Even in the best of circumstances, divorce is tough on the entire household. After all, the family is changing, and life is going to look a lot different than before.
That’s a reality of divorce that you just can’t avoid. And as much as you and your partner might try to shield your kids from any pain or distress, the fact is that, sooner or later, they’re going to have to come to terms with the family’s “new normal.”
The good news, though, is that there are tangible and specific things you can do to make the process easier. One strategy that’s received a lot of positive interest lately is called “birdnesting,” and it can be a great way to help your kids find the stability they need in this time of profound transition.
But it’s by no means a one-size-fits-all solution. While it works wonders for many families, it’s not for every family or situation, and it typically works best as a short-term solution. This article will help you determine whether birdnesting might be right for your family and, if so, what steps you can take to make it work.
What is Birdnesting?
Simply put, birdnesting is a living arrangement that allows the children to remain in the family home while the parents shuttle between the family house and a second residence — an apartment, second home, or even a friend’s or relative’s home. In general, parents negotiate a 50/50 custody arrangement, with parents alternating weeks at the family home, caring for the children.
If finances permit, birdnesting parents often rent an apartment near the family home, splitting expenses for both properties. Not only does this help parents maintain close contact with their kids because they’re no longer consigned to a traditional school holiday and every-other-weekend custody arrangement. And that can be especially important for dads, who, on average receive only about 35% of custody time.
The Benefits of Birdnesting for Kids
Birdnesting is predicated on the idea that, during difficult times, kids can take comfort in familiar surroundings. They’ll keep their own rooms. They’ll be surrounded by their things. They won’t have to be separated from their pets or playmates in the neighbourhood. Above all, there will be no disruption to their ordinary daily routine, from school to extracurricular activities.
Research suggests that, in the first year after a divorce, children often experience a feeling of loss of belonging and the sense of unfamiliarity that comes from shared custody arrangements in two separate households. This can increase children’s risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. However, birdnesting can help alleviate such stressors while the child adjusts to the new dynamic between her parents and within the family unit in general.
Additionally, birdnesting can help alleviate some of the financial stress on parents. Divorce in itself is an expensive process, costing around $15,000 on average. You may not be in a position to get a home loan and set up a new household immediately, either because you can’t afford a down payment or because your credit has taken a hit due to the financial toll of the divorce itself.
By sharing residences, you and your spouse can work on shoring up your finances for the separate households you are in the process of creating. In that way, by the time your child has adjusted to the divorce, you will likely have the credit, and the financial resources, to purchase a separate home that meets your and your kids’ needs.
Birdnesting isn’t just about allowing kids to remain in the comfort of their own home while the family undergoes such a significant transition, however. Another important aspect of birdnesting is that it requires a tremendous amount of cooperation between the parents to make the arrangement work.
Seeing that their parents can continue working together with respect, support, and caring, even in the face of a divorce, can be incredibly reassuring for children, who may worry about what the divorce may mean both for their parents’ relationship with one another and for the child’s own relationship with each parent. In other words, the kids will see that even though the parents’ marriage has ended, the family endures and that loving one parent does not mean hurting or being disloyal to the other.
Because younger children often blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, while older children tend to scapegoat one parent over the other, birdnesting can be a way to preserve the sense of the family as a functioning unit. Despite the divorce, the family is united in love and cooperation, not divided by blame or shame.
Birdnesting Isn’t for Everyone
As significant as the benefits of birdnesting are, it’s not for everyone. Even the most amicable of divorces has a certain amount of conflict, and that can be exacerbated when a former couple’s lives are so deeply enmeshed. There are a lot of variables to consider, from the division of household labour at both residences to finances to the issue of parents’ dating relationships.
Cooperation can easily spiral into conflicted codependence, which can be confusing for children and may cause more harm than good to children in the long run. For that reason, birdnesting probably shouldn’t be considered as a permanent arrangement, but only as a temporary solution to help the entire family, especially the kids, make the transition to a new lifestyle.
Nevertheless, there are certain circumstances where birdnesting shouldn’t be attempted, even on a short-term basis. When there is a history of domestic violence, whether against the spouse, the children, or both, the only thing that should be considered is how to break the cycle and escape the abuse. In such cases, it’s important to seek out legal representation and police protection, both to ensure your and your children’s safety and to begin the process of securing exclusive custody rights.
Divorce is always a difficult transition, but a new strategy is making it easier for many families. Birdnesting can help children find comfort and stability, especially in the challenging first year after a divorce. However, birdnesting takes tremendous cooperation and commitment. It’s not for everyone. But when it works, it can be an ideal strategy for shepherding your kids into their new normal.