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In case you aren’t familiar with the concept of “nesting”, it’s when the children stay in the family home and the separated, or divorced, parents take turns moving in and out to care for them. The appeal for divorcing parents is that nesting provides the children with the comfort and consistency of their home life during what could otherwise be a very unsettling time in their young lives.
Nesting is also significantly less stressful for the children than moving back and forth and keeping track of belonging between two separate residences. Another appeal is that nesting can be much less expensive for the family than setting up two separate homes, each of which has to be fully equipped to support and raise the children. Nesting offers a less traumatic, more conscious way to ease the children – and the parents – into their new post-divorce life.
Nesting is often considered a temporary solution as the divorcing parents transition into a traditional two-households scenario. However, many nesting families — including my own, with my ex and our three children — find that it just made sense to continue nesting for longer than they originally intended. In our case, we began the nesting experiment with the intent of it getting us through the first year. We are now starting our ninth year!
When we separated and decided to divorce, my ex and I wanted our kids’ home life to stay consistent while we took some time to figure out the finances and logistics of what would come next. However, as we hit our stride with nesting, we found that the benefits went beyond what we even initially envisioned. Nesting just continued to make sense for our family and benefit our children. When asked how long we were going to keep doing it, our response became, “Until we have a good reason not to, I guess?”
In the many years since we divorced, we’ve seen our oldest off to college out of state, though, of course, he still comes home (to the “nest”) during breaks and vacations. Our middle child is getting ready to leave for college in the fall. Our youngest still has high school ahead of him. We intend to keep nesting for the next few years as we figure out what situation will make sense for each of us, and our significant others, when our youngest leaves the nest. My ex has remarried, and I recently became engaged. We each are fortunate to have found people who support our nesting efforts and are kind, caring presences in our kids’ lives.
Looking back, I don’t think either my ex or I could have ever imagined the positive situation we enjoy now. I recognize that we were fortunate in many ways that not every divorcing couple enjoys: stable careers, supportive family nearby, and both of us working hard to put our goals for our children’s lives above our egos and the tough emotions that surround the end of a marriage. Figuring out nesting — and divorce —certainly had many challenges at first. It was all uncharted territory for both of us. But we gradually settled into our nesting co-parenting routine, and the arrangement got easier the longer we were in it. The post-divorce emotions cooled and, when we weren’t actively parenting, we each had time to concentrate on our now-single lives, our outside interests, and our careers.
Over time, we made logistical adjustments to our original nesting plan to address challenges we’d not initially predicted; such as job changes for each of us that affected our schedules and parenting time, an unexpected long-term medical issue with one of our children, and the pandemic lockdown with remote learning at home for all three of our children and the pause of any out-of-town work travel for my ex. Because of these, we adjusted who was responsible for which household chores or child-related tasks, became more flexible about parenting time schedules, and spent more time overlapping in the house.
Our living arrangements outside of the nest evolved as well. For the first year or so, my ex and I “shared” (we were never there at the same time) a small apartment near the family home. I took over that apartment as completely my own when his work travel increased to him spending half of each month on the road. Since COVID put an end to his work travel, he has spent half the month at the home of his significant other (who is now his wife).
We also revised some of our financial arrangements as time passed. For example, we revisited how we split ongoing educational costs and established a more clearly defined plan for college contributions in the future. We also worked out how to fairly cover an additional car (or two!) to our household as the kids reached driving age. And we implemented financial compensation for additional parenting work provided by either parent on an ad hoc basis. For example, when the kids were younger, rather than my ex hiring a babysitter on his parenting days during summer break, we agreed to compensate me for my time (as a freelance writer, I could be flexible with my work schedule).
Surprisingly, considering how badly our communication had eroded as we moved toward divorce, we found that our communication with each other became so much better. We enjoyed creating new, but still familiar, family traditions around the holidays, birthdays, and other family celebrations. With the benefit of time, we settled into a cooperative mindset focused on co-parenting our kids and became a better team than we had ever been as a married couple.
Our kids have continued to enjoy the ease of having their lives based out of one home. They’ve slept in their same bedrooms — with all the beloved bits and pieces accumulated since their childhoods — ever since we divorced. Their schoolwork and all the odds and ends needed for music, sports, and other extracurricular activities can always be found in their usual places. Their friends always know where to find them and are frequent visitors to the nest. The family dog is there to send them off to school every morning and greet them at the end of every day.
As we know, the pre-teen and teenager years are stressful. Of course, I can’t shelter them from every challenge of growing up — nor would I want to. Some of those things are just important parts moving into their own lives. But I like to think that by nesting, at least we, their parents, didn’t add to their stress by forcing them to deal with complicated living arrangements.
Are they appreciative? Well, they don’t ever come right out and state it (if you have teenagers, perhaps you understand). I take my clues from what pops up casually during the interactions of daily life. Like this: When our middle child was working on his college essays, I left him to tackle them on his own — but naturally, I was curious. Eventually I asked how things were going and got an oh-so-informative “fine” in response.
Ignoring the obvious “I don’t want to talk about this” hint, I forged ahead to share an idea I’d had for an essay.
“Honey, I’ve been thinking about how you are so creative and non-conformist. You love history and always bring up the funny family stories we have. It would be cool to write about how you grew up in this nesting situation. You were surrounded by our efforts to reject the traditional approach, be creative, and honor our family history. How could you not be influenced by that?!” I finished excitedly, mentally patting myself on the back for being such a helpful mom.
Rolling his eyes, he replied, “If you want to write your college essay about nesting, go right ahead.”
I stopped congratulating myself and felt my ego slowly deflating.
Until he continued with a sigh, “I don’t think you realize how little your and Dad’s divorce impacted my life, Mom. Like, not at all.”
I know it wasn’t his intent, but he had just given me what may be the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.
Union Square & Co.
Beth Behrendt is a freelance writer and divorced mother of three. She’s the author of Nesting After Divorce: Co-Parenting in the Family Home. She’s written about nesting for The New York Times, Psychology Today and other publications and has appeared on a variety of podcasts and TV shows, all of which can be found at FamilyNesting.Org.
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