When Parents Rotate In and Out of the Family Home
When parents have decided to separate into two homes, there are several reasons why they might consider a model of separation called “nesting” that is usually temporary. Parents obtain a place to stay that is outside the family home – a small apartment perhaps, or a friend’s home – and create a rotating schedule by which each parent has some time each week in the family home with the children, and some time when they are staying in the alternate dwelling.
CAUTION: Before beginning to nest, ask an attorney for advice about insuring that neither parent will become vulnerable in any way – related to custody OR finances – if parents begin nesting prior to having a legal agreement. Nesting is a form of separation, so there can be legal implications for both parents.
Some of the reasons parents may want to consider a phase of nesting prior to living permanently in two homes include:
- Wanting to physically separate to decrease conflict while moving through a divorce process that can take many months.
- Wanting to allow the children to avoid moving from home to home for some period of time – perhaps during the remainder of a school year, or perhaps until the children are a year older.
- Wanting to “phase in” the experience of separate parenting for both the children and the parents, rather than separating permanently right away.
- Wanting to separate before having the financial resources to enable one parent to rent or purchase a long term second home. /li>
- Wanting to separate before there is a financial and legal agreement about which parent will remain in the home, or about whether the parents can afford to keep the home.
Nesting: Pros and Cons
- Nesting can enable children to adjust to the idea that their parents are separating before they, themselves, experience the disruption of two homes.
- Nesting enables parents to fully experience what it is like to have two homes, which often increases their empathy for and patience with their children.
- Nesting can help a family conserve financial resources for a period of time in order to build up savings that would allow one parent to afford to lease or purchase another home.
- Nesting can help parents practice single-parenting for an initial phase of separation while remaining based in the original family home.
- Nesting can allow parents separate, independent time during a divorce process which in turn can decrease conflict and lower family stress.
- Rotating in and out of a home is stressful for people – adults, as well as children.
- Nesting requires obtaining an additional place for each parent to stay when they are not in the home and this can be challenging if money is tight.
- Nesting requires cooperation and communication. During an initial separation and throughout a divorce process, this can be difficult for parents. Therefore, nesting can create new conflicts rather than decrease old conflict.
- If parents share the outside dwelling where they will stay when not in the home, that sharing requires cooperation and consideration and parents sometimes have difficulty behaving well during a divorce.
Nesting: Tips for Success
- Talk through the pros and cons with care. If you need the help of a neutral professional, find a mental health professional or attorney mediator who can provide a safe environment for you to discuss the idea of nesting.
- Think carefully about whether you want to/are able to share the alternate dwelling, or whether it would be better to arrange for each parent to have their own space.
- Create a clear schedule for the rotation, including transition times in and out of the house. Again – if you need the help of a divorce professional, seek one out to assist you in creating a child-focused plan.
- Create a list of shared expectations about sharing the home(s). For example, will the parent who is rotating IN buy their own groceries for their time in the home, or will the parent who is rotating OUT make sure to leave a well- stocked fridge? Will parents share the use of the master bedroom, or will one parent use a second bedroom when in the house? Can both parents commit to leaving the house neat and tidy when they depart to avoid conflict and resentment?
- Create a clear agreement about who will pay for what and which bank accounts or other resources will be used to pay for both the family home and the alternate dwelling. Write it down – perhaps with the help of a trained mediator.
- I strongly recommend that when nesting, parents refrain from bringing any romantic partner to the home. Introducing a new significant other in the home can create distress and confusion for the children, and can raise tensions between parents. Nesting is most successful when it serves as a stress-relieving phase that comes before a more permanent separation that will allow more autonomy for each parent. If parents plan to nest for more than six months, they should consider whether they can realistically keep a new romantic partner out of the house for a year. If that feels impossible, it may make more sense to nest for a short period, or not at all. Give your children space to adapt to the parental separation prior to bringing a new person into their lives.
NOTE: Bad idea in general to introduce children to someone who is, in fact, a romantic partner, by telling the kids the person is a friend or colleague. Kids can pick up the vibes, and lying to them is never wise.
- Agree at the start that parents will re-evaluate how nesting is working every month. If ONE parent decides the arrangement is not working well, begin making alternate plans immediately. Nesting only works if both parents accept it, and support it for an agreed upon period of time.
Nesting: Final Note
Ending a relationship and transitioning to a separation generally means there is loss involved – sometimes huge, traumatic losses, and sometimes more mundane, but challenging losses.
Nesting, as with all aspects of separation and divorce, will be protective of children, and beneficial for parents only if both parents do their best to behave kindly, patiently, and cooperatively. This is really hard during a separation.
Sometimes one parent is brokenhearted, while the other has already emotionally disappeared. Before deciding to nest, take a look inside yourself, and make a careful decision about whether nesting is emotionally healthy for you. If you fear it will prolong the pain, deepen the trauma, create false expectations, or sustain ongoing conflict and fighting – DON’T NEST.
If, on the other hand, nesting feels like a comfortable, and less challenging initial phase of adjustment and adaptation, and you feel you and your co-parent are pretty good at treating each other well and talking through troubles, then nesting may offer you and your children some worthwhile benefits to consider.
Good luck and kind wishes.