The original was published at Inews.co.uk on July 19, 2023
When we divorced nine years ago, my ex, Bill, and I made the untraditional choice to have our kids stay in the family home. We’re the ones who move back and forth taking turns parenting them. This type of co-parenting is called nesting or bird-nesting.
When we decided to divorce, I was overwhelmed with fear and worry about what it would do to our three children. They were 12, nine and five at the time.
Children are resilient, people say all the time in reference to divorce. But anyone who experienced the old-school approach to divorce as a child would probably disagree. Neuroscience and child development research indicate that children are not naturally resilient. Resilience is a trait that develops over time, and develops most fully in a stable, nurturing environment.
As I educated myself about divorce and co-parenting, I ran across a mention of nesting. This could be the answer! I thought, and excitedly told Bill. Fortunately, he was on board right away. It’s not their fault we’re getting divorced, he said. Why should they have to suffer?
We liked the idea of giving our kids consistent daily life and the comfort of their family home as we figured out what divorce would mean for all of us – financially, logistically, and emotionally. To start, we decided it would be easier and less expensive to rent a one-bedroom apartment nearby and furnished with cast-offs from the house, than to try to set up a second home large enough to support three kids. Bill and I decided to “share” that apartment – though we were never both there at the same time – and give it a year to see how everything was going.
As the end of that first year approached, we decided that continuing to nest was the right thing to do for our children. They didn’t have any of the stresses of two-household divorce. They had the ease of always living in the same place. No left-behind homework at Dad’s. No missing their dog when they were at Mom’s. Friends could stop by anytime because the kids were always at the same place.
Nesting was less stressful for my ex and myself, too. We didn’t have the hassles we saw other divorced parents dealing with. No unexpected afternoon drives to school to drop off the basketball uniform forgotten at the other parent’s house. No early morning frustration with which clothes were packed, or not packed, by the other parent. No costly duplication of clothing, gaming consoles, favourite toys, or sports equipment.
Less stress, more time, and more resources allowed each of us more opportunities to pursue our own careers and interests – including dating – when we were “off duty” from parenting.
There were bumps along the way, of course. Early on, Bill or I would struggle with emotions and problems still lingering from our marriage; sometimes so much that we would discuss whether we should end the arrangement. But then we would ask ourselves: are our occasional struggles worth uprooting everything about our children’s lives?
And here we are nine years later, one child off at university, one leaving for university next year, and the youngest still with high school ahead of him. The logistics of where Bill and I have lived outside of the nest have evolved over time. After that first year of “sharing” the apartment, we tried renting two separate small apartments for each of us. Soon, however, Bill’s work travel increased dramatically and a separate apartment for him just didn’t make sense. I parented when he travelled for work; he parented when he wasn’t traveling, and I went to my apartment. Our schedule evolved to 50/50 parenting per month instead of being on a set Wednesday through Saturday schedule.
The pandemic lockdown put an end to work travel and forced us to figure out how we could both be in the family home at the same time to each have our equal share of parenting time with the kids. Now, Bill lives with his new wife when he’s not in the nest parenting. When I am off-duty, I live with my fiancé.
A supportive team has been essential in establishing and continuing nesting. For us, this included attorneys who supported our idea to nest, and financial planners who understand our goals and our unusual situation. We each have also relied on therapists to help us work through the emotions of the divorce and co-parenting. For the first few years post-divorce, we had a therapist for our kids which gave them a safe and neutral space to vent (and gave us, the parents, a reliable source to inform us of any big problems). We also relied on friends and family for emotional support, or to step in and help with the occasional logistical challenges of parenting as a divorced couple.
One of the most important roles of a parent is to do your best to set your children up for success. I am hopeful that their dad’s and my example of making the best of a difficult situation – through creativity, flexibility, communication and hard work – showed our kids skills they can apply to any of the challenging things that life will undoubtedly throw their way.
Nesting After Divorce Co-Parenting in the Family House by Beth Behrendt is out on 20 July 2023, published by Union Square & Co