one is very wee, you and your ex must keep watch of it or it could get damaged.
If a child is of school age, he or she should have access to a computer at both homes, but some people even in the digital age cannot afford this. If this is the case, the coparent could take his or her child to the library.
Overall, electronics are costly, so get what is absolutely a must based on your child's age and development. Don't feel guilty if either one of you can't afford these "toys."
Both homes should have anything a child needs to be clean and refreshed. That goes for toothbrushes, hairbrushes, detanglers, etc.
What About a Suitcase?
If your child only sees the other parent on weekends, you can opt for a suitcase to store all the items for the weekend, but to me it gives the message that your child is on some odd vacation or just a temporary stay, when the reality is this place is also your child's permanent home even if it's just for a few weekends a month. Lugging stuff back and forth is exhausting even when you're traveling somewhere fun like Disney or Europe, so now imagine how your child might feel trailing his little suitcase each time he visits his other parent. Reduce the need for baggage and have the weekend coparenter have the same items I suggested before. Sure, your kid can bring a little bag of extras from his or her primary home to the other home or vice versa, but lugging too much physical baggage is a nuisance for any child. Avoid this if you can.
In a Nutshell
I grew up in one house with one set of rules and objects and people. My ex grew up in one house with one set of rules and objects and people. It's not easy for a child to navigate two "territories," so to speak, but eventually it becomes easy and the new normal. Do your best to make reaching this new normal faster and easier by making your home and encouraging your ex to make his home as comfortable for your child as possible.