Q: Your article on shared custody could not have come at a better time for us. My girlfriend and I are splitting up. Of course both of us want what is best for the children — we have a boy and a girl, ages eight and six.
We got some good ideas from your article. Now we would like to pick your brain again.
We have heard that in some families where moms and dads are splitting, maybe getting a divorce, the kids stay in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out. One week Mom is with the kids in their house, the next week Dad is with them. My girlfriend is interested in this kind of an arrangement. I am not so sure that I am, but both of us are keen to hear back from you on your thoughts about it.
A: This is called bird-nesting. It is obviously an attempt by divorcing or separating parents to be more sensitive to their children by limiting the extent to which the divorce or separation disrupts their daily routines and responsibilities. The kids do not have to change and their friends do not have to wonder if this is the week they are at Dad’s house, or is it Mom’s?
There are drawbacks to bird-nesting.
The first is that it is expensive. Don’t forget that you have to have places for Mom and Dad to go when they are not with the children. That means that you need to run and operate three houses and each house comes with its own set of maintenance and upkeep demands. They cost money.
The second drawback is a caution. If you and your girlfriend got along all that well you would not be separating in the first place. Somewhere along the way, you picked a few fights with each other. Those fights do not go away just because you have decided to separate. They continue. In bird-nesting the opportunity to nurture and grow the dissention can blossom. Someone is going to forget to flush a toilet before the other parent gets there. Someone is going to put a frying pan in the wrong place. And then comes the inevitable when someone’s new date leaves a pair of running shoes in the hallway closet.
That will likely strike up a round of conflict. Some people who bird-nest actually hire a mediator to meet with them regularly to try to resolve some of the tension that is naturally built into relationships that are forced to continue despite being shelved.
I do not know whether the mediator is actually able to keep life settled for the family, but just having a mediator around is indicative of the personal tensions moms and dads find in bird-nesting.
The final drawback is that bird-nesting is not likely to be a permanent arrangement for all who are involved. Somewhere along the way, at least one and perhaps both of the people involved in the parental relationship are going to want to engage in a recovery that will open new doors with new adventures for them.
They can do that with their children. But doing that with the family home and perhaps the other person holding them back is much more awkward.
Eventually, bird-nesting is going to come to an end and then you are back from where you started, trying to figure out what is best for the children and who can best meet that need.
You might want to ask for reprints of the article we ran on joint custody. You can also research more about bird-nesting on the internet if you wish more information.