If you’ve ever considered bird nesting or just want to watch a TV show representing divorced family life, check out the ABC comedy Splitting Up Together!
If you’ve ever considered bird nesting with your ex following divorce, then Splitting Up Together on ABC is the “exhibit A” you need to consult to help wrap your mind around that concept! The show, which debuted this March under the care of producer, Ellen DeGeneres, is an American adaptation of a Danish TV show and follows the story of Lena and Martin (played by Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson), parents of three young children.
For those of you not familiar with bird nesting, it is the practice of continuing to share a home with one’s ex after divorce. Unlike typical divorces where the children alternate between homes, in this situation, the kids remain in their home, and the parents rotate in and out. The children never have to vacate their own bedroom or familiar surroundings and only go without the presence of one parent at-a-time, according to their visitation plan.
Many of us couldn’t imagine continuing to be in that close of proximity to the one we divorced, yet many child development experts praise bird nesting as a creative solution to co-parenting because it causes the least disruption to the children when their parents can no longer be married. It may be a child-centric dream, but it’s hard to imagine the logistics of it for most situations.
In the case of Lena and Martin, they happen to have a garage which has been mostly finished into an apartment. It lacks in air conditioning and some of the comforts of the main home; but, allows the adults to have a place to live when it’s not their turn with the children.
For divorced people like the Splitting Up Together duo who are fortunate enough to have a guest house, finished basement, or move-in ready garage, it’s not a bad idea.
What about the rest of us?
Very few of us could afford to rent a second residence for our off week, whether shared with our ex or not while continuing to contribute to the rent or mortgage of the family home. Even fewer could afford to maintain two separate living quarters for our time away from the kids. Personally, I would have a hard time coming “home” to my ex’s bachelor pad after he’s had a week of sexcapades and pizza binging. He wouldn’t help maintain our home while we were married, so I certainly wouldn’t expect him to do so now, and I’m no longer game for picking up his pizza boxes and dirty socks!
Lena and Martin had ground rules in place about passing off each living area to the other, so we don’t see too much strife between them about messes and so on; however, some of the typical co-parenting frustrations exist such as inconsistencies between the two about chores and responsibilities of the children, discipline, and so on. The close proximity of their living quarters also creates uncertainty about when to involve the other about such things as a child’s fever or sensitive puberty issues.
Is it ever okay to just barge in the family home on your week off to ask a question or share a concern or bother them on their week off? What if she has a date staying over? What if he just wants to be trusted to take care of a situation himself? Some of these questions are the same for us no matter what our visitation arrangement, I, for one, like to think of myself as “on duty” whether my kids are with me or not; yet, I respect the fact that my ex has the right to individual time with the kids, just as I do!
One thing that becomes very clear about bird nesting from watching the show is the need for boundaries. In many cases, we need to know when to be flexible (such as when the heat of summer hit and the garage was no longer habitable, prompting the characters to agree to share the main house for the summer). In many other circumstances, it becomes necessary to define what is and is not acceptable to maintain peace, privacy, and the need for each member of the partnership to heal and begin to form their own identity as a single person.
Is bird nesting realistic?
I have always contended that once the co-parents begin to develop other serious relationships, the arrangement will become stickier. How many of our dates would want to bounce in and out of our two residences, and will new partners be allowed to stay in the main home with the kids? This situation would be awkward, at best, and something that would have to be carefully planned through. What happens if one of the parents eventually remarries and wants to reside with their new spouse full time? Will nesting even be a possibility anymore?
New relationships and dating are likely to be some of the most contentious issues faced by bird nesters, as demonstrated by Lena and Martin. Martin becomes jealous after witnessing a sexual encounter between his former wife and a new partner, and Lena lets her mind go wild with speculation after seeing a female regularly visit her ex in the garage. Nesting turns up the volume on feelings of jealousy or possible unresolved romantic feelings when dates take place in one’s own property instead of across town!
I don’t know any divorced folks co-hosting pina colada parties in the backyard, but maybe I missed my chance at the fun by not bird nesting. Time will only tell how well Lena and Martin weather the challenges of divorce, co-parenting, and bird nesting while continuing to shack up together. While bird nesting is something to consider, it is full of unique challenges that most co-parents do not have to overcome; therefore, anyone considering it has a lot to talk about in order to make it work!
Splitting Up Together makes post-divorce parenting look rather easy compared to what I know of most situations.
Perhaps they’re more evolved as co-parents, but I suspect that some Hollywood magic and the fact that this couple probably just needed marriage counseling is what makes it work so well for them. The removal of some of the stress and expectations of married life seems to have created a newfound sense of appreciation for one another and regret for the loss of the marriage. There are some genuine issues that need to be worked through, but I have to wonder if divorce was ever their answer?
I have respect for anyone who can make nesting work, which is why I regret to say that, in my own life, I feel it would be a life sentence of dealing with the same issues that plagued my marriage and drove us to divorce. I predict that, in my own life, bird nesting would equate to an eternal prison of cleaning up after someone I can no longer stand and getting horrible sleep in a garage where I cuddle up to his power tools and the lawnmower. No thanks.
My personal jury is still out on the viability of bird nesting, but this show may change my mind on that as I watch the characters play out many more post-divorce situations. Meanwhile, I will continue to watch simply because it’s refreshing to see a representation of a divorced family and all the issues we go through!