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. Retiring early with kids is almost impossible! 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. Bird nesting will work for us.
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. And if you plan to get married or remarry, consider marrying an Asian person. Asian people live the longest and earn the most. Just something to think about!
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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66 thoughts on “Divorce After Kids: Try Bird Nesting For Stability”
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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.
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 :).
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.
That’s a nutty idea. Kids need to know that life is tough. Divorce happens and they just have to deal with it. This bird nesting thing is just putting off the inevitable. One or both of the parents will get tired of shuffling around. It would be harder to move on too if you see the other person so much. Just make a clean break like pulling off a band-aid.
Some of our friends are going through a divorce. It’s hard for everyone.
Wow – the bird nesting idea is interesting for sure but it NEVER would have worked for us. Luckily we owned our primary residence and two single family rentals – so we both had places to live. The kids went between houses (and one still does) – but they get to do different things at each house (one’s in the country with acreage, etc. and the other is in town near school, friends). We got divorced when my kids were 5 and 8 and they are 20 and 18 now.
It wasn’t the kids in our situation – it was us. We had fun as a couple for a long time, but I was blind to the differences in our end goals. I thought I wanted what he wanted – because I’m a people pleaser. That was my fault. I ignored everything that was important to me. My biggest advice would be the idea that “the kids always come first” can kill your marriage (my husband agrees!) If your marriage comes first, the kids will always be fine – because you are a loving united couple. As others have said, it takes work – every single day and a lot of communication and give/take.
I’m glad that my ex and I have always gotten along and that our kids have thrived. We did put them first after the marriage fell apart and we never spoke negatively about each other. It certainly wasn’t the perfect “family” and not what I had hoped for when I had kids.
Divorce creates a whole different experience for your child for the first 20 yrs of their life. I predict it will be accepted wholeheartedly and commonplace because the moral-less media promotes it happily. Twitter had close to 1MM tweets trending about the London terrorist attacks, yet clicking on NEWS in google you get nothing from CNN, NBC not a single article. Instead small news outlets are the ONLY results you get covering the London attack. CNN, NBC, Bing put on the front page of the website how great divorce is, this person got divorce and look how beautiful life became for them.
As a kid, divorce was a rare gem. I’m no longer a kid and most guys I know are divorced. How this affects me idk. One way is that I section my relationship into 5 yr blocks. Meaning as I approach the end of 5 yrs I expect a breakup or bad relationship thing to happen to me. Mental preparation. It’s sad watching one of my mid 40s yr old mentors continually downgrade his home and vehicle, move further and further away from midtown downtown so he can pay for personal tutoring for his kid, take his kid on expensive vacations cause his wife refuses to tutor the child herself instead opting to watch tv and bad-mouth the dad to the child all day.
The dad could of been something great but instead he spend wkends tutoring his child, fighting for the child’s love. Sad af. On weekdays he calls and talks to kid for a few hours daily to combat his wife’s negative bs and let the kid know he cares. Sad, so sad. He put his kid and wife as #1 in his life. His wife probably didn’t put him higher than a #5 in her life. In 5 to 10 yrs he could of positively had a few million nest egg. He WAS smarter than me, he also WAS more talented than me. WAS. There was an early time when he was definitively better than me, now there are areas where he’s no longer has that advantage anymore. Instead I see the next 5 to 10 yrs of his life of him continuing to work a job where no real growth at work remains relatively stable since there is no more promotion for him. He gets his stability of a paycheck to pay for his kid, homeschooling tutors for his kid and his former wife’s living and her food.
Another way to look at it – your mentor was on a path to greatness as YOU (and perhaps he?) used to define it – financial success. Now, he’s been knocked off that path by a divorce. Doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not on a path to greatness, that path just got aimed at a new definition of that word.
He’s spending time with his kid. He’s putting energy and resources towards cultivating a positive relationship with his kid. And he’s doing so under the (presumably unpleasant) pressures of post-divorce life with a financially dependent ex-wife.
That sounds like a great man to me.
I think I’m feeling a little depressed now! So, what is your family/kid situation and how old are you?
I think it’s pretty cool that the father is making some sacrifices to tutor his kid. Is that not a selfless act to help someone who needs the greatest help?
Don’t be depressed. Just consider this a new challenge. I have to say, my productivity, focus, efficiency and time/resource management skills shot through the roof after having the baby and the same thing happened to my husband!
It is like playing a long-term never-ending strategy game once you have kid(s), you have to constantly re-prioritize, re-evaluate, re-strategize, re-balance. Once you get a hang of it, you will amazed by what you are now capable of that you never thought possible.
For example, instead of surfing the internet mindlessly during lunch hours at work, sometimes I take a relaxing walk/bike ride to Wholefoods to get groceries and eat my lunch there and back to work refreshed (and with one errand done in the same amount of time). Instead of laboring for hours at night to cook beef Wellington, I now use all the handy kitchen technology available to that will cook the delicious one pot meals for hours while I am at work — it doesn’t get much better to go home to a warm and nutritious stew on a snowy day! The examples are countless. You will find the hidden fun of being a parent. :)
This part is VERY true. Even if you THINK you’re pretty good about time management / prioritization / not wasting effort? Hah. Once you have kids you immediately realize just how much time you were actually “wasting” before, because you notice you’re no longer spending time on those time-wasters. You’re forced to quickly decide which balls in the air you’re going to let drop, because with a baby in your arms your ability to juggle just got handicapped.
Sam sounds like he’s already no stranger to solid work habits / time management. So I doubt he’ll struggle with the mechanics of the decision making process. But I look forward to watching / reading about how he discovers it for himself, and what decisions he has to make once a baby enters his world!
Sam – enjoy that tennis as much as possible while you can, sir! You might find you have to set it aside / cut back on it for awhile. And since you’ve got the money angle handled, budget some mental energy to more deliberately take care of your physical health. Even if you’re not in bad shape now (and it sounds like you’re not), bank up some extra fitness because you’ll need to spend it down during the late stages of pregnancy and those first months and years of being a parent. If you’ve been thinking about getting in better shape, do it NOW. Build your body up for the challenges ahead. It’ll help you better absorb the hits of sleep deprivation and stress later, but you need to invest in that NOW. Prepare for battle sir. :)
I don’t think people divorce because or after having kids. Kids add stress. And under stress, cracked relationships start to cave under the pressure.
Maybe it is just about two people growing older and growing apart.
I like the idea of finding the love of your life and living together for 60 years, but I’m not sure if that is realistic anymore.
People used to live to 40 and than it was over. “For ever, ever” meant 20-30 years. Now for ever is anywhere between 50 to 70 years.
First time I hear about nesting. interesting concept, but can’t imagine this to work on a prolonged basis.
Parents usually shift their focus onto the kids when kids arrive to their world. Before kid’s arrival, parents focus their attentions on each other. This shift of attention creates a different dynamics in the marriage. There’s “less” time to spend with each other, this including going out on dates, vacation just the two of them, and being intimate together.
Yes! We’ve been married for 25 years and we have seen a few of our friends get divorced because of the exact thing you are saying. It really is a balancing act…almost every day.
My husband and I had a baby 8 months ago, within the first week we had a huge fight, and we separated, and one month in we had decided the only way forward was counselling or divorce. We dated for 7 years and married for 8 – you’d think we know each other inside out!
Like most men with hurt ego’s my husband said no to counselling, until I found a program called Retrovaille. Its a church program and we are so NOT religious, so I put it off for a while. We finally attended the program one weekend in Oct last year and we fought our way through all our issues, and kind of solved our own problems! At the weekend long “session” out of 15 couples 4 of them had young kids, and the fully pregnant wife and her husband. One third of the total audience had just had kids, even though anecdotal was a huge that we werent alone in this.
It is not a magic pill, but it gave us the tools to communicate, and more importantly the ability to forgive, and not harbor resentment. Adding in sleeplessness to the existing problems (overworked, infertility issues, no time together, and the push to retire early) was what pushed us to the edge. I also harbored a lot of resentment from his non involvement in the pregnancy itself.
Thanks for sharing your situation. Hope things are getting better. Worth sticking together for the baby!
What are several actionable steps you learned in the program that has helped you guys get better?
I’ve been actively think about this situation for a while now, which is why I’ve tried to save and earn as much passive income as possible so we won’t have the stress of having to commute and go work for a company with a terrible boss. We’ve talked a lot of things out… ran different scenarios, and plan to get family support and childcare help if needed.
Our minds are open! I’ll talk to anybody whose willing to share their advice to make things work as best as possible.
Actually you’d be amazed what you used to take for granted, like leaving home promptly under short notice, taking an uninterrupted shower, having a relaxing brunch without having to take turns shoveling down food, going to bathroom whenever feeling like it, lounging in the couch reading a long yet interesting article like nobody else’s business, are all missions impossible!
You might be in for the surprise that you may yearn for some real quality adult time — like going to work and meet people for example. Commuting on a congested road for 10 minutes alone in the car might be a “forced-relaxation” in disguise…
But, after all, I will not trade anything else for the joy that comes with the tremendous amount work. :)
We now have a structure to our communication.
We decide on roughly the things that are bothering us – we pick a topic, we frame a question, and we then write about it separately for 10mins. We then come back read each others writing, acknowledge their feelings, and literally do not problem solve. We ask questions and make sure we really understand each other.
If its a pressing problem that needs to be solved. We may venture into problem solving but most of the time, after we acknowledge each others feelings and really understand the person, we have reestablished a baseline feeling of closeness and intimacy again.
The biggest thing I learnt was that to re-establish intimacy what you need is get to know each other on a deep emotional level while putting aside your problems- what you should not be trying to do is solve all your problems in one day.
Also second everything Jay says above – about spending money to get in a few hours of kid free time. We outsource all the cleaning and yard work as well. For the first 3 months I outsourced laundry and some odd jobs as well.
I know it sounds very financially unwise; but special circumstances require special treatments — sometimes it is worth paying the extra to buy back the sanity. Probably a good idea to be prepared for:
1. Pay extra to get a house keeper to come in periodically for the early years — don’t worry about keeping things clean and tidy; if it gets to be filthy, be ready to pay other people to do it for your sanity and sleep.
2. Get a nanny once a week so that you fork out time for just you and the spouse — or you can go play tennis, the spouse can go get a massage.
3. Consider enrolling the infant/toddler into a daycare for part-time attendance even though you can technically look after the kid full time.
4. Encourage yourself or your spouse to get a part-time job or part with the kid regularly by imposing a schedule that you ABSOLUTELY have to follow — caring for a kid full-time can make you feel that you lose control in terms of timing, schedule, etc. Being able to dictate one’s schedule gives a strong sense of control for adults; by forcing oneself to go to work for a few hours will help restore that sense of control — at least you can go to bathroom or eat food at a time you so desire.
5. Be prepared to pay extra on whatever occasion to get more sleep, do more activities you enjoy, etc. by freeing up time/resources with $$$.
You can’t buy time, but if you have the $$$ to pay others to do it for you, you are effectively buying more time for yourself. And time is your single most precious metric in life when you have kid(s).
These are all great tips. You’re get better value for help when you have the most mess, most stress, and more people to get helped. I fully plan to pay for help if needed, even though I’ve never paid anybody to ever clean my house or maintain my lawn (I just enjoy doing it myself).
For more specialized/harder work, I truly enjoy having skilled folks do great work, and if I can find an awesome person I can trust, then I will hire the person.
Sam this is a great post as always. You are good at writing posts that grab readers’ attentions right away in a personal way and get them to comment, get involved and make you more money!
I recall a post of yours perhaps a year or two ago about hiring somebody to clean your apartment (or perhaps it was part of the post or comments) and how you thought that was a waste of money. I know you are smarter than me, but I’d recommend you get off your high horse now that you’re going to be a parent. Jay above provided some excellent advice. I don’t have much more to add – hire a cleaner, hire a nanny, go to a job for alone adult time, have your spouse go to a job for alone adult time, make sure your jobs are not high stress and don’t involve a commute longer than 15 minutes and make sure the hours are fairly flexible for both of you, enlist and train as many grandparents and family to take care of your children as and when needed, get ready to lose control of your life and when you get to eat, take a crap, pee, shower when you are at home even if you are ‘working from home’ (hence why you should have jobs away from home), try to have kid-free dates/meals with your spouse at least once a week even if it’s slurping noodles at a local ramen shop for 15 minutes together, try to be intimate.
Don’t assume that your great relationship with your spouse will be unaltered. Don’t assume that your perfectly balanced life will stay so with sleeplessness, hormones, grandparents meddling, doctor visits, extra extra doctor visits if you’re wife has a complicated pregnancy or if your child has problems during or after birth, new financial hurdles like insurance needs for the entire family etc. Don’t assume that you can ‘have it all’ and things are going to go smoothly going forward even if they are going perfectly despite all the challenges because you are such troopers. Don’t assume the societal pressures of give your kids the best of everything will not get to you at some point. Don’t assume that owning multiple properties will make you’re life easier. Learn to love possessions and material objects less and value experiences and relationships more. I know you always look down on perpetual renters as pathetic ‘price-takers’ (which I entirely disagree with as you fail to account for those willing to save and invest money that they would otherwise piss away on an illiquid leveraged undiversified investment and earn a higher rate of return taking into account tax savings, home ownership costs, rental costs and increases, commissions, etc. It’s a complicated multi variable formula and you can fudge the inputs as much as you like to give you the answer you want) but I’ve seen many married couples with little children overcomplicate their lives beyond belief owning multiple properties this adding stress to their lives and marriages. Keep life simple. Find time for yourself separately, you are you spouse, you and your children, you and other people.
Thanks for your thoughts. Several points:
1) I’m not assuming, hence this post and to get more input and perspective from others. If this is not clear, can you let me know how I can make it more clear? Perhaps I can just say exactly this in the beginning or end of the post?
2) I don’t look down on renters. Everybody starts as renters and there are lots of positives to renting. I just don’t like people who look down on property owners. See: To Get Rich, Be Willing To Do The Dirty Work
3) Is everything OK at home? It seems like something is going on, but I don’t want to assume, so please share.
The cleaning post you refer to is: The Unfair Competitive Of The Wealthy: Being Inherently Frugal
I agreed with Rob 100%. I have a 1YO and on my 13 years of marriage. It’s rough even though we plan and prepare for the new addition. Kid/kids are energy suckers. Granted they’re cute. The constant needs of revolving your life caring for this little person will exhausted every couple. Especially when they’re not feeling well and congested, you literally up all day/night or multiple days/nights caring for them. Sleep deprivation, lack of WE and ME time will definitely hurt the quality of the marriage. Need to make a conscious effort to have date nights at least twice a month to keep each other sane and just spending time together. Hiring a clean person to clean the house, couples can take the baby strolling, hire a sitter so couples can have date nights will keep the marriage stronger and recruiting grandparents when you need help or just need ME time is a plus. These money are worth spending.
Honestly, I think it’s sex. A lot of parents I know don’t know how to make sex a priority in their relationship after kids come. Many moms also tend to go a little nuts about care and cut dad out of the picture. I have seen divorces because the man cheats or something. But I’ve seen more where women just drive themselves nuts juggling work/kid/home and blame their husband for not helping, or not doing it right, or having his own priorities.
“Many moms also tend to go a little nuts about care and cut dad out of the picture.”
This is exactly what happened in my case. After kid #1 came along I felt half invisible, other than as a revenue source and someone to delegate even more tasks to. When kid #2 came along, predictably, that trend continued. I love my kids, but they definitely took all of my now-ex-wife’s focus.
Some parents make the mistake of focusing 100% on the kids, and prioritizing them above the marriage that made them possible in the first place. That can make a strong marriage devolve into a weaker one – and a turn a weaker marriage into a divorce.
Love your kids – just don’t forget your spouse and your marriage in the process.
I’ve seen plenty do it. Her way is the only right way. He isn’t allowed to do anything, then only with supervision. He’s never allowed to do enough to get comfortable, much less proficient at any parenting skills. Then she complains that he doesn’t do more and what he does isn’t done right. It’s toxic femininity. It’s a culture problem in a certain demographic.
Exactly. An “inner loop” forms up and the mom circles around the kid(s) – almost deliberately cutting the dad out of the picture. The dad becomes the invisible (and incompetent – in the wife’s eyes) outer loop.
Marriages that flip into this mode? They don’t stand a chance.
Raising kids in the modern era is stressful. You can no longer let them roam the neighborhood and tell them to be back by dark like I did when I was a kid. There is also societal pressure to give “the best” to your kids. Expensive daycare, piano lessons, extra-curricular activities, etc. Add that to the fact that now both parents often work and you have lots of stress in a family.
My guess is that this stress starts to work on relationships pulling them apart, but couples stay together for the sake of the kids. Once the kids are gone, there is no longer that bond that was holding them together so they decide to separate.
Also, divorce is much more socially acceptable than it was before or in most cultures. I chose to marry internationally into another culture where families are close-knit and divorce is a great taboo. I’ve been married almost 15 years and although we argue it’s nice knowing that neither of us is going to use “divorce” as a leverage to win an argument like so many couples do.
I also work harder at a job that pays more and is less fulfilling as to allow my wife to stay home as the primary caretaker. This delays my plans of retirement, but it reduces relational stress.
I love everything you said Robert! We’ve been married 25 years with 3 teenage girls. One heading off to college soon. It’s so true what you say about “the best”…and it’s getting so expensive to live and send your kids to college. Plus- I see couples putting their kids before their marriages, ie becoming so involved in the kids lives- they neglect the spouse. All because they have “become their kids” if that makes sense. I like the idea of having the wife stay home…you need someone to make sure kids are behaving.
Congratulations for 25 years of marriage! That is an accomplishment.
I know what you mean about parents that meddle in their kids lives too much.
I try to give my kids some independence with guidance. They haven’t hit teenage yet so we will see how it goes.
I have to remind myself that my kids success or failure does not always represent me as a parent. They are their own individuals. I want my kids to lead balanced lives but I do require good grades just because I dont think that is too hard in today’s public schools.
Roberts, how many kids do you have and how old are they now? It’s nice to be able to have one spouse take care of the family. I’m hoping having two spouses be able to stay home is even better.
The pressure on kids to succeed you mention is one of the big debates a post that is gaining a lot of attention today for some reason: Scraping By On $500,000 A Year: Why High Income Earners Can’t Escape The Rat Race
Haha. I dont think you want two spouses. Have you seen Raise the Red Lantern?
I have two daughters – 6 and 11 so still quite young.
Raise the red lantern was an incredible, incredible movie! One of my favorites. You should also watch the movie: To Live by 张 艺 谋 as well.
Finally, watch: 和你在一起 (Together) by 陈凯歌 (Chen Kai Ge). Masterpieces!
As others have already called out above – “Birdnesting” sounds like it’d be EXTREMELY unlikely to work, especially in any kind of longer-term scenario.
Financially speaking of course, it’d save money setting up a smaller “satellite” apartment to augment the larger (and more expensive) main family home. But when a divorce (or separation) is picking up speed and swirling everything around in your lives, having the additional awkwardness and stress of trading places / beds every few nights would be tough to take on.
Divorce is financially ruinous. But once it happens, better to accept it for what it is and take the hit of splitting households as soon as possible / practical. For your own sanity, and to allow your kids to begin adapting to whatever new normal you and your ex can realistically maintain. Bird nesting sounds like a prison sentence to all parties – nobody can truly move on with their lives.
I’m moving through the recovery phase of my own divorce-with-kids situation. It was hard enough dealing with all the emotions and hostilities even WITH one of us moving out of the family home. I can’t imagine how much worse it’d have been trying to deal with all of that while simultaneously sharing and maintaining not one, but TWO households. And it’d just make it even harder to accept and adapt to the new changes. Plus – yeesh – who wants to sleep in the bed in the satellite apartment, knowing (or at the very least imagining) that your ex has been there recently with a new partner?
Bite the bullet. Split the assets (including the house). Either have one person buy out the other, or put the house on the market and be done with it. In the end a house is just a box. Go buy another box. Your kids won’t care. And you’ll recover faster – emotionally, if not financially…
Sorry to hear about your situation. May I ask how old your kid(s) are and what were the reasons for divorcing after kids? What about divorcing before having kids? I’m just curious as to what the exact reasons marriages can go downhill so quickly. After so many years together, I can’t imagine never being a great friend to my wife, even if we split and she finds another guy.
A small satellite apartment is what Jack is doing. He got a one bedroom apartment close by where he stays during his off weeks. He gets to live his own life, meet other women, etc without having the pressure of always being watched now that they agree to irreconcilable differences.
BTW, buying a home that’s being listed due to a divorce is one of the best strategies b/c it always seems like the couples couldn’t give an fart about getting top dollar. They want to be rid of an asset and the memory of the other spouse they had in the asset!
My kids are young – currently ages 6 and 2.
The older child is being more impacted by the divorce than the younger one. The older one understands that mommy and daddy aren’t living together anymore and that’s confusing, but we’re all doing our best and we’re learning that “two household” living isn’t the end of the world, it’s just a change.
The 2 year old is rolling with the changes just fine – never knew things any other way, and is fine with spending time in both households.
So far – I’d say the angst and stress caused by worrying about hurting the kids by divorcing is overblown. The parents assume they’re causing horrible damage by breaking up, but kids really are quite resilient and adaptable. So long as both parents focus on being good parents to the kids, despite whatever animosity has exploded between each other? The kids can still get to enjoy loving experiences with each parent. And in my case at least, there’s WAY less stress in my household now that mommy and daddy aren’t together under the same roof.
Divorce is not fun. But being in a bad marriage is worse – especially if the negative trend is accelerating and you can’t figure out a way to reverse it. Things change rapidly once kids are added to a marriage – that friend you have now might not be your friend anymore. If you can’t imagine “never being a great friend to your wife” then you should at least imagine what it could look like if *she* ever became a less-than-great friend to *you*. Understand the possible downside risks, and take steps to reduce their odds of occurrence AND put in protections to lessen the damage if/when that downside happens. I sure wish I had.
How fascinating. I haven’t heard of bird nesting before. Makes a lot of sense for couples that have the means and especially those with young children. My parents divorced when I was in middle school, but they probably should have split a lot sooner. Anyway, better late than never and even though the whole process sucked, it was definitely the right decision that they split. There were just too many things they never agreed on and they became completely incompatible.
Divorce is hard on kids, but parents aren’t doing their kids any favors by staying together if they constantly fight and can’t get along. Tension hovers in the atmosphere even if the parents think they are hiding it, and kids can definitely sense that. It makes being at home unpleasant and stressful for kids.
I think I would have really liked experiencing bird nesting as a kid because I hated having to shuffle back and forth to see both of my parents. The transition always made me grouchy and irritable. I’d get over it after a day or two, but I specifically remember hating the switching from one place to another every single time. It wasn’t a good experience for me or for my parents during those initials days of each shuffle!
I love your site FS, but that was rather depressing :/
Actually, my understanding is that overall divorce rates have gone down in recent decades. I think the statistics regarding 40+ y/o baby boomers getting divorced speaks volumes though, 1) about the baby-boomer generation itself, and 2) about the dangers of getting married late in life rather than in youth.
I think for ones marriage to survive in this nihilistic culture that is so anti-marriage couples must cultivate a much more negative view of it than what is commonly seen on tv, in entertainment, etc. You almost need to look at it as an existential enemy to be defeated and ‘go to war’ against it everyday.
With all that said it’s sort of the ‘mad’ thing as well (mutually assured destruction) and I suppose both parties need the nuclear football in absolute deal breaker scenarios (physical abuse, the wife cuckolding the husband, etc).
I’ve read about bird nesting before, but this is the first I’ve heard of it with just two properties. Seems like it would be very difficult to do over the long term.
I think a big reason for the increased divorce rate is the continued shift to focusing on yourself. To be with another person and especially when you have kids, you have to make sacrifices. Life is no longer just about you. But we seem to have had a cultural shift away from this where everyone deserves to be happy despite the choices they’ve made and who will be impacted in a divorce.
People think that adding a baby to the family is like adding cement and everything gets stronger. Nope. It is more like adding a tornado, so your house needs to be strong and storm ready or you are doomed.
I can’t imagine bird nesting working unless you are resigned to your life not moving on post-divorce. What new significant other (with the stress on the word significant) would be happy with this arrangement? And could you ever really move on with one foot literally in the door? The most important thing for the kids is not sleeping in the same physical house every night. It is parents that are happy and a healthy environment. If it were me I would want to rip that band-aid right off.
As a child of divorced parents and a parent of 2 kids (married 13 years), I’m not sure bird nesting would work very long for the children or for the parents for many of the reasons Brian mentions above. I think my parents managed their divorce in the best possible way for my sisters and I. They did not speak ill of each other in front of us (this is SO important). We had a regular visitation schedule with my dad (he moved 3 hours away for employment). We maintained familial relationships on both sides of the family and celebrated many holidays with both parents. My mother did not bring men into our lives that she was dating. I know some of these things were quite sacrificial on my parent’s behalf but they acted like mature adults and put their kid’s interests in front of theirs especially in the first couple years after the divorce. I like to think all three of us turned out fine with little bitterness or residual effects.
Have to say, this is a new tactic to me. It’s an interesting concept. At the same time the amount of coordination it requires leads you to wonder if you can coordinate this, why can’t you handle the rest? Also, kids are surprisingly smart and intuitive. When you make everything into the Truman Show, they tend to want to shatter the lie. Especially as they reach the teenage years.
Still, if anyone wants the advice of a patrol cop who has seen relationships in the ghettos, trailer parks, and 1%er mansions: don’t get divorced. If you do get divorced, don’t get married again. Whether you want to look at it from a fiscal perspective (as Sam often points out how the tax code is against us married people) to the legal perspective of California Domestic Violence laws are no joke. Any visible/verifiable injury and you are in jail for a felony.
I’ve dealt with many victims who say anywhere from an hour to a week later, “Officer, I want to drop the charges.”
Doesn’t work with DV. It’s one of the few instances where the state will move forward without the victim’s help. No one needs that kind of heat in their lives.
Hope it works for Jack, mostly for the kid’s sake. Consenting adults can do what they want otherwise.
I read about “nesting” during the early stages of my divorce. Seems like a pipe dream / something that would ONLY work in a 100% polite / respectful / peaceful divorce scenario. Other than TV or in the movies, I have never seen a divorce that meets those criteria. Mine certainly didn’t. Seems to me if you had two people that were able to work together well enough to pull off an arrangement like that, they wouldn’t even be divorcing in the first place.
And how confusing for the kids – more so than separate households, I’d think. Mom’s gone, but dad’s home. And now dad’s gone, but mom’s home. They’re never home at the same time, WTF?
When a divorce happens, you want to move on. You want LESS interactions and entanglements with that person. Not more. That’s why you’re divorced. Bird nesting sounds like a nightmare. For the person who wanted out of the marriage, they’re still kinda “stuck” to the person they decided to ditch. For the person who did NOT want the divorce but got it thrust upon them, they’re still shackled to the person they never wanted to see go in the first place – sharing households = constant reminders and interactions = they never get to heal and move on with their lives.
Sam, get a dog!
j/k, you and Mrs. FS will be great parents.
I’ve never heard of this concept before, but I can see how it can theoretically work. Most divorces I’ve witnessed are bitter and spiteful affairs. It’s doubtful this arrangement can work between two people who end the relationship on bad terms. But if the divorce is amicable and mutually desired, then I can see this as a practical approach to protect the kids from too much stress.
Kids are definitely stressful, our first 2 years after our daughter was born were very difficult. You don’t know what kind of parent you’ll be until you have a kid. Some people take to it naturally, for others it’s more of an effort. My advice for anyone planning on having kids is to pay attention to how the dynamics change once you have a kid, and make adjustments immediately, including whether you should have more.
People’s perception of marriage is heavily skewed by the romanticized versions shown in movies/shows, so expectations are out of whack, throw in kids and your self-centered views get altered. Women are also much more independent today than they were before, making divorce more accessible.
I’m not married and I don’t have kids, so take my opinions with a grain of salt..but sometimes people think that marriage is the end goal, and once it’s reached there is no reason to keep working on the relationship. Babies are incredibly stressful and demanding and require (at least temporarily) that other relationships be put on the backburner. For relationships that are already strained, it’s easy (for me at least) to see why breaking up/divorcing might be the next step.
Bird nesting is an interesting solution to co-parenting. I hope it keeps working out for your friends.
Seems a smart move to me with the rotating apartment shift, after all when you divorce, someone usually has to move out anyway so you will always have to incur more living expenses (combined) so why not share that load between both people? It’s not fair one parent remaining at the family home and the other being shunted permanently, having to fend for themselves. The only issue I see with this is whether or not it will truly feel like you have divorced as you will still be so involved in each others lives. Many people want to just move on and forget their ex, sharing a home and apartment (even when not living together) will make it difficult to actually move on.
As for your situation of having a 2/2, it’s no different to renting a separate apartment after splitting. You still have an opportunity cost of now not being able to rent out the apartment in that 2/2 and instead having to live there.
That’s true about the opportunity cost of my 2/2, but it’s about feeling like living at home. That wonderful, comfortable feeling that’s so much better than renting that can’t be fully described unless you’ve bought and lived in the home.
Too many people have kids just because they are 30 and have been married a couple years. Just like people get married who fight all the time but they have been dating on and off for several years. You have no business intentionally getting pregnant if you are not very happily married. If you have a so-so marriage then you need to work on that first. Once you feel like your marriage is fantastic then you can think about kids.
Our six-month-old girl is the most precious gift ever but she does come with some extra stress, chores, and a lot less sleep. Not exactly great things to “save” a marriage.
As a father I can tell you that the stress a child brings (along with the joy) is very real. My wife and I have a strong relationship. We waited 8 years and traveled most of the globe before having our son. Still, when he came family dynamics shift. We had a short period of readjustment including some minor arguments (we never fought before) and difficulty communicating.
Luckily we made our way through it and our back to normal. I don’t understand how people have kids to fix a marriage!
Divorce is not a financial move (particularly in a state like Cali where your spouse easily gets half) but when it happens this is a nice solution. Thanks for the post. I hope I never need this advice but it introduced me to a new concept.
LOL – I have tongue in cheek proposed what you call “bird nesting” to my wife to help us keep our marriage healthy and AVOID the divorce! Sometimes you just want to get away to a secret crash pad!
I have never heard of bird nesting. I think the best option is to stay married and work on your relationship. I do think though, that kids make a bad relationship worse. This doesn’t change the fact that it was bad to begin with. So if your relationship is good now and you don’t fight, that probably means you will only have slight disruption, especially only with one child. One child is a breeze. It’s when the second one comes along that doo doo hits the fan.
Haha. Yes, the second kid is a game changer.
Raising a child is incredibly stressful, especially so when they’re a baby – sleep deprivation, change in relationship, postpartum and other mental and hormonal changes, and then tantrums.
It’s not surprising so many people get a divorce after children. It’s surprising so many people DON’T get a divorce.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids more than I ever thought I could love anything. My wife and I are committed to them, and each other.
But oh boy, is a wild ride. And if there are any issues between the parents, having kids just magnifies them.
I think it’s a combination of kids and time. Kids are stressful and keep you busier. It’s easy to put off spending quality time with your spouse at marriage. It’s easy to have a short fuse due to lack of sleep. That lack of bonding and shortness increase misunderstandings and widen shared experiences. That makes a relationship harder.
Interesting solution and It makes sense to me not to force the kids to go back and fourth between houses – especially if they are younger or if they had to travel farther to spend time with one parent
Part of me thinks that people who get divorced were already heading in that direction before children arrived – kids can put more stress on a family if you aren’t up to the commitment so I could see them expediting the process (also the cost if money is a common fight in your house)
We waited a few years to have a kid (she is due Monday) after being married, I couldn’t imagine having one right away, it would have been very difficult!
Interesting read and hopefully something I never have to contemplate. Am happily married with an almost 3 year old son and twin daughters coming in September. No doubt children can be a strain on the marriage. The added stress, financial burden, time commitment, etc… makes it harder to have quality time with your spouse. I love my wife dearly but there are certainly some days where I feel like we spend 5 minutes together.
I’ve also always assumed that as the average age of marriage increased, divorce rates would decrease. Assumed it was those who married their high school/college girlfriend at 22 who would get divorced, not the 30 something who got married after building their career and dating a bit.
Ha, well that is certainly an interesting idea. I think it may have best been saved for April Fools day. How long do you think this couple will abide by their new rules, no significant others over to the house, maybe, until the new other actually become SIGNIFICANT. And think about how hard it is to simply keep a house up to a shared standard of cleanliness and organization, when you actually love and live with your partner. Now this couple is going to leave a shared apartment spotless after each stay – do they change the sheets every time bringing fresh ones from home or have his and her sheets stashed in the linen closet. Is the toilet cleaned and floor mopped after every stay? And are they still sharing the bedroom at home, just never together?
This was an amusing article, but I’m highly doubtful as to its actual practicality.