Why does it seem like so many couples divorce AFTER having kids? Aren’t kids supposed to keep a relationship together given raising kids is a team effort? Or are kids one of the reasons for tearing a relationship apart because they become the center of attention, thereby driving a wedge between each spouse?
Before having kids, my wife and I hardly ever fought. We’re always joking around and laughing at silly things. Every day we count our blessings that we get to work on an online business that leaves us untethered from an office. We were so free before having kids!
Having Kids Puts A Strain On Marriages
However, after having kids, the fights increased. We were both tired and cranky often. As a result, our patience worn thin. Having a kid is a whole different level of stress. Life is so easy being responsible for only ourselves. Sometimes I wonder what happens to those who are irresponsible and still have kids? I totally get why parent divorce after having kids now!
The good news is at least folks 25-39 are divorcing at a lower rate than in the past. In 2016, the median age at first marriage for men was 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women, about 3.5 years later for both sexes compared to 1990. More couples getting married today are college-educated as well compared to previous decades and research shows that college-educated adults have a lower rate of divorce.
Unfortunately, divorce rates have been climbing for those over age 40, especially amongst baby boomers. My couples are having children later due to work and finances. However, I have discovered there are some unexpected financial benefits of having kids. Further, as older parents, you might be able to spend a lot more time with your kids as well.
The Power Of Bird Nesting After A Divorce
Recently I met Jack, a dad of three who is going through a divorce. He and his wife just finished remodeling their home in the suburbs. The combination of remodeling stress, relocation stress, work stress, and a severe sickness with one of his kids became too much for them to handle.
As an outsider, it would seem like staying together would be the prudent move, but who knows what else may be going on behind the scenes, i.e. infidelity, cuckoldry, alcoholism, physical abuse, gambling, insecurity, constantly working late, etc. Certainly don’t believe everything you see on your carefully curated Facebook feed about everybody’s fabulous lives. Life is complicated.
After our third Moscow Mule, I asked Jack what’s the best strategy he’s heard of to make sure his kids grow up to be well-adjusted human beings in spite of the divorce. I know plenty of people who had to go to therapy for years to cope with their parents’ hatred of each other.
Two Places For Each Parent To Live
Jack responded, “The best thing we’ve done for our kids after my wife and I decided to separate is a thing called bird nesting. Basically, we rented a one bedroom apartment close by so that my wife and I could take turns being out of the house when it was the other person’s time to be at home with the kids. This way, our kids never have to get disrupted. My ex and I do the shuffling back and forth so our kids don’t have to. It’s like each one of us is on an extended business trip when it’s our turn to stay in the apartment.
We have a rule where no boyfriend or girlfriend can stay with us in the house during our time with the kids. We either have to spend time at our new partner’s house, find a hotel room, or he/she can stay over at the one-bedroom rental on the days we’re there. To avoid envy and disruption on our end, we leave the rental sparkling clean like a hotel, with no evidence of habitation.”
I thought this was a brilliant idea.
The Problem With Bird Nesting After Divorce
The one problem with bird nesting is that a divorced couple goes from sharing one living expense to sharing two. Some even bird nest with three living spaces – the first being the marital home where the kids permanently stay and the second and third being separate apartments for each parent. Jack and his ex were able to agree to use the two living spaces approach.
Having to rent a new apartment when you already have a mortgage or rent to pay is a financial burden. The other problem is renting a place that you are completely unfamiliar with. If you’re going through a divorce, you’re probably already a little melancholy.
Having to spend half of your time living in a strange dinky apartment on top of that might send you into a depression! But unless you have a massive compound that could accommodate you and your ex living in separate wings with your kid’s room in the middle, bird nesting is probably the best solution for your child.
Real Estate Saves The Day For Households That Plan
After owning real estate for the past 21 years in San Francisco (and 20+ years in Hawaii), it feels very difficult to think about forking over rent if I were to ever be in Jack’s shoes. A decent one bedroom here in San Francisco costs about $3,500 a month, or $5,000 a month before tax. I’d much rather spend the $60,000 gross a year on my child’s education instead.
I’m always writing about the long-term benefits of real estate, but the ability to bird nest is another reason for multi-property ownership. I hope it never comes to this, but if it does, my wife and I will be ready! We currently live in a single family home our child can grow up in. If one day it’s splitsville, one of us can simply take turns living in our fully paid off 2/2 rental condo where we spent two years living in our 20s.
Although we haven’t lived in the rental condo in 12 years, it still feels like home because we’re there at least three times a year maintaining our property and attending our annual HOA meeting. There’s also turnover every 2 – 4 years as well, giving us time to do some updates. I love to do the dirty work, remember?
Make Everything Normal With Bird Nesting
Because parents provide unconditional love for their children, I suspect children of divorced parents will be unable to fully comprehend the breakup. You and I understand why divorces happen, but they won’t. Thus, the less disruption for kids, the better.
The great irony is that the more you make believe that nothing is wrong for the stability of your child, the more your child will question the split. One friend told me she felt so relieved after her parents divorced because she used to witness shouting matches and flying dishes multiple times a week.
The wonderful thing about real estate is that it’s forever constant – similar to a loyal dog who loves you unconditionally until it dies. I’ll always have priceless memories of my time up in Tahoe (where I proposed) despite my vacation property being a poor investment. I always love visiting Honolulu because I’m simply going home to a property I’ve owned for decades.
Once you have food and shelter taken care of, working on everything else in your life becomes that much easier.
As for Jack, let’s see if he actually gets a divorce as it’s already been six months since he first said he was. After all, I hear the “I’m separating” line works well in the dating scene when trying to explain why one still has a family to come home to.
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It’s an interesting situation when you are not in it. It’s hard when you are in this bird nesting arrangement. I have been in it for almost 6 years. Every Friday is the switching day. No one likes this arrangement. My teenage daughter hates it. She once said “You all can leave this house. Only I have to stuck here.” She can’t wait to leave the house in two years when she goes to college.
Ugh *six years*?!?!? That sounds like a (medium security) prison sentence. Like your whole family has been stuck in post-divorce hell and can’t quite move on with their lives.
The point about your teenage daughter is spot on – proponents of “bird nesting” try to paint the arrangement as a positive one because it supposedly maintains some stability for the kids after a divorce. But being “stable” while stuck in a lousy setup isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Are you stuck in this arrangement until she goes to college because of some parenting plan you can’t re-negotiate? Or is it strictly financial / you don’t want to or can’t make housing changes because you can’t / won’t sell the primary family home?
The Nesting solution would appear to be short-term and temporary solution (like while separated and trying to sort out next steps for a marriage). Not anything that could be long term. Divorce is partially a means to ending a relationship and a business arrangement. Seems like you do neither in the nesting scenario. If that is the case, why get divorced in the first place? Seems like you can agree to continue to be married and see other people with much the same result.
And how long before either divorced party wants to move in with someone or get married again? Kiss the nest goodbye.
ZJ Thorne says
I’ve never heard of this nesting and my parents married and divorced each other multiple times. Seems terrible for all parties. What I needed as a child was stability, the rules to be the same from day to day, and to know who would be there to protect me at night.
As a potential dater, this sounds super terrible. No, honey, it’s the third Tuesday after the Pagan Moon, you must meet me at the property on Valhalla Drive, and don’t forget to bring your toothbrush this time. You know we can’t leave any evidence that adults live here.
This scenario is interesting. First time I’ve ever heard of it. Only way I could see this working out is for two people who get along well but aren’t sexually attracted to each other anymore. Otherwise, the amount of effort to make this work should also have made a marriage work.
My wife and I (nearly 11 years of marriage) decided not to have kids and instead just travel more, have more date nights out, and retire early (wife already isn’t working and I hope to be there in ~10-12 years in my mid/late 40s). I’m not sure waiting longer to get married helps – just pushes divorce into your 40s rather than your 30s. People who have more than 2 sexual partners are far more likely to get divorced and the older you are without getting married, the more partners you have.
Too many relationships we’ve seen kids just change the marriage too much – even if they stay married, there is no/little physical relationship anymore. Separately, I’d say as a man, divorce in the US in most states heavily favor women financially. In addition to half the assets, get ready to pay lifetime alimony in a lot of states and have limited access to your kids if your (ex)wife is so inclined. As such, I’d always recommend thinking long and hard about having kids if you are married and also getting married in the first place if you are a successful male.
Also, I’m amazed at the low divorce rates for Asian Americans (and to a lesser degree, college educated white americans have lower divorce rates)!
Insist On The Truth says
I know a guy like Jack. He runs a wealth management firm in SF, has three kids, and a wife. He tells all the girls he meets that he is separating from his wife because it is too hard to hide all four of them. Eventually the girl will ask why she can’t go to his place so he has already front-run the situation.
His wife knows he’s up to no good, but is just putting up with his crap for the sake of the children.
Mike H says
I think you will be okay. Attitude is everything and you’ve demonstrated the self awareness to change your perspective. Communication between spouses get tested when a newborn is around, particularly if there are any problems associated with the health of the child. I’m sure you have a great relationship with your partner, who is also your business partner in crime.
The blog may suffer for a spell but you will also have a lot of insightful new material based on the experience of fatherhood which will be different than anything you generally read about as it is personal to you.
Just go the extra mile with your significant other and do the best you can- I’m sure it will work out the way it is supposed to.
When cohabitating couples break up, which can be just as disruptive as divorce, these numbers don’t make it into the divorce rates. Many cohabitating couples have children. Not sure if you’ve factored this in when calculating the decline.
Dave @ Couch 2 BQ says
Luckily for me, I haven’t had to deal with divorce either as a parent or as a child. But just like everyone, I know plenty of folks who have. I do agree with others that jointly handling everything (kids, housework, making money, etc.) is a good indicator of marriage success.
You can always tell when a marriage is going downhill when one of the parties is always away. Whether they’re traveling for work or going out with friends, if your marriage is bad, you probably don’t want to spend time at home.
I have never heard of this bird nesting idea before but it sounds great – at least in the beginning. When a separation first occurs, I can see the benefits of having the kids keep their consistency and the parents being the ones forced to make changes.
But over time, especially if one of the divorced parents gets into a serious relationship, they will probably want their own home. In which case, I think the bird nesting idea wouldn’t work.
But hopefully, by that point, there has been enough time passed that the children are acclimated to their new reality.
David Michael says
Your observation of “life is complicated” makes total sense. It’s more complicated when kids enter the picture as the stress of everyday living multiplies the many challenges of relationship and parenthood. For me, it was an amazing learning experience. I am so thankful we had two wonderful children even though our 16 year marriage ended in divorce. It was hard…harder than any part of life I experienced…hard for the kids, for my former wife, and me.
After seeing that the kids were well taken care of, with lifetime alimony and child support through age 18, and college costs split, it was a sobering experience. Of the nine female friends of my wife, all ended in divorce within two years in the SF Bay area. This was the time of feminism and great change during the 80’s.
The upside is that after two anger workshops and five years of transformational workshops, I realized that I carried a lot of baggage into the relationship with alcoholic parents who fought continuously. I learned how to make a relationship work. After eight years of being single in the era of free love, I got it together and met the love of my life. It’s been an incredible relationship now into our 30th year that set up a loving and supportive partnership.
The kids made it through the transitions, stronger I think for the experience. Divorce changes everyone, not an experience I would wish on anyone, but a life changer that sometimes leads to a strong loving and spiritual awakening that carries over for the rest of one’s life. There are no perfect parents, we just struggle along the best we can. The transformational workshops changed my life forever. I see so many divorcees repeating the same patterns over and over again going on to two or three or four marriages before making the changes necessary to have a successful relationship. I feel that I was one of the lucky ones.
Look, I don’t want to scare you Sam, but I know of 7 divorces between my friends and acquaintances. Out of the 7, just 2 were without kids. The other 5, 4 occurred within the first 18 months after the kids were born. The last remaining one was before the kid turned 4.
We also looked at those odds and we had the same reaction as you. As others have pointed out, unless your relationship is in a good place then kids are quite likely to hurt it. We saw that marriages with kids worked when the father was very involved in raising the kid or where the mother had help, either paid or informal family help. You know, more than one adult per kid :).
Cody @ Dollar Habits says
This was a really interesting read and as usual, the comments were interesting as well. I’ve not heard of bird nesting before.
We got married because we loved each other immensely and truly wanted to be married to each other. We had kids because we truly wanted them and had talked about having them extensively well before we were married. I think getting married and having kids for the right reasons plays a big part in the success of a marriage.
We’ve adopted an us versus them stance. Our marriage and strong love for each other came first, so we focus on that. United we stand. The key for us is communication, regular dates and a sense of humor. When you’re up to your eyeballs in dirty diapers, with barf on your shirt and Old MacDonald on repeat, what else can you do but laugh? In all seriousness, as hard as it is, the difficulty does not even come close to the amazing, awesome, fulfilling role of being a dad.