I’m a divorced mum but my ex and I share the same family home – it makes things so much easier and I’ve saved loads
AS HER week with the kids comes to an end, Beth Behrendt can look forward to a little alone time as her ex takes on parenting duties for the week.
However, when Bill arrives at the family home, it’s not the kids who are shipping out but Beth with the mum-of-three moving into her own rented flat just a few miles away.
Unlike most divorced couples Beth, 54, and Bill, 58, practice a parenting technique called ‘bird nesting’ which means that their three sons never leave the family home.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, Beth, who went through her divorce in 2013, says: “As soon as I read about it, I knew it would be perfect for our boys Jack, now 21, Mick, 18, and Max, 14.
“We were in the early stages of thinking about divorce before I learned about nesting.
“Before I read about it, I think I was just figuring our divorce would be the typical two-house approach as that’s all I had ever heard of or seen.
“Fortunately, when I brought up nesting, Bill, my ex, immediately agreed it sounded like a good thing to do for the kids.”
While Beth admits that her divorce was “not particularly amicable” practising nesting forced the parents to interact positively with one another.
“We worked really hard to keep our disagreements and divorce-related anger with each other away from the kids and separate from our planning to nest,” she says.
“They were fairly young at the time – 12, 9, and 5 – but the older two were old enough to understand what divorce meant.
“They had friends who did the two-house moving back and forth. When we told them we were getting divorced, the older two started to cry.
“But as soon as we explained that they weren’t going to be leaving their home and that mum and dad would both still be taking care of them, they immediately calmed down.”
While the kids were onboard, the parents admitted that others had their doubts about the arrangement.
“We got a lot of ‘Wows’ and puzzled looks,” Beth explains.
“People would say supportive things like, ‘That’s very evolved of you,’ but I think they were doubtful we would really make it work.”
Following their split, Beth moved in with her parents in town while Bill was in ‘the nest’ and would move back in while Bill was travelling for work.
Two months into the arrangement Beth and Bill began renting an apartment together, but avoided being there together, but the situation proved to be trying.
“Sharing that apartment and the house as we divorced was sometimes emotionally challenging because you’re reminded of the other person no matter where you are,” she says.
We started getting along better with each other than we ever did when we were married.
“I actually still rent that same apartment and go there whenever I’m not in the nest.
“Bill moved out of that apartment about a year after we divorced and rented his own studio apartment for a brief time.
“For the past couple of years – since Covid put an end to his work travel – he stays with his girlfriend when he’s not on parenting duty in the nest.”
Beth says that one of the biggest misconceptions about nesting is how expensive it is made out to be, in fact, she argues it’s far cheaper than a traditional divorce.
“One of the things that attracted us to try nesting was that it was a much cheaper option than buying or renting a second home as soon as we divorced,” she explains.
“We would have needed two homes large enough to house three kids, plus all the furnishings, etc.
“Most two-house divorces I know of the kids’ clothes, toiletries, technology, etc. are basically duplicated at each house to avoid hauling everything back and forth.
“That’s expensive to set up and maintain – and the kids are only in each place half the time.
“Nesting is especially growing in popularity in areas where housing is very expensive.”
Practicality wise the arrangement suits the family perfectly, and Beth says it can be tricky to navigate anyone outside of the family.
“When you start dating, it can be challenging to explain nesting to a new person. Some people may find it confusing or threatening,” she says.
“But I think if you are upfront about it from the beginning – explaining that you do it for your kids, not to try to get back together with your ex – the right person will understand and be supportive of that. Bill and I both have very supportive partners now who have become like part of the family.
“And oh my gosh our arrangement has done nothing but improve mine and Bill’s relationship.
“The problems in our marriage drew energy away from our parenting; even though we tried counseling we just couldn’t fix those.
“Once the marriage part of our relationship was no longer a distraction, we could each be much more present parents.
“And, eventually, we started getting along better with each other than we ever did when we were married.”
Beth hosts a private Facebook group Family Nesting where parents going through divorce can find out more information about having a shared family home.
Her book Nesting After Divorce: Co-Parenting in the Family Home will be available to buy in April 2023.