In the UK we are beginning to hear more about a concept known as ‘Bird’s Nest Parenting’. This practice became popular in the US and in Australia, where it has also been called ‘satellite parenting’, and it’s thought to originate from a US custody hearing in 2000. In the court case, a Virginia judge ruled that a divorcing couple’s two children should stay in the family home, and the parents should take it in turns to look after them.
Bird’s Nest Parenting is also creeping into TV dramas and pop culture, as The Telegraph noted earlier this year.
What is Bird’s Nest Parenting?
Bird’s Nest Parenting is an arrangement where the children remain in the family home after their parents have split up. Mum and Dad each take turns in living with them, and the parents move between the home and their own separate accommodation.
The belief is that the children will experience less disruption and anxiety if they stay in the family home. In practice, Mum and Dad might make an arrangement to stay in the house on alternate weeks. During this period, the resident parent provides all the care to their children.
Advocates of this method view the arrangement as a tool that can provide more stability to the children. In theory, the children do not have the stress of living in two places, moving their stuff around and perhaps getting upset. The goal of a Bird’s Nest Agreement is to cause less stress; less stress means the children will be less affected by their parents separation. This may be true up to a point. While there are clear advantages in a Bird’s Nest Agreement, there are also disadvantages that need to be examined.
The cons are that it can be very hard for the adults to find closure in their own relationship when they continue to inhabit space that was once a shared home. This often causes stress and animosity. This is distress the children will pick up on.
There are also temptations to use the ex-partner’s possessions as if they were still together. This usually causes resentment, and the children may become unintentional pawns. They can often be questioned by the other parent: ‘Did Mum or Dad do this or that’ or ‘Did Mum or Dad use this or that’. This is not intended to harm their children, but it does.
A further problem is that as the children are always present in the home they may develop a ‘pseudo adult’ role. This means they may assume more responsibility for the running of the house than they should. This may also include keeping the adults informed about the other partner’s movements. This loads the stress that the agreement was supposed to prevent. Extra distress may lead to emotional difficulties.
Should You Try Bird’s Nest Parenting?
Bird’s Nest Parenting may have a benefit in the early days after a separation – in the short term, it may prevent the children from experiencing too much upheaval. Children do need time to adjust to their parents’ separation.
In the longer term, it may be more beneficial for children to spend time with both parents in separate houses, having their own room and cherished items in each house. Children will adapt to this well, and usually without psychological difficulty.
The simple fact is: most children cope well after their parent’s separation. What distinguishes the copers from the children who feel acute distress is this: the children who fare well are the ones whose parents are able to put aside their own feelings of hate and resentment towards their former partner.
Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist . Dr Tizzard works with adults, children and families and is an experienced expert witness in criminal and family law. www.ctpsy.co.uk