Usually it’s the kids who move between the homes of their parents after divorce but sometimes a family decides to turn the tables and have the children stay in the one home while the parents rotate in and out. That’s called nesting or birdnesting. When it works, it’s awesome but it’s not going to work for many families. Do you have what it takes to make nesting successful?
Is this something you and your STBX should consider? What does it take to make this work? How could it help our child?
This is the topic for this episode of my podcast, Conversations About Divorce and I’m joined by writer Alana Romain who wrote about this topic for Romper.com.
Simplistically, the kids stay in the home, which is often the marital home and then the parents rotate in and out, typically without overlapping although shared meals on a regular basis are often part of the arrangement.
Where the parents go when they are not in the nest depends heavily on finances. Ideally each parent has their own crash pad however the expense associated with that often means this is not feasible for many families. Sometimes, the parents share an apartment, ideally with two separate bedrooms. Since they are not in the apartment at the same time, this can work although if it’s a one-bedroom apartment, it’s going to be very challenging. Worst case scenario, the parents couch-surf with friends and families which can work for a short period.
You Could Be Court-Ordered
I have had one client who was ordered to nest on a temporary basis. She and her husband had filed for divorce, were disputing custody and couldn’t agree on who should move out so the judge set a schedule where the kids stayed put and mom and dad rotated until custody was resolved. My client was able to stay with her mother during her non-parenting time. I don’t remember what dad did.
However, Romain said, “Generally nesting is not an option most judges would mandate because there are a lot of barriers to making that work.”
I like to remind clients that it is always best if you and your STBX can make your own decisions. Pushing decisions to a third party is risky and you could end up with a decision, like my client, that neither of you like.
Don’t Over Commit
This type of arrangement requires good communication and a ton of respect, both of which may be in short supply immediately following a breakup. So if you’re going to try this, test it out for a few months first and don’t go thinking from the start that this is how it’s going to be until your kids are off to college.
It’s a good idea to build in a formal review every few months – what’s going well, what’s not working and if both you and your ex want to commit to continuing for another three months. Either of you should have the right to withdraw from the arrangement and you might agree to go to mediation to discuss how to implement that.
Certainly, when new partners enter the picture, nesting gets more challenging. Is a new partner allowed to stay at the nest? Do you have to notify your ex that your partner is staying at the nest? What will happen if your ex says they don’t want you new partner staying in the nest?
You Need Ground Rules
Romain describes nesting as “a roommate situation on steroids” and that means you need ground rules. If you and your STBX are not communicating, or communicating only via text or every communication ends in an argument, this is not going to work for you. “There’s just so much potential for this to go swirly and in the wrong direction,” said Romain.
You have to be able to talk through some basic agreements about sharing the space. Those need to cover everything from cleaning, running and emptying the dishwasher, grocery shopping, yard work, food supplies etc. You are going to have to decide how to share common expenses such as utilities, internet, cable and HOA dues and not just how to divide the expense but also who will take on the responsibility for handling the bill payments.
Be Clear With Your Child
A major benefit from nesting is that it really does minimize the amount of change a child experiences with the divorce of their parents and that can help a child cope with the transition. The child doesn’t experience the disruption of having to move between two homes and all their toys, clothes and belongings are where they’ve always been. It’s all familiar and comfortable.
However, many children do fantasize about their parents reconciling whether or not that’s a possibility. Since nesting does maintain that sense of normality and continuity, it could feed that fantasy so it’s important to be honest with your child. If you and your spouse are definitely getting divorced and reconciliation is out of the question, make that clear to your child. If you’re nesting because you’re evaluating your marriage, you can also express that in an age-appropriate way.
Respect Each Other’s Parenting Styles
A common challenge for newly-separated parents is accepting that you and your ex do have different parenting styles. That can mean one set of rules at dad’s house and another a mom’s. Does nesting make accepting those differences harder for children?
Romain thinks children deserve more credit because they know there are different rules for different people and they experience that even when their parents are married. Even with different parenting styles, Romain feels that nesting is less disruptive on children because the children do have a well-established home base. “Their space is still theirs and change is happening around them.”
That being said, discussing parenting styles and your expectations around that including support for disciplinary actions is a key conversation that all separating parents need to have, nesting or not. As Romain says, “You do have to accept that they are an autonomous parent.”
It’s Your Family
Whether nesting will work for you depends on the specifics of your situation. Romain said, “People are starting to think outside the box and how they are going to remain a family.” For some people that can mean living in apartments in the same complex, sharing meals together, even having a vacation together. There are no hard and fast rules and these days it’s all about what will work best for your family.
Thanks to Alana Romain for a great conversation. You can follow Alana on Twitter and Facebook as @AlsoAlanaRomain.