No More Mom’s House and Dad’s House
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New divorce trend has kids staying in the house while Mom and Dad go back and forth
“Why do we have to have two houses?” is a question my kids have asked me dozens of times over the past decade since my ex-husband and I split up. In other words, they can’t stand going back and forth between the two houses just because my ex and I decided we didn’t want to live together any longer.
What don’t they like about having two houses? If they forget something at one of our houses, they feel frustrated and stressed. If there are nights when they want to be at my house (or my ex’s house) for whatever reason, they can’t be because of the schedule. And lastly, they just want to live in one house like “normal kids.”
Traditionally, it is presumed that when a couple gets divorced, Mom and Dad either sell the house and live in separate places, or one person stays in the house and the other gets his or her own place. Thus begins a parenting time schedule, when kids go back and forth between houses.
But there is a new trend out in the divorce world that is probably going to please a lot of kids. It’s called “nesting,” and here’s how it works: Kids get to live in the marital home seven days a week, while Mom and Dad are the ones going back and forth to the house for visitation. The parents then find another residence at which they live when they are not with the kids.
I have often thought about this scenario, long before I heard people were actually doing it. It seems like a very unselfish way of life, where the kids’ best interests come first. That said, there are many challenges that go with nesting, both emotional and financial.
Rachel Moore, a Chicago-based attorney and divorce mediator, says she completely agrees with the nesting philosophy and knows couples who have nested; however, it is usually a short-term situation with an end date.
“I know people who have done it just until the divorce was final or until their last child graduated from high school, or in cases when the real estate market was bad and they couldn’t sell their home,” says Moore, who has practiced divorce law and other types of civil litigation since 1999, and who has been a divorce mediator for four years.
So, can a long-term nesting situation really work? Moore says yes but that it takes a level of trust and willingness to share a space with your ex, and that a huge component to a successful nesting situation lies in effective communication between the divorced couple.
“You have to be comfortable enough with your ex that little things aren’t going to upset you, like not loading the dishwasher or leaving clothes on the floor,” she says. “You also have to be emotionally comfortable sharing a space with your ex. Will you feel awkward or uncomfortable? Is it too sad for you? Ask yourself if this is really a good idea.”
The financial aspect of nesting also has to be taken into account. In many cases, the marital home is sold in a divorce because neither partner can afford the mortgage without the other. Nesting means keeping the home and adding two other, smaller homes—a financial burden that many people cannot afford.
With those potential obstacles in mind, Moore says nesting, if doable, really has its benefits when it comes to the kids. These benefits include not having to pack suitcases and bring things from house to house, not having to worry about forgetting things at each parent’s house, one less disruption resulting from the divorce, and having the security of living in a familiar place.
When asked if there are any drawbacks to nesting, Moore says that for the parents, it might inhibit or hinder the start of a new romantic relationship. For the kids, it might give them a sense of false hope—that Mom and Dad might get back together.
Cassandra Friedman is a Chicago-based therapist who has a niche in treating adolescents and young adults. Friedman calls nesting a “refreshing addition” but warns that from the get-go, parents need to make the goals of nesting crystal clear.
“I would stress the great benefit of being able to have their personal items all in one place, as well as not having to disrupt their social life,” says Friedman, who has been in practice for 35 years. “They should be told that the plan will allow for less stress, emotionally and physically, but that it is not for the intention of Mom and Dad getting back together.”
If I could go back 10 years (the summer my ex moved out), I would consider a nesting situation. But one big reason I see for couples opting out of a nesting situation is that anger and resentment are at their highest levels at the beginning of a divorce, which is the time couples are looking for new living arrangements. By the time a couple is semiamicable, they have already either sold the house or one person has a new home. In other words, a couple might consider nesting after some time has gone by and some of the negative feelings fade, but by then it’s too late.
All that said, I commend any couple who is willing to give this new trend a try. It can’t be easy, since, ironically, nesting means you are forced to live in a house that contains constant reminders of your ex—the person you are legally trying to get away from. What offsets that downside? The children you created together. And remember, wherever you live, they are constant reminders!
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Jackie Pilossoph, ESME’s Divorce Resource Guide, is the creator of Divorced Girl Smiling, a website that helps men and women facing divorce. She is also a weekly Huffington Post divorce blogger; the writer of a weekly column, “Love Essentially,” for the Chicago Tribune’s Pioneer Press; and a freelance corporate and business content writer. Pilossoph holds a master’s degree in journalism. She lives in Chicago with her two children. Oh, and she’s divorced.