- Nesting is an arrangement that keeps the children in the home while the parents rotate on and off duty according to a schedule.
- One goal of nesting is to give you and your spouse a break from each other, minimizing contact, so that any fighting can stop.
- The most important way to prevent pitfalls is to have a comprehensive, written agreement.
Nesting or birdnesting is an arrangement that keeps the children in the home while the parents rotate on and off duty, according to a documented, agreed-upon schedule. The benefits of nesting during separation or divorce, for both children and parents, are many. Some families continue to nest for months or years after the divorce is finished.
However, the pitfalls of nesting are often unanticipated problems that may cause a crisis in the nesting plan. So it’s important to prepare for the potential pitfalls with an agreement about how you’ll manage if (or when) problems arise so that the nesting isn’t derailed. Here are some of the common pitfalls, and how to avoid them.
Pitfall 1: Fighting
You and your spouse continue to fight. Perhaps arguing has become habitual in your relationship, with sniping, criticism, and blame that you haven’t been able to control. Parental conflict is the biggest cause of damage to children. One goal of nesting is to give you and your spouse a break from each other, minimizing contact, so that the fighting can stop. If the conflict continues, your nesting arrangement will probably unravel.
What you can do
- Agree to communicate only in writing, via email, or using online services, such as Our Family Wizard, unless there is an emergency.
- Commit to using the BIFF standard in all written correspondence: Check to see that your message is Brief, Informative (neutral), Firm (clear), and Friendly. Do this before you hit “send.” If you are upset, wait a few hours or a day before you send it.
- Arrange the transitions to minimize face-to-face contact with each other. For example, a parent goes off duty after dropping the children at school, and the other parent picks them up after school. Refrain from any discussion of contentious or substantive issues when you arrive at the home for the transition. Stick to “Have a nice day.”
- Work with a mediator or co-parenting counselor to help resolve disagreements.
- Seek support from family, friends, or a therapist to help you regain a sense of calm or to manage your anger. Be especially careful to shield your children from your emotions about their other parent.
Pitfall 2: New Relationships
You and/or your spouse bring a new relationship into the home with the children. Unless you have made a clear agreement about dating and new relationships, this will probably cause a meltdown in your nesting arrangement. Not only are your children not yet ready to accept a new relationship, but your spouse will also likely have a very strong reaction.
What you can do
- Include agreements about dating and new relationships in your written nesting agreement.
- Keep your social life, especially dating, to your off-duty time.
- Agree on a process and timeline for introducing children to a new relationship, and let your ex know in advance before introducing your children.
- Most therapists agree that you should wait 9 to 12 months after your relationship has become a committed relationship before introducing your children. This reduces the risk of another loss should your relationship end. It also gives your kids time to adjust to the new schedule, solo parents, and all the other changes in their family and lives.
Pitfall 3: Not Sharing Information About the Children
If you and your co-parent don’t share information about the children, this will cause stress for the children and resentment for you. While you may have difficulty communicating, basic information about the children will help them feel that they have two parents cooperating for their benefit. The transitions from one parent to the other will feel more seamless when parents are caught up on the children’s health, school projects, or any other current child-related issue. Parents who prefer a “parallel parenting” plan may withhold important information from the other parent because they want zero contact or cooperation. While nesting, this can cause serious problems.
What you can do
- Spell out how and when you will provide information about the kids to your co-parent. Ideally, this should happen just before the parents rotate off duty.
- Use a template, form, or checklist that includes topics such as health, eating, sleeping, hygiene, behavior, mood, schoolwork, sibling relationships, other concerns, scheduling changes, and any issues relating to the home.
Pitfall 4: Removing Items From the Home
One parent unilaterally moves or removes things from the home. Your marital settlement agreement is not yet done, but you (or your spouse) may feel that some of the personal property at the home belongs to you, so you remove it from the home. You may remove documents or other materials that will be needed in divorce proceedings. You may also snoop in and among your co-parent’s things looking for “evidence” of bad behavior, or you may decide to hide personal property or documents.
What you can do
- Commit to leaving everything in the home untouched until you have made written agreements about personal property.
- Dedicate some private or personal space for each other. If you have computers in the home, password-protect them.
- Agree to leave all documents in the home.
The most important way to prevent pitfalls is to have a comprehensive, written agreement. The Parent’s Guide to Birdnesting provides detailed information on how to create this agreement. Since it is impossible to predict every pitfall that may come up as you nest, part of the agreement should include how you will handle any that arise. This may include mediation, co-parenting counseling, or other processes. With some effort, you will be able to turn the “pitfall” into a “pothole” you can avoid as you navigate your way around the bumps on your nesting journey.
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2023
Buscho, A., (2020). The Parent's Guide to Birdnesting: A Child-Centered Solution to Co-Parenting During Separation and Divorce, Simon and Schuster, Inc.