Divorce is an unfortunate reality for countless families. The arrangements that parents make to ease the transition for their children varies greatly from one household to the next. While the traditional setup has always been for the children to go back and forth between two homes (depending on the custody agreement), some couples who are splitting up are trying something new: nesting.
Nesting is the situation where the children stay in the family home and the parents are the ones to move in and out. The arrangement forces the parents to adapt to the big change, rather than putting the children in a situation where they have two homes, two sets of toys, etc. But can such a thing work, realistically?
For some, nesting can work quite well. Attorney Anne P. Mitchell had this to say in a Washington Post article about her own experience:
As her marriage broke down, she asked her husband not to leave but to stay in the house and sleep in different bedrooms.
“This worked very well, we were still able to co-parent very civilly, even supportively, we just weren’t husband and wife anymore,” she said.
Once her husband moved out of state, they started to practice nesting full time. Mitchell’s husband would fly in each weekend and she would move out. Mitchell believes that many parents allow their negative feelings about their ex-partner to affect the decisions they make post-divorce and that nesting can be a way to prioritize the children’s needs first.
But there are logistical concerns that cannot be overlooked when it comes to nesting. The finances necessary to maintain three homes can be impossible for many. And maintaining the family home can wreak havoc when it comes to alimony, and even legal separation. (In some states, couples might not be considered separated if they are both living under the same roof, even if it is at different times.) There are also taxes to consider. Finally, the parents must be on their best behavior, like not leaving a mess for the other parent, and purchasing their fair share of clothes and food for the kids while they are occupying the space. This can be difficult when there are sour feelings between the exes.
And, of course, there are the issues of coping with the divorce itself that must not be ignored, specifically attachment and the grief process. Psychotherapist Laura England “believes the consistency that nesting fans are advocating is not necessarily based on the environment the child lives in but instead on the attachment the child has to the parent.” She had this to say:
“We are wired for struggle and in those moments reaching out to loved ones who support us and validate us is what creates resilience. Not the physical environment in which we live in,” she said.
Although it is very hard for parents to see their children emotionally impacted by their split, England warns that grief is a natural process and children will need to work through it rather than avoid it.
“I am hesitant about the intention of nesting if it is used as a way to disguise or control the natural normal feelings of grief, such as loss, sadness and anger, that come with a divorce,” she said. She worries that nesting could be an excuse by some to control and micromanage children’s reactions to the end of their parents’ marriage.
England is also concerned that nesting doesn’t allow newly divorced people to leave their past behind. “Nesting may get in the way of the couple’s ability to grieve and move on, which would also be unhealthy for a child to witness,” she said.