It’s a Tuesday night — my off-duty parenting night when my ex takes over and I’m on my own. But unlike most families who share custody with an ex-spouse, that doesn’t mean he’s on his way over to pick up the kids and take them to his place. In fact, the kids aren’t go anywhere at all. Instead, I’m packing my bag, tossing in my running shoes, some clothes, and a laptop, and heading out of the house for the night.
I’m going to an apartment about a mile up the road that my husband and I share — the same way we share our family home.
The practice is called “bird nesting,” and as unconventional as it sounds, it’s actually becoming increasingly popular among separated and divorced couples with kids.
Several months ago, when my husband suggested we try swapping in and out of our house, I didn’t like the idea. I thought it would be too hard, feel too unsettling. “How can I move on with my life when I’m constantly running back and forth?” I asked him. “How can you?”
To me, it seemed logical for one of us to get a new home for the kids so that we could all begin to heal and process our new arrangement. By then, my husband had been sleeping in the basement for a good six months, and while we had told the kids we were separating, I’m not sure how real it felt with us all still living in the same house. I was more than ready for two separate living spaces.
Each day, my ex and I would search through rental listings, in hopes of finding something we could afford. But when we did the math, we just couldn’t imagine how to make it work financially. We had already been struggling to pay our bills on time with two incomes. Having to pay for a second three-bedroom home didn’t seem like something we could manage.
All the while, tensions were running high in our home. We’d been living under the same roof while “separated” for months. Something had to give.
Then, a few months ago, I posted in my neighborhood Facebook group asking if anyone had leads on a cheap, one-bedroom apartment. Less than an hour later, someone replied: There was a small basement apartment just up the road from me that was super affordable and included utilities.
The next day, we all went to look at it as a family. I wanted the kids to know where we’d each be on our nights off. It wasn’t too long after that we signed a six-month lease.
We’ve been at this bird nesting thing for a few months now, and I’ll admit, there are still a few kinks.
It’s not easy to pack up a bag every few days and try to feel at peace in another living space, whether it’s coming back home or back to the apartment. It also kind of sucks to be coping with all the emotions of separating, while simultaneously doing all this swapping. It feels strange to sleep in a different bed every couple of nights and know that come morning, I’ll be packing my bag once again and heading back. And it’s hard to be on with the kids for three days straight without help, then isolated in a near-empty apartment.
Still, there are the benefits. For starters, it’s way cheaper than having two homes that can accommodate kids. But more importantly, my kids don’t have the stress of moving in and out of their family home. Instead, that burden falls on me and their dad.
The fact is, uncomfortable as it can be at times, the arrangement isn’t forever — in all likelihood, it’s only for a few more months. And right now, it’s working for us.
Because it’s not my kids who made this choice; it was me and my husband. So yes, for the time being, we’re willing to be inconvenienced. It’s about as gentle a transition for our kids as we can imagine, so even though it’s not ideal, that alone makes it feel worth it.
If I’m being honest, I don’t love sharing two living spaces with my ex. The truth is, I’m ready to revamp my home, paint the walls, buy a new comforter and some throw pillows. I want to hang new pictures on the wall and buy my own records and take up all the space in the closet and the dresser.
I want to do all the things that I know will help me feel liberated in making a fresh start; like I’m creating a space that feels truly mine.
But those things will have to wait, and I’m learning to get zen with it. I’m recognizing that the slow burn of it all is necessary, even though patience has never been my strong suit.
If I can find my footing now, even while I’m shuttling between homes, then I know I can find it anywhere. I’m figuring out how to be alone in this world again and it really doesn’t matter what living space I’m in when I do it. Getting to know myself again — as me, and just not as one part of a unit — is a lot harder and more jarring than I expected. But more often than not I’m finding myself on my own two feet. And mostly, I’m proud to be there — whether I’m “home” or not.