Birdnesting – A new concept in divorce-housing

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When you got married, you likely had every intention that it would be forever. And when the kids came along, that commitment likely only increased. After all, as a parent, the thing you want most in the world is to give your kids the best possible life. You want them to have happiness and security. You want to shield them from life’s troubles and make whatever path they must travel as smooth and easy as possible. 

But now you and your spouse are divorcing, and you recognize that you can’t protect your kids from every hurt. No matter how amicable it may be, divorce is always a trauma. Divorce, inevitably, brings change — and change not only brings loss, but also a measure of uncertainty, even fear.

And it’s in recognition of the unavoidable disruptions that divorce will introduce into your child’s lives that a new trend has emerged. It’s called birdnesting, and divorced and separated parents are increasingly trying it to help their children retain a measure of stability during a particularly turbulent life transition.

What Is Birdnesting?

In theory, at least, birdnesting is a pretty simple concept. It basically takes old strategies for sharing custody and turns them on their head. Because instead of the child shuttling from one parent’s house to the other, it’s the parents who do the house-hopping. The kids stay in the family home, while the parents alternate between caring for the child in the family home.

For most families, birdnesting involves the parents’ jointly renting an apartment, which each parent will live in while the other has custody. Proponents of birdnesting claim that allowing kids to remain in the family home gives kids a much-needed sense of stability, security, and comforting familiarity as they learn to cope with their parents’ divorce and the change in the household dynamic.

Kids get to stay in their own rooms and to have access to all their belongings. Above all, they get to remain close to neighbours, friends, and family who live close by. Better still, if your child has a beloved pet, they don’t have to face being separated from them or risk the pets being injured or lost when moved from one home to the next.

This is an especially significant concern if a divorced parent shares a house or apartment with roommates who may not know how to properly care for the animal. Indeed, because some pet insurers may not cover the cost of injuries sustained outside of the family home or while in the care of individuals outside of the family, parents may not allow the pet to move with the child due to such a risk. Birdnesting prevents both the risk to the fur baby and the trauma of separation for your child.

The Challenges of Birdnesting

While this new approach to custody-sharing has many benefits, especially for the children, there are several significant challenges as well. It takes immense cooperation and maturity to make birdnesting work. You have to take pains to work out the logistics, especially if the parents are jointly renting a home or apartment. That includes settling on a plan for everything from paying utilities to buying household staples to taking care of the chores in both homes.

It also means practicing kindness and thoughtfulness whenever possible. This is essential to avoid resentment, tension, and hostility, all of which may well undermine the entire purpose of birdnesting. If children see you and their other parent constantly embroiled in conflict and antagonism, then you’re going to be depriving your child of the very sense of stability that motivated you to nest in the first place. And if you’re temporarily renting a home that you may someday choose to buy, letting the house devolve into a cesspool just to prove a point to your former spouse is a sure way to tick off the potential seller and put you both on the streets.

Doing It Right

One of the most important aspects of successful birdnesting is to remember that it’s not a permanent solution — and to ensure that your children remember this as well. Unless your children see this as a transitional phase, they may easily become confused by seeing their parents continuing to be so closely engaged with one another.

Maintaining a clear, well-defined custody arrangement is paramount to the process. This is true even if you and the other parent were never married. Custody arrangements without divorce are still important to ensure that both parents enjoy sufficient time with the children and that grandparents and other relatives also enjoy access, despite the parents’ separation.

When the children remain in the family home, establishing clear boundaries regarding custody will help prevent confusion for the child. This will also reduce the likelihood of conflict when one or both parents establishes a permanent home and the nesting process ends. At this point, you and your co-parent will need to determine what is to become of the family home.

You may determine that the house is to be sold and each parent is to establish a new home, with the children living part-time in both, as with traditional shared custody arrangements. If that’s the case, it’s often better for parents to work together during the sale, including selecting one realtor whom they both agree on and who will represent them both.

The Takeaway

Birdnesting can be a remarkably beneficial way to help your children cope with the transition of a divorce. It can provide stability and security during a challenging time. But it’s not easy and it’s far from a permanent solution. In the end, it is a great way to facilitate a successful transition into a new family dynamic, with each parent gradually establishing a new household, rather than leaping with both feet from one house to the next — and expecting the children to keep up before they are ready.

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