Your Guide to Parallel Parenting and Whether It’s Right For Your Family

Divorce is a tricky time for any family, but is made even more complicated when parents are going through a conflict-heavy separation that makes it impossible for them to communicate without debate. Sometimes, grief or hurt can seep into these relationships and make it hard for ex-spouses to see each other face-to-face.

When couples in this situation have kids, they look to parallel parenting, a parenting style that allows both parents to be involved in their child’s life without much contact between themselves.

Read on for our guide to parallel parenting so you can decide whether it’s the right fit for your family.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

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Parallel parenting is a technique in which divorced parents who wish to avoid contact do so by limiting their interactions. This solution works for high-conflict divorces, where parents may need some time to cool down before making amends or seeing and speaking to each other on a regular basis.

This parenting style allows both parents to be involved in their child’s life without having to be involved in their ex-spouse’s life. Typically, parallel parenting is a way to let the dust settle before transitioning to a more interactive parenting style that allows for cooperation and communication. However, for some couples co-parenting isn’t and won’t ever be an option.

What Are the Benefits of Parallel Parenting?

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Though parallel parenting isn’t typically a long-term solution, it has benefits for high-conflict families who need time to let the animosity settle before learning to co-parent.

Conserves Relationships Between Child and Parent

Parallel parenting allows both parents to have a relationship with their child outside of each other. Both parents still play an active role in their child’s life and take part in everyday decision making processes. With no one parent having more control over their child, both parents are still sharing an equal amount of responsibility.

Shields Children from Conflict

In the parallel parenting model, children are less likely to experience the conflict or animosity of the divorce. Being exposed to this conflict can be harmful for children who might blame themselves or become scared. By avoiding these parental disputes whenever possible, children will have a healthier experience with this stressful scenario.

Reduces Stress

During the midst of a difficult divorce, it’s also important to think about yourself and your wellbeing. Seeing your ex-spouse can be stressful and cause feelings of grief, anger or anxiety. A parallel parenting model that reduces in-person interactions is a great way to reduce these negative feelings and allow each parent to heal and focus on themselves and their individual relationships with their child.

How to Parallel Parent

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Parallel parenting is the solution that some families need. Implementing this system into your day-to-day life takes work, but can be beneficial for your family in the long run.

Create a Parenting Plan

If you’re going to aim to limit interaction with your ex-spouse moving forward, it’s important to establish a concrete plan at the beginning of the arrangement. A parenting plan is a written document that contains information on how you will raise your child separately, including a schedule for how your child will spend their time between houses. Developing a thorough plan at the beginning of your separation will help you avoid miscommunication or awkward run-ins moving forward. Be sure to communicate that no changes to the plan are made without written consent from each party.

Some ideas for what to include in your parenting plan:

  • Pick-up and drop-off schedule
  • Vacation, holiday and birthday schedule for kids
  • Communication plan for parents

Create a Parenting Notebook or Document

A parenting notebook or shared document can help you communicate with each other regarding important development’s in your child’s life. Each partner can leave notes about the child’s behavior, needs, medical appointments, or other life tasks to communicate these ideas without face-to-face contact. Either create a physical notebook that you can leave in the mailbox or have your child deliver, or create a shared Google Document that both parents have access to and can edit.

What to include in your notebook:

  • Behavior notes from the time spent with each parent
  • Upcoming medical appointments, sports practices or games, music lessons, or other time commitments for your child
  • School and grade updates

Plan for Inconveniences Ahead of Time

Whether your kids will spend one week at each house or you’ve decided on a different schedule, you’ll need to prepare for handling inconveniences before they occur. If a parent gets sick and needs to cancel, is running late, or going on vacation, unexpected hiccups in the schedule can cause conflict. Develop a plan for handling these scenarios that benefits both parents.

Examples of inconveniences that may arise:

  • A parent gets sick
  • A last-minute trip or vacation
  • A late night at work

Parallel Parenting vs. Co-Parenting

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Another popular post-divorce parenting model is co-parenting. Co-parenting involves more face-to-face interaction between parents and is typically reserved for parents with a more amicable relationship after their divorce.

Separate Holidays and Birthdays

In a co-parenting model, parents are usually on good terms. This means that holidays, birthday parties, and other life milestones like graduations or recitals can bring both parents together. In a parallel parenting model, these events are divided between parents, with children alternating between households for holidays or birthdays.

Individual Parenting Styles

Co-parenting usually means that parents are in consistent communication, so there is a more cohesive parenting style between households. Co-parents have discussions about rules and boundaries for their kids, and run their respective households accordingly. Parallel parents usually do not have these conversations, and each parent handles day-to-day situations according to their individual perspectives.

Third-Party Communication

Decisions between parents in the co-parenting model are usually made directly, whether by face-to-face meetings or phone calls. For parallel parents wishing to avoid these meetings, a third-party mediator such as a therapist, lawyer, or app is usually employed by the couple.

Parenting-specific apps like OurFamilyWizard, The Family Core, and Amicable can help with communication, but you can also use a shared Google Calendar to fill this need.

Tips For Making Children Comfortable Post-Divorce

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Divorce is a tricky situation for all parties to navigate, but especially children who might not know how to cope with these new changes they can’t understand or explain.

Don’t Ask Children to be Messengers

Children are already adapting to the newness of having two homes, or having only one of their parents around. Don’t add to the stress of their new situation by having them pass messages between you and your partner, or by having them mediate conversation. Keep parental communication between the parents.

Resist Competition

Hearing your child gush about their fun experiences with your spouse can spark the jealous urge to one-up them. But while your kid might be enjoying these new experiences, they will also appreciate familiarity and normalcy. Resist the urge to compete with your partner and focus on making your child feel loved and supported.

Help them Pack

Your child will have to get used to packing for transitions between households. Though they may have the essentials like toiletries, clothing, and other basic necessities at each house already, you can help make them more comfortable by making sure they remember to bring their favorite stuffed animals, books, or games.

Transitioning from Parallel Parenting to Co-Parenting

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Parallel parenting can be a means to let the animosity between parents die down before making the switch to co-parenting. Don’t be ashamed if co-parenting isn’t in the cards for your family — every family has unique circumstances.

Don’t Rush It

After one or two friendly greetings, you might not be ready for a full parenting meeting together. Don’t jump right into hands-on co-parenting before you’re sure you’re ready to make that leap. Ease into co-parenting, starting with a short greeting and easing into full conversations, parenting meetings, then shared events.

Don’t Schedule Meetings With Kids — Yet

Until you’re certain co-parenting is a viable option, avoid scheduling meetings where your kids will be present. This way, you can avoid conflict in front of your children and also avoid giving them false hope that they’ll be seeing you together more from now on. Wait until you’re fully ready to co-parent to get the kids involved.

Consider a Mediator

While you and your ex-spouse figure out how to communicate with each other as parents and friends, you might want to consider a mediator such as a therapist or lawyer. This person can help you figure out how to have productive conversations and start your journey as co-parents.

Additional Resources

Figuring out how to parent post-divorce isn’t easy. It might take time and careful consideration to pick a parenting style. There’s no shame in choosing to be a parallel parent, whether or not you ever get to a place where coparenting is an option.

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Sources: Psychology Today | Huffington Post | Marriage | Parents (2) | Developmental Science | Stat News

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