Divorce or separation can be hard, especially when it affects children's lives and involves significant animosity between parents. In cases like these, co-parenting may be challenging, and the two caregivers might find it difficult to interact on topics related to their child without stress or conflict for the whole family. That's why some may choose to engage in a parenting arrangement known as parallel parenting. Read on to learn about what it is, when parallel parenting may be helpful, and how it works in shared parenting responsibilities.
What Is Parallel Parenting?
They'll have extremely limited direct contact and will usually not attend events or appointments related to the child together, either. In many cases, major decisions to be made about the child might be split by category and only collaborated on in extreme situations, or only via one limited, infrequent medium.
This parenting approach allows both parents to maintain a complete relationship with their child while avoiding potentially distressing contact with each other as much as possible. Parents may choose this style if they find maintaining a civil relationship with their former partner to be challenging or not possible. It can be a short-term solution until they can address their interpersonal issues, or it may be a framework they rely on long-term.
In some cases, family and conciliation courts may order a parenting coordinator to oversee the implementation of parallel parenting for those with a history of disagreements and animosity in order to protect the child's well-being. A detailed parallel parenting agreement that covers as many aspects of the child's future as possible may be drawn up in these cases to further minimize parental interactions.
Parallel Parenting Versus Co-Parenting
The opposite of parallel parenting is co-parenting, where both parents actively work together in parenting arrangements to raise the child despite maintaining separate households. However, this method often requires good, or at least civil, family relationships between the parents. They need to be able to engage in flexible, effective communication frequently and be generally willing to cooperate for the sake of their child's well-being. Both households will typically be aligned on their parenting plans, rules, and expectations in order to provide the child with consistent routines and guidance. This will likely entail frequent phone calls, text messages, the use of co-parenting apps, and/or in-person meetings to discuss topics related to the child without conflict.
Co-parenting isn't ideal for all families after the end of a relationship, however. For some, parallel parenting may be the best way to provide a healthy, supportive environment for the child.
Pros And Cons Of Parallel Parenting
Parallel parenting can be the best option for families in certain situations. Here are a few key potential benefits of this parenting arrangement for both the child and the parents involved:
- The child won't be exposed to parental conflict, such as direct fighting and hostility between the parents, which can be damaging.
- The child gets to maintain a relationship with both parents.
- Parents don't have to expend any more energy on their relationship with each other and can instead focus on parenting responsibilities for their child.
- Parents can also take time to heal from the conflict that may have been present leading up to and during their separation or divorce with minimal negative impact on the child.
That said, there are some potential drawbacks to this parenting style. The child may experience regular disruption to their routines or confusion about what behavior is acceptable due to differing schedules and styles in the two households. Since parallel parents don't generally have ongoing collaboration on their approach to parenting, these may differ significantly. In general, both adults will have to trust that their former partner has and will keep their child's well-being and best interests at heart during parenting time.
How Parallel Parenting Works
To better understand how families may function when this parenting style is used, let’s take a look at some of its key components. Note that while not every point below will apply to every family or situation, they offer a general outline for how parallel parenting might work.
It Begins With A Plan
The most effective parallel parenting arrangement is typically based on clear rules and expectations that are established at the start. Since one of the goals of this setup is for the parents to have as little ongoing contact as possible with each other, creating comprehensive parallel parenting plans with provisions for as many potential future situations as you can think of is usually helpful. If parallel parenting was court-ordered, you’ll likely be assigned a mediator to help the two of you create a plan. If not, you may still consider hiring family law attorneys to help keep you and your former partner on track through this process so you can create a fair agreement that will be best for your child. Either way, you'll likely want to make sure the plan is as comprehensive as possible and that the legal representatives of both parents have a copy of it on file.
These types of plans should typically include things like:
- Formal child custody arrangements and schedules
- Holiday and vacation schedules
- Communication rules and contingency plans for emergencies and delays
- A formal process for making joint legal custody decisions about the child’s schooling and extracurricular activities
- Medical care plans and a framework for decision-making and contingencies
- Agreements on significant parenting issues that will affect both households, such as cell phones, internet usage, dating guidelines, etc.
- Consequences for not following the parenting plan
Communication Is Limited
One hallmark of parallel parenting is limited communication between one parent and their co parent. That said, every situation is unique. Some parents may not communicate at all, or only through their legal representatives. Others may only communicate monthly via a businesslike email with basic updates, or they may share a journal where they document any important details about their most recent parenting time with the child (notable events, illnesses, behavioral problems, etc.). Regardless of the exact format, the goal is to limit communication between parents in order to limit stress and conflict for everyone, particularly in situations of parenting after divorce.
Both Parents Respect The Decisions Of The Other
Part of parallel parenting is that you simply won’t have as much say over the details of your child’s life when they’re with your former partner. Besides what’s outlined in the agreement, you generally have to respect their decisions and trust that they’ll be in the child’s best interest. You should be able to expect the same from them. One exception to this, however, is if you suspect or find out that your child’s other parent is engaging in behavior or making decisions that are putting your child in danger.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.
The Child Is Protected From Conflict
Again, one of the key aims of this parenting style is to shield the child from witnessing conflict or animosity between their parents. Research suggests that children who are regularly exposed to their parents fighting may experience a range of negative effects, including anxiety, stress, hopelessness, aggressive behavior, sleep disturbances, frequent illness, trouble in school, and difficulty forming healthy peer relationships. That’s why sticking to the plan of minimal communication between parents is usually best in this type of situation, unless/until they become able to interact with each other in a healthy, civil way in the future.
Working with a therapist may help you identify and work through your emotions about the divorce or separation while building healthy coping mechanisms and parenting strategies for the transition to parallel parenting. A therapist can also act as a nonjudgmental listener as you process your emotions and handle challenges along the way.
Some busy parents find it difficult to attend in-person sessions with a therapist regularly. In cases like these, online therapy can provide an effective alternative. Research suggests that online parenting interventions like therapy can be an effective alternative to appointments in a traditional office setting, so you can typically choose the format that feels best for you. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to get support for the challenges you may be experiencing.
The parenting style that a separated or divorced couple with a child may choose depends on their unique situation and their own parenting approach. For some, parallel parenting is an option that allows them to each have a close relationship with their child going forward while making independent parenting decisions, but that involves minimal interaction with each other, often not even being in the same room. If you’re looking for support as you navigate the challenges of parenting, connecting with a qualified therapist may be helpful.
What are the rules for parallel parenting?
While the precise rules of parenting will differ based on the individuals involved, there are several guidelines that may be helpful.
- Keep communication to a minimum. If there is a legitimate need to talk to the other parent, it may be best to do so via an online messaging service, text, or email. It may also be helpful to save any records of these communications in case a conflict arises later.
- Separate your emotions concerning the other parent from the current situation. Any negative feelings you have affect your decision-making can negatively affect your child or your ability to effectively parent. Because of this, it can be helpful to design your parallel parenting plan in a way that won’t trigger you or lead to emotional outbursts.
- Schedule events to avoid contact or confrontation. If there are events your child needs to attend, ensure that you and the other parent do not attend simultaneously. If possible, split up events so that your child still has a parent present, but both parents do not need to be in close proximity.
How does parallel parenting affect a child?
While parallel parenting has the potential to be difficult for a child, particularly if they are aware of the negative sentiment between their parents, it can also be beneficial. Research shows that marital problems can negatively affect the ability to parent, which may result in childhood behavioral problems later in life. With successful parallel parenting, it may be easier to protect children from being exposed to parental conflict. If done correctly, this strategy can also help children maintain a healthier relationship with both parents individually.
Is parallel parenting good for kids?
If a child’s parents are unable to repair their relationship and are likely to involve their children in their conflicts, then parallel parenting has the potential to be good for their kids. In many cases, parallel parenting allows each parent to spend more quality time with their children, which can be positive for their development. Studies show that children who spend at least 35% of their time with each of their parents are less likely to be depressed or experience certain health problems, including stress-related illnesses. Still, it’s important to note that more research may need to be conducted before parallel parenting can be deemed beneficial.
What are the disadvantages of parallel parenting?
Parallel parenting may come with a number of disadvantages, including:
- Communication Breakdown: Due to the strained relations between parents, it's likely that their communication will be subpar. Poor communication can lead to parenting mistakes, such as missed appointments, inconsistent rules, inappropriate consequences, and duplication of specific tasks.
- Conflicting Parenting Styles: If both parents have different parenting styles, this may cause unnecessary stress on their children. For example, if one parent feels that an authoritarian style is best, while another has a more permissive style, a child may become confused. They may get in trouble in one household for something that would be permitted in another, which can make it challenging to understand proper boundaries.
- Parents May Miss Key Moments: The disadvantages of parallel parenting aren’t limited to those that affect children. Parents who utilize this strategy may also find that, due to their inability to be in the same room together, they may miss out on important events or moments in their childrens’ lives.
What is the difference between coparenting and parallel parenting?
The main difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting is the level to which parents work together. Co-parents often collaborate to ensure that they are raising their children in a consistent and healthy manner. While they are likely not together in a romantic sense, co-parents are willing to communicate with one another to ensure that parenting responsibilities are equally split and both parties have a say.
Parallel parents, on the other hand, are usually unable to communicate with one another in a healthy manner. A parallel parenting model is often utilized in order to prioritize a child’s health and needs while avoiding potential conflict. Parallel parents may make decisions independently of one another and foster an individual relationship with their children.
What is the 5 to 1 rule parenting?
The 5 to 1 rule is a concept created by Dr. John Gottman and Robert Levenson that states for every negative interaction during a conflict, a healthy marriage will have five or more positive interactions. During a series of longitudinal studies during the 1970s, Gottman and Levenson asked couples to solve a relationship conflict in 15 minutes. They hypothesized that couples with an unbalanced ratio of negative interactions were more likely to divorce. During a follow-up nine years later, they found that they were able to predict which couples had broken up or divorced with over 90% accuracy. Due to the likelihood that those in a healthy marriage would have an easier time meeting the challenges of parenting, the 5 to 1 rule may help a couple determine if they are well suited for parenthood.
What are examples of parallel parenting?
Parallel parenting can be tailored to each individual set of parents depending on their level of conflict, willingness to collaborate, and ability to compromise. Some examples of parallel parenting strategies include:
- Remote Communication: One common component of parallel parenting is a lack of in-person communication. To avoid the negative emotions that may arise when two conflicting parents are in the same room, parallel parents will often use texting, email, or online messaging services to discuss important matters.
- Scheduling Events: Because parallel parents usually don’t want to attend events at the same time, they will often divide them up and trade-off on who gets to take their child. These events can include almost anything, ranging from school plays and parent-teacher conferences to doctors appointments and youth sporting events.
- Establishing Boundaries: To avoid further interpersonal issues, parallel parents may create boundaries they want the other parent to understand and adhere to. These can vary, but often relate to communication, parenting styles, or the activities their children will participate in.
How do you parallel parent with a narcissist?
Parallel parenting with a person with narcissistic traits can be challenging, in part due to the lying and manipulation often associated with narcissism. It can be helpful to keep records of communication in order to disprove false claims. You may also benefit from limiting communication. It can be helpful to avoid in-person conversations, choosing instead to use text, email, or messaging services. You also want to keep these conversations brief and free from emotion, instead focusing on only what is necessary and related to your shared children.
Research shows that parents with narcissistic tendencies may have negative effects on children, possibly leading to trauma, lower self-esteem, and anxiety. If you find that parenting with a person with narcissistic traits is too challenging or detrimental to your child’s health, it may be beneficial to file a custody dispute with a family court.
How do you initiate parallel parenting?
The first step of many parallel parenting plans is to handle all procedures relating to separation, divorce, and custody. You may both already agree to use a parallel parenting strategy; if not, the court may ask for individual suggestions. Even if the other parent doesn’t like your plan, it is possible that the plan could become court-ordered. From there, a parallel parenting plan can be created and filed. This document will likely contain a parenting schedule that lays out custody, responsibilities, methods of communication, expenses, and conflict resolution procedures.
When parallel parenting doesn't work?
There are several reasons why parallel parenting may not work. These reasons include, but aren’t limited to:
- A lack of a clear parallel parenting plan
- Struggling with custody rules, like the right of first refusal
- One or both parents overstepping predetermined boundaries
- One or both parents dealing with substance misuse
- Changing life circumstances or mental health struggles
- Instances of domestic violence*
If a parallel parenting plan is chosen but isn’t working, a court may step in to decide which parent is in control of decision making or custody. This could mean the other parent’s ability to make decisions regarding their children will be limited.
*If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, it is important to reach out for support. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached by dialing 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
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