Our three boys were 12, nine and five when my husband and I decided to divorce. That was nine years ago, and since then they have continued to enjoy the consistency, ease and comfort of having their lives based in one home, the one they have always known, instead of two.
They’ve had the same bedrooms, complete with all their most important possessions, their schoolwork and everything they’ve needed for music, sports, and all their other extracurricular activities in their usual places and always to hand. Their friends always know where to find them and frequently stop by to hang out. The beloved family dog is there to send them off to school every morning and greet them at the end of every day. In almost every significant way, their lives have remained the same, albeit with only one parent rather than two with them at any given time.
Nesting and how it works
All of this is down to the fact that my ex and I agreed to take it in turns to move in and out of the family house rather than the three of them moving between our two homes. It’s a process that’s known as nesting, and it’s widely regarded as providing children with consistency and comfort whilst being significantly less stressful than moving back and forth and keeping track of belongings in two separate residences. It can also be less expensive for the parents than setting up two homes both of which are fully equipped for their children.
Nesting is often considered a temporary solution as divorcing parents transition into a traditional two-households scenario. However, as I learned in the process of interviewing nesting families for my book, Nesting After Divorce: Co-Parenting in the Family Home, many nesting families – including my own – find that it makes sense to continue nesting for longer than originally intended. In our case, we began the nesting experiment with the intent of it doing it for a year. But as the year drew to a close and we had worked out most of the challenges and established a steady routine, we found the benefits were far greater than we ever envisioned.
How it worked for us
Our original arrangement was that we each spent five days in the family home and five in a one-bedroom apartment nearby that we shared – without ever being there at the same time. When he was in the nest, my ex used the master bedroom and bathroom. I occupied the guest suite in our basement. We agreed – with the help of our lawyers – that based on our incomes, my ex would pay for all the family home-related expenses and I would cover the rent for the apartment. We split any child-related costs, from groceries and clothes to extracurricular activities in percentages based on our incomes.
What has changed over time
As the years have passed, we’ve made logistical adjustments to our original nesting plan. When my ex started travelling extensively for work, he no longer needed to come to the shared apartment when he wasn’t parenting, so the space became completely mine (which was great!) Since my work as a freelance writer is more flexible, we ended our 5-day-on, 5-day-off schedule and I would just come to the house whenever he needed to travel, generally aiming to continue 50/50 parenting over the course of each month.
As circumstances demanded, we adjusted responsibilities for household chores or child-related tasks, became more flexible about parenting time schedules, and spent more time overlapping in the nest. We also revised some of our financial arrangements as our jobs changed, and new financial responsibilities arose.
Of course there were challenges, not least the pandemic lockdown with remote learning for all three boys and the pause on work travel for my ex which meant we had to try out both of us living in the house at the same time, but designating one of us as the on-duty parent. I won’t pretend it was easy but we figured it out as we went along.
The unexpected bonuses
Looking back, I don’t think either my ex or I could have predicted the positive situation we enjoy now. Working out what divorce would mean for us emotionally, logistically, and financially and setting up our nesting situation was uncharted territory for both of us. But we learned and adapted and gradually settled into our nesting co-parenting routine. The arrangement got easier the longer it lasted. Over time the post-divorce emotions cooled. When we weren’t parenting, we each enjoyed the time we now had to concentrate on our newly-single lives, our outside interests, and our careers.
I found that because I could focus fully on myself when I was off-duty from parenting, I was able to enjoy being fully focused on my children all the more when I had time with them. Nesting gave me the time and space to heal and grow emotionally after our split, to pursue new career goals and, it turns out, to find the romantic relationship of my dreams.
What came as a surprise to us both, was that my ex and I found our relationship became better than it had ever been as a married couple. Our ability to communicate with each other improved enormously once the strain of our marital issues was behind us. We found we enjoyed creating new traditions with our children for holidays, birthdays, and other family celebrations. We settled into a co-operative mindset focused on co-parenting our kids as a team.
More changes – to their lives and ours
In recent years, we’ve seen our oldest off to a university in another state (though he still comes home to the “nest” regularly.) Our middle child is getting ready to leave for university in the autumn. Our youngest has high school ahead of him yet. My ex has remarried, and I recently became engaged. We are both enormously fortunate to have found people who support our nesting efforts and are kind, caring presences in our kids’ lives.
As I write about in my book, nesting and honouring the family home as a child-focused space meant we were very conscious of when and how we introduced dating partners to our children. We each kept our dating lives separate from our parenting time until we were sure that our relationships were long term. For several years now we have included our romantic partners in family time at the house, particularly around the holidays or other family celebrations. Since both our new partners have their own home they very rarely stay at the ‘nest’ home. But my ex and I now spend our non-parenting time at the homes of our partners (I have given up the apartment)
For now, we intend to continue nesting for the next few years as we figure out what will make sense for each of us and our partners when our youngest leaves the nest.
We all know pre-teen and teenager years are stressful in the best of circumstances. For a couple of years after the divorce, the boys saw a therapist to give them a neutral person to talk to, and to give me an expert who could offer guidance on helping them with challenges. At one point she commented that she had many children of divorce as clients, but that my kids were the only ones she had encountered who never brought up the divorce as a cause of stress in their lives. “Could it be the nesting?” she wondered.
Of course, I can’t shelter them from every challenge of growing up – nor would I want to. Some hard times are important experiences for growing up and moving into their own lives. But I like to think that by nesting, at least we didn’t add to their stress by making them deal with complicated living arrangements.
My top tips and most important questions
If you are considering nesting, these are my top five tips for making it a success:
- Be open to thinking creatively
- Be willing to communicate
- Have patience
- Keep the wellbeing of your children foremost in your mind
- Make a PLAN
And these are the five questions you should ask yourself, and discuss with your soon-to-be-ex, if you think you’d like to try nesting
- Can we both agree to give nesting a try?
- Can we come up with options for living arrangements outside of the nest that work for both of us
- Do we consider each other good parents?
- Do we consider the other parent to be generally a mature and trustworthy individual?
- Could we work together to care for the nest – physically and financially?
By Beth Behrendt
As well as being the author of Nesting After Divorce: Co-Parenting in the Family Home, Beth has written about nesting for The New York Times, Psychology Today and other publications, which you can read on her website FamilyNesting.Org.