Q. My husband and I have decided to separate. Our kids are 2 and 6, and we’re already seeing behavioral problems after telling them that Dad is going to live somewhere else. One of our friends suggested we try “bird nest parenting.” What do you know about it?
A. Basically, a bird nest parenting arrangement puts the children’s nurturing needs first. It turns the standard custody arrangement on its head. The children remain in their same home, and the parents are the ones who take turns living elsewhere. Mom leaves the “nest” to live somewhere else when Dad arrives, and Dad leaves when Mom comes to roost. Sameness and routine are most comforting to children, and this arrangement means the children can have their same schedule, neighborhood playmates, bedrooms and belongings. The less you disrupt their routine, the less acting out you will likely experience from them. Financially, this arrangement means that parents don’t have to buy two separate sets of bedroom furniture, clothing, toiletries and toys for the children. The parents may feel less compelled to compete for who can provide the best of these items. To make bird nest parenting work, you’ll need to:
- Arrange for both parents to have separate places to live away from the nest. Some couples have family they can live with, friends they can rent a room from or arrangements for house sitting.
- Negotiate and agree on chores and house rules. It’s important to know that the yard will be mowed and the AC filters changed. One of the best mothers I know used a chore chart for her and her husband. In addition, parents might want to set rules about not entertaining new love interests in the nest home.
- Work out how the nest home expenses will be paid. Utilities and mortgage payments come to mind, but also consider grocery bills, dog food and cleaning supplies. One mother found she was stocking the fridge, but the food would spoil while she was away because her husband bought take-out meals during his nest time.
- Explain to the children how this new arrangement will work. With younger children, I suggest you keep your words and explanations simple. Don’t encourage them to believe that you and your husband will get back together again. In spite of great therapy, this may not happen.
Bird nest arrangements can last a long time. I recently heard of parents being in a nest arrangement for nearly a decade and still going strong. However, what I hear from former bird nesters and what I read in my research is that most arrangements last about 2 years.
Bird nesting often ends because Mom or Dad (or both) finds a new love interest, and the new partner wants more time with that person. Some new partners don’t agree with the amount of money spent on maintaining the “nest.” Another type of ending may come due to a financial setback that makes keeping the “nest” impossible. Of course, some bird nesting arrangements have a happy ending when the parents decide to reunite. If you do decide to engage in bird nest parenting, you might want to find a therapist to help you work out the details and agreements.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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