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?
As someone who anticipates having children soon, I’m fearful of what may become of our relationship once the baby is born. My wife and I hardly ever fight. 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. But having a kid is a whole different level of stress. Life is so easy being responsible for only ourselves, which sometimes makes me wonder what happens to those who are irresponsible and still have kids?
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.
The Power Of Bird Nesting
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.
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.
Real Estate Saves The Day
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.
After owning real estate for the past 14 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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