Ten years after getting divorced
We all have a vision for how our lives will unfold. Some things we hope for, others we don’t dare believe will be possible.
Statistical odds may tell us that things are likely or unlikely. It often makes little difference to whether we embrace them as possibilities or not.
Take the lottery — many of us play occasionally and dream what we might do if we won. But few buy a ticket with serious expectations of winning the jackpot given the odds (1 in 45 million for the UK National Lottery).
Most acknowledge the inherent risk and uncertainty of life, but few contemplate the chances that they’ll be robbed in the course of a year (1 in 100).
When we contemplate our mortality, most picture dying of old age in the distant future. This feels more comfortable than imagining we’ll die of cancer; a 1 in 7 chance if we’re unlucky enough to contract it — in itself a 1 in 2 chance.
It’s generally more comfortable to exist in blissful ignorance of such statistics.
And so it was when I got married for the first time — I ignored the fact that around 42% of UK marriages end in divorce.
I ignored the same statistic again when I married the second time around.
Just before my 30th birthday it was clear that my first marriage was over. There had been no single catastrophic incident — we’d just got together too young. I was determined that my kids from that relationship (then 3 and 7) wouldn’t be among the 30% of children of divorce who lose contact with their father in the years that follow.
We parted amicably and resolved jointly that while our relationship with each other was over, we both had a role to fill in raising our daughters.
It hasn’t always been easy or eternally convivial between us, but come what may we’ve honoured that commitment. Our girls are now 16 and 20.
After parting it took time to get through the healing and to process the split. As amicable as our parting had been, there was still hurt and anger on both sides. Our daughters were young and adaptable but were still upset and confused by the changes to their little lives.
Eventually we were back on our feet emotionally and financially and put in place a structure that would bring our co-operative intentions into reality.
We lived in separate homes close to the girls’ school, and they’d move between us for one week at a time. The arrangement gave us equal opportunities to raise the girls, and equal time to ourselves to build our new lives and to get our careers on track. Neither of us had to do all the hard work and neither claimed all the fun-times.
It reaffirmed for us all that life could continue as a family, albeit an unconventional one.
There were challenges of course.
As the years passed, the girls were growing dissatisfied with life spread between two homes, the differences between their own lives and their friends’ becoming ever more obvious. Clothes, cosmetics, gadgets and chargers were dragged back and forth between homes, often forgotten and occasionally lost in transit.
My ex and I had by now met and married other people, each making new homes with our spouses some distance from where we lived during the weeks with our kids.
It was around this time that my ex first floated the idea of so-called ‘Bird Nest Co-parenting’.
The premise of nesting is that instead of the kids of divorce moving between their parents’ homes, they remain in one place and their parents come and go — living in as alternating custodial parents around a structured schedule.
I was initially skeptical.
How would my wife feel about me notionally sharing a home with my ex?
How would the kids take it?
What might our wider family and friends think about it?
How would I feel with greater insight into my ex-wife’s life, and with her afforded closer scrutiny of mine?
It struck me that most of my objections came from concerns for my own comfort, and worries about the opinions of others — very little stemmed from whether it was the right arrangement for my kids.
Through this alternate lens it suddenly seemed like the obvious and sensible choice.
Bird nesting puts the kids’ needs and preferences to the fore, recognising that they didn’t chose to divorce — Why should they be the ones who have to compromise in how they live?
It puts the onus on the parents to make adjustments and compromises in their lives, putting the kids’ needs first.
We consulted with our daughters. Now teenagers, the prospect of not having to repeatedly pack up their possessions to move back and forth between homes was sufficiently appealing alone.
We each disposed of our homes, and found a three-bed apartment that would serve as the ‘nest’. It was jointly and equally funded and decorated and equipped as the girls’ home first and foremost. The parents’ bedroom was equipped like a hotel room with space for us each to store bedding and other essentials for use during our weeks.
The system worked precisely because the rules and principles around it were simple and minimal.
- We respect each others privacy and don’t use it as a means to pry or spy. When it’s her week, it’s her home. I don’t turn up unannounced or let myself in to make a coffee. She does the same.
- The girls enjoy the consistency of remaining in one home. They still abide by my ways of doing things when I’m the parent in residence, and hers when she’s in charge. We switch over on a Monday.
- We fund the rent and bills equally, bringing our own groceries for our stay. We both contribute to the cost of cleaning products and both use them to keep the place clean and tidy (occasionally with begrudging assistance from the kids).
We’ve seen no need to make it more complex than that. We’re both using the same home to raise our kids but we don’t actually live there together.
I realise it won’t suit everyone. Nesting won’t be viable for all divorced families.
It isn’t an option where the marriage has dissolved for reasons of abuse or neglect between the couple or towards the kids.
It won’t work when the parents aren’t willing or able to put aside their differences for the benefit of the kids. It requires co-operation, consideration and mutual respect if it has a chance of working.
It doesn’t mean you have to get along socially or that you even have to see your ex either— we get along fine, but we rarely meet face-to-face unless we’ve planned to.
It does mean that you have to be able to trust that your ex won’t leave you with half the bills or trash your possessions in revenge for a past misdemeanour. You have to feel comfortable with them using the home as they see fit when they’re in residence, just as you will.
We’re also conscious that nesting requires having the money to make it work too. Neither of us is wealthy, but we’ve chosen to make this a priority in our lives.
Nesting actually offered us each a financial saving. By pooling our resources it meant that we were each funding 1.5 homes rather than 2 each. Nonetheless, it’s a privileged position.
Critical to our success has been the understanding and accommodating nature of our new spouses. Nesting wouldn’t have worked if my new wife weren’t comfortable and accepting of the arrangement. The same is true for my ex-wife’s new husband.
As with anything unconventional, there will be naysayers on hand to offer opinions, criticism and scorn — we’ve certainly faced a few of those, most notably when we were interviewed by a national newspaper who offered our example as a public interest story.
Criticisms focused on how we were driven by ulterior motives (we weren’t) and how it must be nice to do such things when you’re wealthy (we aren’t).
It’s simply a means of giving our kids the best life possible, while simultaneously allowing each of us to live our best lives too.
My fears as an imminently divorced father, that I’d lose my relationship with my daughters have proven unfounded — I am eternally thankful for that.
It’s partly down to the relationship I have with my ex and the amicability with which we parted. But it’s also down to the work we’ve put into how we’ve chosen to raise our kids after divorcing.
It hasn’t always been easy nor endlessly happy — we’ve had as many down times as happy ones. But crucially I don’t feel like we’ve done any worse a job of raising our family than we could have done through staying together. Our daughters are happy, fulfilled, smart and sensitive, but then I’m biased — I would say that.
We only get one life. While romantic relationships fail, the parenting role endures for all time. Parents in divorcing families have the choice to separate the failing of their relationship from how they choose to live going forwards. They can have a happy new life, but still be a good parent after divorce. It just requires a bit of forethought and compromise.
Not all splits will be amicable, but all parents should feel compelled to consider how they can best raise their kids in a loving, happy and supportive way.
With this ethos adopted they might be surprised at what can be achieved for the benefit of all involved.