Bird Nesting Divorce: Shuttle Parenting

Bird nesting is a way that couples have sought to lessen the effects of divorce on their children.  Divorce is often a time of stress and change for both the couple and their children.  Often one of the changes that the couple needs to grow into is the separate living situations, which can often be difficult for children to acclimate to.  Moving between homes takes away the children’s sense of stability in a physical place at the same time that they have lost the stability of their parents’ relationship.  Bird nesting is quickly becoming a popular way to stabilize the lives of the children and keep them in a family home while their parents are navigating life apart from each other.  While the situation is not always ideal, it presents a newer way for couples with children to separate their lives while caring for and stabilizing their children, along with a host of other benefits.  This article will explore the idea of bird nesting and outline some important considerations that will need to be made when a couple is attempting to set up a bird nesting plan.  The article will also examine the benefits and drawbacks of bird nesting to encourage full knowledge of the situation.  

Bird Nesting Explained: 

Bird nesting is a system where the children stay in the family home and their parents take turns staying with them in the home based on the parenting schedule that they establish.  When it is one parent’s time to be with their children, they will stay in the home and the other parent will stay elsewhere.  There are a variety of options to consider with where the other parent stays, but some include another apartment or friends and family.  The kids can stay in the home, which also means that they will be able to stay in the same schools and be around their friends and familiar spaces.  Some proponents of the technique encourage using it only temporarily until the kids adjust to life with each of their parents separately, while others have been using the practice for years and have had great success with it.  Like any custody arrangement, it can grow with the family as the circumstances continue to change.  The main difference, and what makes bird nesting unique, is the movement of the parents rather than the kids.  

Benefits of Bird Nesting: 

To understand if bird nesting is the right plan for a family, one should consider both the advantages of the process as well as the drawbacks.  Nesting can be incredibly helpful for some reasons, but it may pose issues for others.  Some advantages of bird nesting include: 

  • Finances: Depending on the family’s situation, bird nesting may actually end up saving them money after a divorce.  Because they will only need to finance one other home, and that home can be small as it will only be parents living there, the costs can be much lower than each parent finding a place to live with children separately.  
  • Decisions: Bird nesting allows the parents to put off making difficult and stressful decisions such as whether to sell the family home or have on party keep it, as well as making decisions on where the children will go to school.  It leaves some decisions until the divorce has settled and the parents are more comfortable making decisions as separate family units.  
  • Stability: As mentioned previously, bird nesting provides a sense of stability for children as they navigate life with each of their parents separately. This is a bigger advantage in some families more than in others because some kids will need stability, while others will want separate places.  However, it allows them to stay in the same school and around their friends and familiar spaces. It also gives the parents a chance to stabilize their lives with the new schedule and the changes without having to lose the memories in the family home immediately.  
  • Transitional: Bird nesting allows the children to adjust to the idea of a divorce without experiencing all the changes at one time.  It allows the children and their community to see the kids thriving with each parent and begin to shift their thinking.  It allows for a period of adjustment and transition that other arrangements do not.  
  • Practice: Similar to the transitional period, the bird nesting period also allows the individual parents to adjust to being single parents.  It allows them to practice maintaining an independent home when they have not in the past.  This can include learning new skills to keep the house intact and learning to balance the schedules of the children on their own.  

Bird nesting allows families to make the transition from one to two units with the least amount of uprooting and change possible.  

Drawbacks of Bird Nesting: 

While bird nesting does bring many benefits, there are also drawbacks of the situation that need to be considered.  These drawbacks include: 

  • Finances: While bird nesting can save money in some cases, it may be difficult for the parties to upkeep two or three residences, including utilities and other costs.  Some families may not be able to finance their new space without the sale of the old home or exclusive possession of it. 
  • Instability: For some, the inability to make the new space like home or to have a life that is separate from the other parent can be difficult.  When parents are sharing two residences, they will likely feel as if they do not have a space to call their own, which can be especially difficult in the divorce arena.  
  • Conflict: When there is a conflict between the parents, this can often affect the children and can make them feel irritable or unstable in the new situation.  This is especially true when the parties are not careful about voice frustration or anger at the other party in front of their children.  If one or both parents are badmouthing the other, the risk of major conflict within the home is greater than the benefits that bird nesting provides.  

While there are disadvantages of bird nesting, when parents are encouraging and committed to making the process work, the benefits often outweigh the risks.  

How to Bird Nest: 

When considering divorce with children, bird nesting is an option that can feel practical, but the actual implementation of it can feel overwhelming.  If a couple has examined the advantages and disadvantages of the program and feels that it may be a good option for them and their children, it is time to start making a plan.  As mentioned above, a bird nesting agreement needs to be specific to the individual family’s needs.  Every parent will have a different comfortability and financial situation that may alter the plan or impact the way they will be able to parent independently. The parents need to examine the possible implications of the practice and determine if it is a situation that they can keep long term, or if it will be a short-term solution that will need to be reassessed quickly.  When making the plan, these are some of the important considerations to make:

  • Alternative Housing: One of the biggest hurdles is the situation of where the parents stay when they are not with the children. Renting one or two apartments on top of any mortgage or other payment can be financially burdensome, and the toll of constantly moving between two places can be emotionally draining.  For some parents, the easiest solution is to stay with friends or family while they are not at the home, especially in short-term agreements.  Other couples will rent an apartment that each parent stays at when they are not at the house.  Finally, some parents will each rent their own apartment or space so that they can make the space their own when they are not with the children.  
  • Financial Burden: As mentioned above, bird nesting can be an expensive experience to have.  Between the cost of renting or buying an alternative house, stocking the new home, and other costs that are no longer shared, the financial burden can feel completely overwhelming.  If a couple does not have adequate finances, bird nesting may not be the best solution.  
  • Relationship: Bird nesting does not work when the parents are not in a cordial relationship.  Because, as mentioned above, bird nesting presents a unique opportunity for parents to influence the children based on marital issues.  Even if a parent is merely expressing slight frustration over the way that the other left the home, it can have a lasting impact on the way a child sees the other parent.  
  • Scheduling: Another aspect of bird nesting that parents will need to consider is the scheduling of time.  Arranging for the switches at inopportune times may leave the children and parents worn out and frustrated when they begin or end their time together.  Additionally, some parents will have inconsistent schedules due to jobs or other factors and may need to continuously readjust their schedules.  It is important to be in constant communication with one another when planning and executing the strategy to make sure that the plan is in the best possible strategy and adjust if needed.  
  • Changes: As mentioned several times, the plan cannot be rigid.  Families will have varying needs and may need to adjust the plan occasionally.  For example, if one parent suddenly needs to begin traveling more often for work, it would make sense for the other parent to do their parenting while the other parent is away. This could allow the family to only pay for the place that the nontraveling parent is in and allows the other to keep the home as their primary residence. This could also go away if the schedules change again.   The most important thing that parents can do is remain in open and kind communication with each other.  
  • Consistency: While the family needs to be open to changes, they also need to be willing to commit to the rules and tasks that are communicated in the plan.  This can mean that the parents balance who is doing fun things with the children and who is doing mundane things.  It also means that rules need to be established for parenting to ensure that one parent is not harder or more lenient than the other.  Consistency with what the children can expect is the best option.  

Creating this plan can be stressful and difficult for parents as they are also working through a divorce.  Parents can work with a mediator to help create the plan and put it in writing to help the parties feel confident that their needs and unique situations are addressed in the plan.  

Conclusion: 

Bird nesting is a workable and helpful option for parents who are getting divorced, especially when children need the stability that it provides.  Bird nesting gives the children the family home and has the parents moving back and forth to care for them.  It has advantages in financial, emotional, and practical ways, but it also runs the risk of conflict between the parents and even amongst the family as a whole.  When families commit to the process, they will need to consider several factors to determine the best plan, especially considering the emotions of everything that is happening.  But when the parents and children are committed to the process, whether short or long term, nesting can help children feel secure during a major shift in their lives.  

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