When I found myself in the midst of detangling my marriage, I was struck by how fiercely I wanted to grab and retain a life that was familiar in some way. The disruption of what was mine was now lost. The fear of the unknown and the threat of loss was overwhelming. I knew that I wanted to understand and accept things on my own terms and my own time. I craved the ability to make choices for myself. Stability and constancy was my ally.
I could only imagine how my four young children were going to feel when they were faced with such radical changes to the only life they’d ever known. In an empathetic effort to try and provide our children some stability, my ex-husband and I discussed the concept of nesting.
“Nesting” conjures up a sweet picture of Disney characters with tweeting birds coming and going from a cozy nest. The reality is that it’s a family law term, and most family law practitioners advise against it due to the sacrifices and emotional strain on the parents.
In a nesting arrangement, the parents take turns living in the family home with the children. This allows the children to stay in their familiar environment. It’s not a common arrangement for several reasons, one of them being that it requires the parents to have a secondary place to stay—and many parents can’t afford or manage that. Nesting also demands the highest emotional maturity at a time when maturity can be precarious. However, if you and your co-parent partner are willing to make a vow of commitment to the arrangement—and you have the means to do it—here are some tips to success and making the most of your transition nesting time.
1. Set boundaries
Privacy is key. After a fresh breakup it is normal to be curious about the other’s life. This can be one of the greatest pitfalls to making nesting successful. Mutually agreeing to specific rooms or areas as off-limits or locked is a great way to avoid invasion of privacy before things take a negative turn.
2. Set a time limit
And stick to it. Remind your partner along the way that this is for a defined duration. If the nesting arrangement is going well as planned, it can lead to bonding or friendly co-parenting experiences. However, just because things are going well does not mean you have agreed to romance.
3. Respect the space
It doesn’t matter who owns the space, the goal is to provide a loving and safe environment for the children. Both partners should make an effort to have an environment that supports the other in being the best parent possible. Avoid tedious nagging by creating a checklist; Check in/Check out, as you would with a hotel.
4. Enjoy your time away
I was the primary resident in our nest. This can put unnecessary pressure on finding a place to land every other weekend. However, if you plan ahead, you may find friends and family who welcome your visit. When was the last time you were able to visit with your parents and not have the children around? I took this opportunity to rent a room from one of my single friends. It gave me a private safe haven that was my temporary escape. It brought joy and youthfulness back into my life as we briefly lived like college roommates: sleeping late, brunching, and catching up on dating. Married moms were envious of the time I had for myself!
5. Talk to the children
Talk to your children throughout the process. Nesting is ALL about the children. Never forget that you and your partner are striving for the best for your children. Any therapist will tell you that children can only absorb and understand so much information at one time. Nesting provides the opportunity for them to understand what divorce means to them. Talking throughout the nesting duration will ensure they understand the changes in an environment that is less chaotic and threatening.
At the end of a nesting process, children are much more likely to embrace the changes with a positive and adventurous attitude. Although sometimes difficult, it was very rewarding to see our children flourish despite the disruptions of divorce. When springtime came and our nesting time was over, the entire family was ready to leave this nest and rebuild new ones.
Kelly Green is a mother of four, and the author of Back in the Game: My Year of Dating Dangerously, scheduled for release in early 2016.