A divorce is a difficult process, especially for kids whose lives are changing drastically. Life, as they knew it, has ended. Their family has been torn into two, with their parents living two separate lives. Even if the parting was mutual for the parents, it could leave a child with lasting emotional and psychological scars.
Children of divorce are more likely to experience mental health conditions, especially when they are between the ages of 7 and 14 at the time of separation. In one study conducted in the United Kingdom involving over 6,000 children and young adults, the researchers discovered that those who were 7 to 14 years old are at a higher risk of emotional problems, including anxiety and depressive symptoms, and conduct disorders later on.
The experience takes an emotional toll on the mental health of children. Moreover, losing old habits and routines can feel disorienting, causing the child to deal with more emotional and psychological distress.
A Gradual Change
The major changes that happen in the child’s life after their parents’ divorce can feel overwhelming. After their parents’ attorneys battle it out in court for child custody, they have to move and live in the house of whoever wins. They still get to see the other parent, but not as frequently.
To allow children to adjust to the new arrangement, some divorcing parents are adopting an approach dubbed “birdnesting.” The children continue to reside in the family home while their parents take turns to live with them. The parents are still separated; each has their own apartment where they stay when it is not their turn to spend time with the kids.
While it might sound confusing, the idea behind it is to cushion the children from the changes that come with a divorce. Their lives are not disrupted by the separation. They continue the same habits and routines in the same house.
It is a short-term solution. Many parents, even the wealthy ones, cannot afford to finance three homes at once. Eventually, the plan is to move the kids out into the home of one parent. Doing it for longer than a few months will not just bankrupt the parents. It may even cause anxiety for children because of the uncertainty that comes with it.
Experts who have been facilitating birdnesting have seen great success among clients. However, it does not really work for everyone.
The Challenge: Being Civil with One Another
The arrangement, however, can only work if both parents are at peace with each other. If the parents are constantly bickering, it will cause another mental health distress among the children.
The children should see their parents be friendly after divorce anyway. Previous research has shown that to avoid damaging the well-being of children after divorce, the parents must part ways in a low-conflict and amicable process.
There should be respect between ex-spouses. Moreover, they should discuss the arrangement before birdnesting. For example, if the other person is uncomfortable, the parent cannot bring their new significant others to sleep in the house with the children. They should also talk about expenses that come with maintaining a house.
If the former partners cannot avoid conflict, they should not argue in front of the children. They should save the children from the trauma of seeing their parents fight. It might also be beneficial for parents to seek help from a counselor about the unreconciled issues that constantly cause them to be in conflict. A professional will also teach them to talk healthily.
Not the Only Solution
Birdnesting is not for everybody. Some couples divorce because they fight all the time. Others end their marriage because someone made an unforgivable mistake. Some left their spouse who was physically, psychologically, emotionally, and sexually abusive.
There are a few techniques to introduce a new arrangement to the child without harming their mental health. Creating a residential calendar that a child can check regularly will remove uncertainty and, therefore, anxiety. Parents can even involve the child in the planning. Another strategy is to develop rules. The child needs consistency, especially during a major life event. If the parents have their own rules, it will only make the child confused. Moreover, parents should always drop off, not take the child away. When it is time for them to spend the night at the other parent’s house, the other parents should drive them there and say goodbye without drama.
Divorce is not easy for everyone involved, but most especially for children at risk of developing mental health conditions later on. Parents should strive to make the process as uncomplicated and conflict-free as possible for the sake of the child’s well-being.