Bird nesting or a birds nest divorce is a simple idea: After a couple has separated or divorced, the kids remain living in one home space while the separated parents move in and out on a rotating basis, much like birds alighting from the nest.
Each parent has a second living space where they spend time when not in primary carer role. Some rent or live in a share house while some separated couples share a common apartment where they each spend time when not in the ‘nest’.
THE POSITIVES OF BIRD NESTING
There are many positives to the arrangement. Maggie (names changed), who lived a bird nesting divorce with her kids then aged 8 and 12, and their Dad for a period of 18 months says that her children ‘barely noticed’ their parents’ separation during that phase. For her now grown daughter Anna especially, the more difficult and traumatic period was post bird nest, when she and her brother were transitioning back and forth between the two separate homes their parents created.
For many kids of separated parents, this shifting back and forth between two homes is not only practically but also emotionally challenging. Forgotten security toys, homework or soccer boots combined with the challenge of different spaces, different routines and different rules can be hard. A bird nest arrangement minimises the complexities of moving your children’s belonging between two homes during handover.
BIRD NESTERS ARE BETTER OFF FINANCIALLY
Financially, too there can be positives. Maintaining two homes large enough for children, close to school and other activities; duplicating clothes, toiletries, furniture, books and toys, is expensive, especially when each home remains ‘empty’ of kids for a portion of time. A smaller, modestly furnished second home(s) or share houses for parents can, in some situations, be a cheaper option.
With the challenges it brings, a bird nest care arrangement will work for some, but not all separating families. Negotiating as separated co-parents can be tricky even when you aren’t sharing a living space. The cost of maintaining two or even three residences will be prohibitive for many families. And doing all of this while dealing with the demise of your relationship as a couple will be too much for many.
WHEN DOES BIRD NESTING WORK?
Most experts, including Melbourne based couples’ counsellor Jo Heriot agrees it’s an arrangement that works best in the short to medium transitional period, while everyone adjusts, properties are settled, longer term housing options are secured, and parenting arrangements made, rather than as a long term or permanent plan.
Both parents need to be committed to raising their children co-operatively and jointly for it to be a viable and successful solution. They need to able to put the best interests and needs of the children as well as their responsibilities as parents / co-parents above their own personal self-interest. It requires co-operation, clear, calm, open communication and works best when care is evenly shared between parents rather than one being the primary care giver and the other the ‘visiting’ parent who is present only for short periods of time.
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So, if you are considering a bird nest divorce, here are 10 tips to help you make it a smooth solution for your family.
10 NO NONSENSE TIPS FOR BIRD NESTING AFTER DIVORCE
1. IT’S THE KIDS HOUSE
View the ‘nest’ as the KIDS home. It’s no longer the family home (if it ever was). It’s not ‘yours’ or ‘ours’. It’s the kids house. So, when the floors need mopping, the toilet needs cleaning or the lawn needs mowing, neither of you feels resentful that your co-parent hasn’t done it. You just DO IT because it needs to be done IN YOUR KIDS HOUSE.
2. THE MONEY STUFF WHEN BIRD NESTING
Be clear and have a detailed, written plan of how costs will be shared in the kids’ house and who is responsible for what including utilities, groceries, garden, maintenance and repairs. Who actually PAYS the bills? Oven or hot water service needs replacing? Who pays? Is everything 50/50 or is the percentage weighted differently due to your family circumstances? Open a joint account, with equal visibility, specifically for running the household. Each parent deposits a set amount per month, and agreed expenses are paid using the joint funds. Clearly outline what is / is not to be paid from the account, how much each should contribute and when deposits are due. Review it regularly.
3. BIRD NESTING COMMUNICATION
Clear and calm communication is crucial. You will need regular check-ins – between co-parents and between kids and co-parents. Formalise these if necessary, with a set day per month to catch up and discuss anything that’s come up or needs tweaking. Have a communication board in a prominent place, or use one of the many awesome co-parenting apps available so all members of the household can track what’s going on, and what’s coming up. Whenever possible, make decisions together as a family, especially if arrangements need amending or changing. Keep the nest as clear of conflict as you can and, when it inevitably arises, stick to the issue at hand and find an amicable solution.
4. THE GRUNT WORK
Have a clear outline of household duties – shopping, washing, cleaning and maintenance -with both parents contributing as equal partners. Whatever your arrangement while you were together / married, it’s different as bird nesting co-parents. It’s 50/50. Agree on a roster. Each parent cleans the home at the end of their time, leaving it tidy for change over. Agree on what ‘clean’ and ‘tidy’ means and be prepared to compromise. Have an agreed basic shopping list, so no-one arrives to the nasty surprise of an empty fridge, a bare pantry or toilets sans paper. Remember to frame these tasks as ‘for the kids’ rather than your co-parent.
5. EQUALITY & RESPECT
Recognise and value each other as equal in the lives of your kids. They need BOTH of you. You both have equal rights, deserve equal respect and share equal responsibility. This is the path you’ve chosen jointly because you BOTH love and are deeply committed to raising your kids as best you can. Don’t talk badly of the other parent. EVER. Don’t take each other for granted. You need each other because your kids need BOTH of you.
6. KEEP THE RULES CONSISTENT
No-one gets to be the ‘fun’ parent, leaving the other to do the hard, everyday stuff. Develop, write down and stick to a co-parenting agreement. Review it over time. Keep the rules and expectations consistent, while still honouring each other’s different parenting styles. As best you can, keep structure and routine the same regardless of which parent is in the nest. This is one of the major benefits of a bird nesting arrangement for kids – routines don’t change, only the parent present.
7. PRIVACY, BOUNDARIES AND DATING
You each need a private space within the kids’ house. Your private space should remain exactly that – PRIVATE. As should your co-parents’ space. Don’t overstep that boundary. Regarding possible dating, Jo says, ‘Bringing new partners into the nest can be confusing for the kids and activating for the other parent’. She suggests it is wise to adopt a ‘no dates in the nest’ policy. If dating occurs, it is best kept outside the home space.
8. HAND OVER IN THE BIRDS NEST
Be clear on exactly when handover is – day, date and time. Maggie and her family chose midday, rather than at the beginning of the day when everyone is rushing to get to school and work, or at the end, when everyone is tired and grumpy. With one parent responsible for drop off and the other for pick up, this arrangement also minimises hand over anxiety in the children.
Once you’ve set the nest timetable, stick to the routine, but support each other by sharing the challenges of co-parenting when required. Be flexible when you can but ensure this is appreciated and a two-way street. If one is always flexing to help the other, it’s unsustainable. Help each other – you’re a team and it’s a great way to teach your kids about collaboration and co-operation.
10. TOLERANCE & PATIENCE
Know what each other’s triggers are, acknowledge your own, and decide what you can tolerate in the other for the sake of peace in your kids’ house. Nesting requires infinitely more patience, compromise and tolerance of the differences of each parent and their living style. The very things you argued about while you were together remain the things you will likely bicker about as bird nesters.
Bird nesting can be a great transitional situation for kids but is not without challenges. Remaining in what was the family home can trigger emotions from past events, both happy and not so happy, while everyone is learning to navigate something new. For parents and kids alike, it can be hard to accept the changes and move on emotionally while still tied to the family home and to a certain extent, each other.
But Bird Nesting gives everyone time to adjust. Maggie’s advice is to ‘trial it and see how it goes. If it gets too hard, think of the next steps, plan them out and move forward slowly’. It takes a great deal of energy for parents to balance their co-parenting relationship in its new form. Ultimately, to nest or not to nest will depend on your family’s ability to create and maintain this balance.