Experts Share Why It Can Work for Some Co-Parents

Navigating a separation or divorce is never easy. Whenever a family goes through a season of change, figuring out what that new normal looks like for both the children and the parents can be incredibly difficult. If you don’t want to drastically change your kids’ routines, you might be wondering if there’s an option to co-parent that ruffles as few feathers as possible. And there is—it’s called birdnesting.

What Is Birdnesting?

Birdnesting is when separated or divorced parents keep their kids in the family home—AKA their safe nest—while the parents take turns living there. This arrangement is meant to keep the burden of a divorce on the parents and their kids as comfortable as possible by allowing them to stay in the home they know and love. While still not very common, this trend is seeing a steady rise in popularity, especially among millennial parents who were children of divorce themselves and are trying to minimize the negative impacts on their own young children. 

“When not in the family home, the parents may choose to share an apartment or second home that they rotate in and out of,” Teresa Harlow, Co-parenting Coach and author of Combative to Collaborative: The Co-parenting Code, explains. “For those with the financial means, both parents may acquire separate homes to live in when not in the family residence. Still others may have a separate apartment with one or more roommates which they live in during their ‘off’ week.”

How to Figure Out a Birdnesting Arrangement

If you’re thinking of trying birdnesting with your family, there are many things to consider, including timing, boundaries, financial capabilities, and more. “If you’re considering bird-nesting, you and the other parent should set ground rules around [things like] housekeeping, visitors, and household expenses,” Teresa explained. “[For example,] can you both agree not to bring other romantic partners to the family home?”

Talking about things like set custody times for how long each parent will live in the home before you switch, who is responsible for what in terms of household chores and upkeep, any privacy concerns with leaving your things behind when you’re not in the home, and more are crucial in making this arrangement a success. “There can be no assumptions made—everything must be discussed and planned down to how household decisions will be made for the family home,” Alysha Price, CEO and founder of co-parenting, coaching, education, and consulting firm The Price Dynamic, explains. “A parenting schedule is also imperative. Testing out different schedules to make sure you know what is needed is really important before jumping all the way in.” 

If you can’t agree on certain things or would like more specific guidance on the types of boundaries you should set, feel free to bring in a mediator or discuss these details with your divorce lawyers in order to make things more streamlined.

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What Are the Pros of Birdnesting?

There can be many benefits to birdnesting if you and your former partner are on the same page.

You’re Able to Share Parenting Duties More Evenly

Depending on the specific details of the arrangement, birdnesting could allow both parents to get more equal time with their kids. This also means that, if your kids aren’t babies, parenting and household duties won’t fall more heavily on one parent than the other, which means less stress for you.

It Can Be Easier for the Kids

If the kids are able to stay in the only home they’ve ever known, or just the house they love, this arrangement can make the change within your family feel much less drastic. They’ll be able to keep their same routines, stay close to their friends and neighbors, and remain in their schools.

“This reduced disruption for children [is an advantage of birdnesting], as they do not have to shuttle back and forth between their parents’ homes. Not worrying about having the right uniform, favorite toy, or homework can keep the anxiety of the children at a low,” Alysha continued. You also may get more peace of mind when you’re not at the home, knowing exactly where your kids are and that they’re in a safe environment.

It Could Financially Make Sense

If you’re able to keep the family home and rent a one-bedroom apartment or stay with family or friends while birdnesting, this could lessen your post-divorce expenses. Instead of having to make huge financial decisions regarding dividing and selling your property, you can still share some of the home expenses while figuring out your next steps.

What Are the Cons of Birdnesting?

While this arrangement could work well for some families, there are some disadvantages to consider before agreeing to try it.

It Might Be Confusing for the Kids

If your kids are young and continue to see both parents in their family home, they might think you’re getting back together or feel confused as to why one parent has to leave or whose house it is. This could make it difficult for them to fully understand and process the divorce. “Children have to learn how to shuttle between parenting styles,” Alysha said. “Confiding in or going to the available parent for comfort when they are more familiar with a particular person can create some emotional discourse. This can impact children in many ways depending on their stage of development and maturity.”

It Could Lead to More Fighting

Since your once-shared family home is now split into shifts between you and your former spouse, everything—from cleaning habits to bedtime routines to moving your things around—could lead to more friction between the two of you. And if you only interact when you’re switching shifts at the home, this could lead to more fighting, potentially in front of the kids.

It Might Make You Feel Like You Can’t Move On

Moving on after a divorce can be one of the most painful things, but it can also be one of the most liberating. If you’re excited about your newfound independence and are looking forward to dating again, continuing to share the family home with your ex can make you feel like you’re stuck in the past. “In my opinion, parents consider bird-nesting for the benefit of the children, almost deferring their happiness or comfort as if it isn’t important,” Alysha said. “We need to normalize parents putting the oxygen mask on themselves first and knowing that their children will be well if they are well. Home is wherever your parents are happy! If parents are bird-nesting but frustrated and disheveled all the time, that is not a benefit to the children. Family is less about the dwelling and more about the bond and well-being.”

It Can’t Last Forever

While there isn’t a set timeline for how long birdnesting should last, it is meant to be more of a temporary solution while both parents figure out the next steps. “From what I’ve observed and from my own experience having bird-nested, this is usually done on a short-term basis,” Teresa explained. “My son’s father and I bird-nested for four months while we prepared to sell our joint home, which relieved the tension that comes from cohabitating with someone from whom you are divorcing.”

How to Know If Birdnesting Is Right for You

Birdnesting sounds great in theory, but there are many things you and your former spouse need to take into consideration before agreeing to give it a try. In addition to setting boundaries detailed above, here are just some of the major questions to ask yourself that will help you determine if this is the right option for you (again, working with a mediator or divorce lawyer can help in making this decision):

Can we afford this? If so, how will we split the household expenses?

While birdnesting could relieve some post-divorce expenses, it could also do the opposite, as paying for two homes can become a financial burden. If you’re able to make this work financially, you’ll need to determine how you want to divide the shared family home expenses going forward.

Are we on good enough terms to make this work?

While you don’t need to be best friends with your ex, you should be on decent terms to keep communication open regarding the family home and your kids’ needs.

Where will each of us live when we’re not in the family home?

You’ll both need to figure out your alternative living arrangements for when you’re not in the family home and should take into consideration things like distance from the home, your work, the kids’ schools, and more.

How long do we both want this arrangement to last?

Agreeing on a timeline is so important for making birdnesting a success, so you’ll want to talk about things like when to sell the family home and what happens when you do.

Are we on the same page regarding parenting duties?

Making sure you’re evenly splitting the parents’ duties is a big part of birdnesting and setting boundaries. This encompasses everything from school pick-up and drop-off, meal expectations, bedtime routines, extracurricular activities, who will be present for what, and more.

There is no handbook on figuring out how to be divorced, which means there is no one right way to do it. If you’re leaning towards more non-traditional parenting plans post-divorce, birdnesting could be a really great option.

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