When birds have eggs to hatch, one parent stays in the nest whilst the other searches for food. Then, the birds will alternate. This concept, known as bird-nesting, and sometimes called birdnesting or simply nesting, is now being tried out by families who are caught in the divorce process. Instead of shuttling children between two homes, children will remain in the family home while the parents take turns in the home during their custody time. This innovative approach to parenting while going through the divorce process is an alternative way to maintain stability for the children.
What Is Birdnesting in a Divorce?
Impact of Divorce
Divorce can be both psychologically and emotionally hard on the parents. It is often even more so on the children. Children often aren’t told why their parents are divorcing. Even if they think they know the cause, divorce is often a difficult concept to comprehend. Sometimes children blame themselves when their parents get a divorce. It is not uncommon for children to think that they have made the leaving parent angry or believe the parent no longer loves them as much. It is also common for children to feel divided loyalties between their parents. Sometimes children feel they need to side with one parent or the other.
It is not uncommon for children to become highly protective of the parent they spend more time with or who they feel is parentless at fault in the divorce. This can especially become an issue if either parent is bad-mouthing the other to the children. Being impressionable, sometimes children will begin to adopt the same negative views of the other parent. This can be especially tough on a child when they had felt they loved both parents equally but these negative viewpoints about the other parent are expressed in front of them on a regular basis. Most children don’t want to have a favorite parent, but sometimes they are asked by a parent, either expressly or sometimes even unconsciously, to choose aside.
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Rationale for Birdnesting
One way to combat some of these issues is to have both divorcing parents leave the home and the children stay in place. This concept of having both parents alternate who lives in the children’s home is called bird-nesting.
One of the new stresses for children that often comes with a divorce is now having two homes and having frequent exchanges between their parents, who are now continually at odds. Children pick up on the tension that is not uncommon at exchanges when the parents don’t want to be around each other anymore. Children are often psychologically most at ease and feel most safe when there are routines and their schedules are mostly predictable. The frequent packing and unpacking and the uncertain emotions about exchanges can put children on an emotional roller coaster, especially until the exchanges between the homes just starts to become part of their normal routine.
In turn, these feelings of uncertainty that often come with a divorce can flow into other areas of their lives. This can have a major impact on school performance and strain relationships with friends. If one parent gets to stay in the home and the other parent moves to a new place, the children can sometimes feel frustrated at that moving parent from having to go there when they feel like “home” is where the other parent lives. As a result, this can cause feelings of resentment toward the parent and also siblings.
This is where bird-nesting comes into play. Instead of the children shuffling back and forth between two homes, the children stay in one home and the parents shuffle back and forth into the children’s home. The children are able to stay in their own room, go to school, and see friends as usual. Nothing in the children’s day-to-day routine has to change, and the rules of the house, such as chores, bedtime, and screen time, can remain intact. When children stay put in their own homes, they feel more certainty in another otherwise changing family situation. The key benefit of bird-nesting for children is this consistency and stability.
Should We Give Bird-Nesting a Try?
A recent British survey suggests that up to 11 percent of divorced couples were experimenting with the bird-nesting plan. For example, see the August 5, 2021 Article: Birdnesting: The divorce trend where parents rotate homes. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210804-birdnesting-the-divorce-trend-in-which-parents-rotate-homes
Although there is not a lot of research on those who have tried bird-nesting yet, the concept can be a good fit if the parents are still reasonably able to effectively communicate during the divorce. Examples of when bird-nesting might be a good fit, at least while the divorce action is pending or for a transition period of time thereafter:
Child with Special Needs.
A child with special needs has a lot of specialized medical equipment or an especially difficult time adapting to change. It may be easier for everyone for the child to stay put and the parents to transition in and out of the child’s home, at least for a period of time.
A parent that is away a lot for work. Especially if the reason for the divorce is mostly due to the other parent not being around, a bird-nesting situation can be a good fit. When the traveling parent is in-town to exercise their parenting time, the home state parent stays with a relative or friend so the children are not uprooted or crammed into small living quarters to have time with their other parent.
Parents who aren’t really sure if they want a divorce or not. Sometimes instead of one parent moving out, both parents agree to move out. The children remain in the home and parents rotate who is living in-house that week and staying with a friend or relative in their off week. It minimizes the children witnessing conflict between the parents and avoids the family to start having to pay for an additional residence, especially if they are in an area where more temporary housing arrangements are not close by nor affordable.
Parents on the Same Page.
Parents who share the same ideas on routines and still communicate reasonably well. In order for bird-nesting to work, both parents need to be able to agree on the household rules and responsibilities for chores. It gets really old, really fast if one parent leaves the house neat and tidy and the other parent continually leaves the home a mess with an unmoved lawn, empty refrigerator, and children’s laundry piled up.
Unless you can afford to hire a cleaner or can agree and stick to a plan of dividing the household chores, then bird-nesting is not likely going to work for you. Further, you will need to trust the other parent to agree with you on basic house rules. What are the rules regarding bedtimes, hygiene, and friends coming over? Can the children play ball in the house or eat ice cream while sitting on the couch? Are parties allowed? Especially if you will be using the same bed when you are there, can a parent have a new significant other over, and if so, can they stay the night?
If you have a large family with many children, it may take a lot more time to find a new residence with enough space for the children to be comfortable. One parent moving out into a temporary two-bedroom apartment isn’t usually going to cut it if you have six children and want them staying some overnights with you while the divorce is pending. For a larger family, logistically, a bird-nesting situation may be the ideal situation until both parents can find a residence to accommodate all the children and their varying needs during their time.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need three residences for this to work. For example, the parents could rent and rotate out of the same “away” space such as a small one-bedroom apartment. Alternatively, both parents could stay with their own friend, family member, or new significant other during their time outside the children’s home. Thus, effectively keeping it so the family is only paying for one living space while the divorce is pending.
Bird-nesting is just another option to keep in mind and can be a great solution in the right situation. However, bird-nesting is not for the faint of heart. Especially when emotions are high during and soon after the divorce process, many people, even with the best intentions, find that they just don’t work together well enough with their soon-to-be ex to have a shared living space.
If, for example, division of chores or disagreements on expectations or routines in the home were major issues in the marriage, they are likely going be even more pronounced problems in a bird-nesting situation. Further, if the routines and rules vary greatly depending on which parent is in-home, then many of the potential benefits of bird-nesting evaporate and it may be better to have two completely separate households.
The concept of bird-nesting is on the rise in the United States. Although experts are divided on the merits, more families are giving it a try. If you give bird-nesting a try, you may want to share your experiences with others as many people are interested, but few have yet to try this increasingly common arrangement.
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