What is Parallel Parenting? [+When To Choose it?]

by Best Case Expert- Updated July 18, 2020

Welcome back to Best Case Parenting. I swear there are new parenting styles coming out every day!! Or more like people are finally putting names to parenting styles that have been around a while. Today, we take a look at parallel parenting. If you ever wondered what parallel parenting is all about, read on……

You probably have heard the term before, but what is parallel parenting exactly? It is actually an interesting arrangement made between pairs of divorced or separated parents in which they are able to raise their children together while still having pretty restricted contact and basically communicating as little as possible. A lot of times, this may be the only way in which the former couple can co-parent. Prior situations may have demonstrated that they have been unable to respectfully have conversations in the recent past, and this can detrimental to their children’s well-being.

This can be a great remedy for divorcees who just cannot get along, yet want to spend quality time with their children without having to see or speak to one another. They may not connect with one another, but they each remain connected to their children.

Many times, a parallel agreement includes assigning decision-making to each parent for different areas of responsibility. A good example of this would be having the mother in charge of schooling decisions, and the father in charge of medical decisions. However, when it comes to everyday decisions, like bedtimes and curfews, each home will establish its own rules and the other parent cannot interfere until both former spouses are able to finally sit down and make even these menial decisions together.

Remember, parallel arrangements are many times the last resort for families after nothing else has worked due to the underlying hostility. However, many parents can, and do, add fuel to proverbial fire in other ways. If the parents refrain from speaking, yet still bring the children into the conflict, the arrangement means next to nothing. They must remember that it is all about protecting and doing the best for their kids. When all else fails, parallel parenting might be the last good option left!

If you think parallel parenting might be for you, here are some tips for how you can help this whole process run smoothly. If you are considering this, the likelihood is that the relationship you are in is already pretty volatile. You don’t want to make it even worth, to the point where any kind of agreement of parenting is impossible!

Don’t do these things when trying to parallel parent….

Attempting to Control the Other Parent’s Home

When each parent finally decides that it is time to move on from the divorce, they both need to learn to accept the circumstances that they cannot change. And, the fact that no one can change another human being is one of the basic tenets of therapy. How the other parent runs his or her home often goes straight to the top of the list of things that can’t be changed and must instead be accepted.

Criticizing your former partner’s home setup will only lead to further hostility and complications. Simply, learn to let go of what you can no longer control. We are all different, and parent in different ways!

The only time that one parent can criticize the other is if and when the children are in danger of an illness or an injury, mentally, emotionally, or physically. In any other circumstance, one parent has no right to butt into the private business of his or her ex.

While many parents believe that such consistency between households is best for the kids, attempting to enforce it may cause an argument and further complications.

Obsessing Over the Other Parent’s Faults

In a parallel arrangement, each ex needs to remember that it is all about the children. That means that while each parent may be angry or hurt about the circumstances behind the divorce, those thoughts have no place within parallel co-parenting.

Each ex’s best bet is to stop focusing obsessively on the other’s possible horrible traits, and shift towards fixing their own defects of character.

There is absolutely no way to force change on another person, so fixating on their former spouses’ problems is a waste of precious time that can be spent with their children.

Each parent can only change his or herself, and that is what they both should focus on. Any overly critical comments or thoughts towards one another are draining and further complicating an already difficult situation. Again, let it go! We are all different and parent in different ways. As with the above, the only situation where you can address these faults are if they are putting your child in danger. Otherwise, accept that you are beyond the point of having a say in your ex-partner’s lifestyle.

Talking Negatively About the Other Parent

Many believe this is a given, but it is easier said than done. Even when each parent sincerely means well, sometimes bitter words accidentally slip out. But, at the end of the day, this person is the children’s mother or father, not just a person that wronged their ex. If one of the children’s parents is doing this, it needs to stop immediately. Take the higher ground here!

If you are at the point of parallel parenting, such negative talk is only going to make the situation worse and close to the point of total breakdown. Try to focus on getting the best arrangement for your child and separate out the personal feelings you have for your ex-partner.

Triangulating the Children

According to parallel parenting resources, one of worse things a parent can do is question the kids about the other parent’s lifestyle and home. It is none of the former spouse’s business, and it places the child in a winner-takes-all game of tug-of-war. Other triangulation methods include encouraging the kids to call the other parent when they are displeased with the current household’s rules, or luring a child to a particular parent’s side by claiming to the child that his or her ex is unfit.

Triangulation is exactly what the name implies. Rather than just having a toxic two way relationship, a triangle is formed with the children equally pitted against each parent. Plus, the dysfunctional communication style will easily be adopted by the children witnessing it.

Simply put, you are causing emotional strain and possible damage to your child. It’s not worth it.

Interacting for Prolonged Periods with the Kids Present

This is the crux of the parallel parents’ plan. When the animosity is still potent, usually when feelings are still raw, children need to be protected from what could become a bad situation. So, children’s exposure to any potentially explosive situation must be limited by not having them around if and when the former spouses must speak.

The easiest way to accomplish this is by arranging different birthday and holiday plans, dropping children off at the curbside, planning separate school conferences, and even rotating pick up days.

How does a Parallel Arrangement Differ from Co-Parenting?

Put simply, parallel parenting is an agreement that has been reached to parent your child together, whilst not openly communicating on a regular basis. Co-parenting adds back the element of communication in the mix.

A parallel arrangement is a process that jump-starts the healing process between the former spouses, which cannot be avoided, because it is the best outcome for the children. If you compare co parenting vs parallel parenting, you’ll know the former is the ideal choice, but the latter is the healing bridge that will lead you there.

That is why this type of parenting is a wonderful solution to what may seem like an impossible situation. Your relationship may be on the verge of total breakdown now, but through parallel parenting arrangements parents may be able to communicate in the future after enough time and ‘water under the bridge’ has passed. This means cooperative parenting, usually the ultimate goal, may be within reach after the dust settles. And, this initial disconnection allows it to happen. If these former partners are forced to engage before they are ready, this will only add to their animosity, and the children will be stuck in the crossfire.

However, with parallel arrangements, if both parties hold up their end of deal, the trust, at least regarding their common children, is restored. The parents are likely to put aside personal hostilities for the sake of the children. Meanwhile, if each side holds up their end of the agreement, the kids won’t lose any time with either parent, and they won’t be subject to disagreements and ill will between their trusted guardians.

When is Becoming Parallel Parents a Good Choice?

When parents cannot communicate respectfully in the presence of their kids, and they are not ready to agree yet on important decisions, parallel arrangements are a must. The children’s relationships with each parent will not be affected by the conflict between the sparring ex-partners. While the situation does not specifically quell the conflict, it does shield the children from witnessing parental feuds and verbal outbursts. After all, the kids have nothing to do with the reasons for the divorce. They just want relationships with both Mom and Dad, and these should be of equal importance.

Just remember, the existence of such conflict between the parents is not what hurts the children. It is the fact that many parents allow their children to see these arguments, or the court forces a parenting agreement in which the former couple must interact much earlier than they are ready to.

So many families that are struggling to make things work would seriously benefit from a parallel arrangement. And, the number of families included in this group is much higher than many would think. That said, it certainly does not include every high-conflict family.

There may be a strained relationship that lends itself to verbal disputes, but the term “high-conflict” can also refer to violence. When one or both of the parents have a tendency to be physical in the middle of a disagreement, parallel arrangements will not alleviate such an issue. The safety of the adults and the children is paramount. If this seems compromised, even parallel parenting won’t be the solution.

If a court-appointed monitor is involved, the family court may allow supervised visitation for a few hours. With that type of safety plan in place, the parallel mode of parenting could be a consideration down the road.

Violent parents may eventually disengage from their questionable behavior for their children’s benefit. That means that parallel co-parenting may work as long as some form of safeguard is in place and the abuse was confirmed to have stopped between the parents. Of course, child abuse is a different story and this type of parenting would not be an option. As a matter of fact, child services would likely be involved.

It’s important to remember that even currently married couples disagree about parenting techniques and rules. So, choosing to parallel parent is not a failure. It can be a crucial method utilized to continue to co-parent when all communication breaks down. It is about putting kids first. They will also learn how to manage conflict and respect the rights of others to do things differently than what they may be used to.

Many recent studies have identified just how important it is for children to maintain active relationships with both parents as they are already used to. Parallel parenting may be a way to achieve this faster, and to avoid the children involved witnessing too much animosity. This is why the non-communicative parallel approach can be vital at the start of a separation. Even family courts recommend the idea as a preferred method until something more permanent can be worked out down the road.

While the parallel variety of parenting may seem next to impossible for some divorcees, they just need to realize that their expectations of cooperation must be reasonable, and conflict in a divorce is far from an anomaly. However, this parallel form of parenting and time passing are likely to sooth most of the wounds. With the minimal amounts of co-operation, both parents will have access to their child, and the process of building bridges can re-start. This is the best result for the child, and when all else fails parallel parenting offers a way.

How Do You Start Parallel Parenting?

It starts with both parents and their attorneys drafting an agreement. It must be said that these types of arrangements must be extraordinarily specific when they are documented in the parenting plan. There cannot be any questions unanswered or concerns unaddressed, or it will be necessary for the parties to contact one another, which pretty much negates the arrangement. As a matter of fact, the more hostile the relationship is, the more exact the parenting plan should be.

Of course, in spite of the overall idea of disengagement, there still must be some communication when it comes to their children’s health and general welfare. Whilst this is certainly necessary, using less direct method (like texting and emailing) is the best way to accomplish this.

An alternative method is adopting a useful tool deemed a “parent communication notebook.” It similar to the notebooks used in the lower school grades, for communication between teachers and guardians. Each parent will summarize the important details of their time with the child in a note to the other parent. The notebook be passed routinely between the parents, and, ideally, this will be done each time the children pass hands.

This notebook should include health and school information, sleeping and eating issues, information about each child’s moods, including what upsets them and what calms them, and other specific information covering daily needs. The most important thing to remember about the notebook is that all entries should be made from a place of respect for the other parent reading them. Each must refrain from criticizing the other as well as demanding or strongly suggesting particular parenting instructions.

If it is feasible at a certain point, a parent to parent meeting, along with a neutral third person, can address more pressing issues or a slew of concerns that either parent may have. This is a stepping stone to a more collaborative parenting approach, where important decisions about school, choice of religion, and health and medical issues can be addressed and negotiated.

Where can I learn more about Parallel Parenting?

If reading this article has made you realize that parallel parenting could be for you, I would really recommend the book below titled ‘The High-Conflict Co-Parenting Survival Guide’ by Megan Hunter and Andrea LaRochelle. These ‘high conflict divorce experts’ will give you a lot of valuable tips and advice regarding parenting in a high conflict situation. If you are considering parallel parenting, this is most likely the situation you find yourself in.

Click the image to view this book over at Amazon.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *