Birdnesting: the co-parenting trend where divorced parents rotate homes and the kids stay put

This new form of co-parenting provides the kids with one stable home

Today's expression: Move on
Explore more: Lesson #454
March 28, 2022:

“Birdnesting” is a co-parenting trend where the kids of divorced or separated parents stay in the same home they had always lived in, and the parents take turns staying in the home with them. The arrangement is meant to give kids a more stable home environment. But is birdnesting really the best setup for the kids, or the parents? Plus, learn “move on.”

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Today we’ll talk about the co-parenting trend “birdnesting”

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, it’s Jeff and this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with current events and trending topics. JR is the producer and he has uploaded the full lesson to PlainEnglish.com/454.

Coming up today: Birdnesting, the trend that turns co-parenting upside down. In this case, the kids of divorced parents stay in one home and it’s the parents who shuttle from place to place. The English expression we’ll review today is the phrasal verb “move on,” and we have a quote of the week. Ready? Let’s get started.

Birdnesting: the pros and cons

Co-parenting—where divorced or separated parents share parenting duties—is a relatively new phenomenon. In decades past, if a couple were separated or divorced, one member of the couple would have gotten custody of the children. The other might have gotten visitation rights, but no real parenting responsibilities.

In recent decades, though, divorced parents have begun to share parenting duties, sometimes half and half . This trend has been aided by technology, flexible work, and a greater appreciation of the value to children of having two parents active in their lives. In last Thursday’s lesson, you heard that more and more couples are using arbitration and other lower-cost options to make divorces less acrimonious on each other .

Many divorcing couples are also looking to make the process less hard on children. And one trend is spreading from Europe to the U.S. It’s called “birdnesting.” The most common way to share parenting duties is for kids to alternate between living with their mother and their father. But in a “birdnesting” arrangement, it’s the parents to move between houses, and the kids stay where they are.

It’s called “birdnesting” because in a bird’s nest, the newly hatched chicks stay in the nest, while the parents alternate between staying in the nest and going out to look for food, so that there’s one bird in the nest at all times.

In a birdnesting custody arrangement, the children continue to live full time in the same home they had always lived in. The parents then get a second home. This is usually a small apartment nearby, but there are several options. They could each get their own small apartments or they could convert a part of the family home, like a garage, into a separate space. Regardless of how they do it, the parent with custody then stays in the house with the children, while the other parent stays in the separate apartment. Then, they simply switch places on the days when the other parent has custody.

The benefit to children is that, in the months after a divorce, they don’t also have to deal with the disruption of getting used to one, or even two new homes; they don’t have to change schools; and they still get access to both parents.

There are benefits to parents, too. This is often more cost-effective than selling the family house in a rush. It also reduces or delays the expense of setting up a second full household, with a second full set of furniture and rooms for the kids. This arrangement cuts down on transportation time, too, and lets parents get used to the logistics of sharing custody.

The logistics make sense. But is this arrangement good for kids emotionally—or, for that matter, is it good for the parents’ emotions? Experts are divided.

On the one hand, divorce is a lot to process. For kids, there are so many disruptions all at once . A birdnesting arrangement means that they don’t need to also handle a lot of external disruptions at the same time. They stay in the same rooms they’ve always had, they don’t have to change schools, they can see their friends like always. They can work through the emotions of the divorce without also having to handle a lot of other disruptions in their lives. Birdnesting slows down the process of rapid change, allowing kids to adapt at a healthy pace.

But this is a slippery slope . In a divorce, kids often hold out hope that their parents will get back together. Some family experts think that a birdnesting situation sends the wrong message to kids that the change isn’t real or isn’t permanent. After all, the kids are seeing both their parents in the same house as always. It can leave kids in a state of suspended animation, where they’re sheltered from a difficult situation. It would be better, some experts say, for the kids to handle the changes all at once.

And in a birdnesting situation, both parents are still sharing a home (or two), just not at the same time. For the parents, neither location can truly feel like their own space, making it harder for them to move on . Sharing homes can also be rife with conflict. How do they manage shared expenses and household duties like grocery shopping, cleaning, and household maintenance? What happens when one or both parents find new partners?

That’s why even advocates of birdnesting say this should only be a temporary arrangement, a few months, or a year at most. And for this to work, both sides have to be willing and able to continue to communicate and work together.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of long-term studies to determine whether this is better than a typical co-parenting arrangement. The trend has been popular in Sweden for decades and has been growing in popularity in America, Australia, and other parts of Europe. Celebrity couples have been public about their “nesting” arrangements, and this style of co-parenting was even featured in the popular TV series “Billions” and in “Splitting Up Together.”

An enlightened way of thinking

Not being a parent—and not having been part of a divorced family—I can’t say from personal experience whether this would be a good idea or not. But I think this is something to consider for the short term—maybe until the end of a school year or something.

This was a little bit of a different topic for us, for these two lessons about parenting. I’m not really plugged into parenting issues, as you may have guessed. But I saw some articles about this topic, both on both “amicable divorce” and this one about birdnesting, and I thought this is just an enlightened way to think about a separation, which is otherwise a difficult situation.

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Expression: Move on