A “bird's nest” co-parenting arrangement is one that is uniquely child-centered. It may work for some families, but certainly not for others. However, done correctly---it may be the least disruptive and financial sound decision parents can make for their children.
It goes like this---rather than the children having to adapt to the parents’ needs and living in two separate dwellings, they remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out, like birds alighting and departing the “nest.” During the time parents are not at home with the kids, they live in a separate dwelling, which can either be on their own or rotated with the other parent. It is a novel yet sensible arrangement, as children experience much less disruption in their lives and routines than having to shuttle and adapt to completely new living arrangements. It can be either a semi-permanent or temporary arrangement, to allow children a smoother transition to life as a divorced family.
The arrangement works particularly well if there are children over the age of 8 or 10 due to their hectic schedules, extra curricular activities, tutoring, etc. Let’s face it, in light of a divorce, most families cannot afford two houses in Scarsdale, Bronxvile or Armonk – and this arrangement allows the children to remain in the home, in their rooms, while at the same time providing working parents some flexibility in getting kids to and from their activities. For instance, if the family lives in Scarsdale but mom or dad has to get an apartment in White Plains – shuttling the kids back and forth for their local activities proves difficult and time consuming. It also adds an extra level of stress in the children’s lives who have to remember their soccer cleats or instrument for the following day’s activities. It may not sound like much, but in the face of a divorce, every convenience helps make a difficult situation a little easier.
Clearly, bird nesting will work for some but not all parents. A bird's nest arrangement will only work if parents live in close proximity, or are able to be in the family home when it is their turn for parenting the kids. It works best when parents are co-parenting, as opposed to one parent being a full-time caregiver with the other a “visiting” parent. The expense involved is another factor, depending on whether parents arrange for one or two residences away from the family home. If the former, bird-nesting need not be any more expensive than parents living in two separate households. It may even be less expensive than maintaining two homes for the children, as the external residence may be much more modest if the children are not residing there; a one-bedroom apartment or studio is likely to provide more than enough space rather than getting a three or four bedroom apartment so that the kids can have their own rooms.
In addition, parents do not have to purchase two sets of toys and clothing for the children as they would if children are rotating between two households. If parents opt to maintain two different residences apart from the family home, they have to factor in the additional expense; the cost of maintaining three residences will be prohibitive for many. Finally, bird nesting while sharing one residence in addition to the family home is extremely challenging when new partners appear on the scene. In particular, privacy may become a serious issue of concern for one or both parents, since the other parent’s ongoing presence is obvious and unavoidable.
Bird nesting works best when parents are able to separate their co-parenting responsibilities from their previous marital conflicts, and remain amicable and cooperative as they confer about continuing household arrangements and the children’s needs. Both need to be prepared to maintain a certain level of consistency of purpose, discipline, and child-raising techniques to make it work well; this means being able to communicate clearly and peacefully rather than taking each discussion as an opportunity to argue. Household and house maintenance arrangements, and ground rules, must be absolutely clear, and each parent must closely stick to the agreed-upon arrangements; over time, as they settle into the new lifestyle, more flexible arrangements are possible. A clearly drafted parenting plan or negotiated schedule at the outset is essential.
Remember, this arrangement is not necessarily in the best interest of each parents – but it certainly may be what the children prefer---and it’s high time their interests come first.
The New York Times wrote a great story about this arrangement and how it is working for a number of families. To read it, click here