Essay by Beth Behrendt Apr 11, 2023, 1:48 PM EDT
- This is an adapted excerpt from Beth Behrendt’s book “Nesting After Divorce: Co-Parenting in the Family Home.”
- Behrendt is a freelance writer, former research librarian, and divorced mother of three.
- In her book, she shares her and other nesting families’ coparenting stories and advice from experts.
This article is an adapted excerpt from Beth Behrendt’s book “Nesting After Divorce: Co-Parenting in the Family Home” published by Union Square & Co.
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. This type of co-parenting is called nesting or sometimes bird-nesting.
As we decided to divorce, I was overwhelmed with fear and worry about what it would do to our three kids.
“Children are resilient,” people say all the time when it comes to divorce. But anyone who was a child of the old-school approach to divorce 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.
Nesting gives the kids a consistent life
As I educated myself about all things divorce, 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 emotionally, financially, and logistically. To start, it was easier to rent a one-bedroom apartment nearby, furnished with cast-offs from the house, than to find and set up a second home large enough to support three kids. Bill and I “shared” the apartment, though we were never actually there at the same time. We decided to try nesting for a year and then decide on the next steps.
The thing was, we found that nesting just kept making sense for our kids. The kids didn’t have the typical 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.
It also worked for my ex and me
It was less stressful for us, 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 bikes, Xboxes, favorite toys, or clothing.
Less stress, more time, and more resources allowed each of us greater opportunities to pursue our own careers and interests when we were off duty.
There were bumps along the way, of course. Early on, especially, Bill or I would struggle with emotions and problems still lingering from our marriage. When we would get to the point of discussing if we should end nesting, we would have to ask ourselves: Are our occasional struggles worth uprooting everything about the kids’ lives?
And here we are nine years later, one child in college, one leaving for college 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 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 traveled for work; he parented when he wasn’t traveling, and I went to my apartment.
The pandemic lockdown put an end to work travel and forced us to figure out how we could both be in the family home to each have our fair 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.
Our attorneys, therapists, and financial planners also supported us
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. A therapist, as well, for kids for the first few years gave them a safe 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 logistics of parenting in this new way.
I believe one of the most important roles of a parent is to set your kids up for success in life. I am hopeful that by experiencing their parents’ willingness to make the best of a difficult situation through creativity, flexibility, and hard work, our kids will value these skills and apply them to any of the hard things that life will undoubtedly throw their way.
Behrendt is a freelance writer and single mother of three. She’s written articles about nesting for The New York Times and Psychology Today and is a regular contributor to Divorce Magazine and a guest blogger on Laura Wasser’s It’s Over Easy website. She created Family Nesting to share her experiences and provide advice to other families considering this approach to separation and divorce.