Parallel Parenting: Definition, Benefits, and Tips

Updated March 3, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Divorce or separation can be incredibly hard for a family, particularly when there is significant animosity between parents. However, it is essential to remember how the tension between you and your former partner can affect the children. If you aren’t ready or don’t want contact with your ex about anything unrelated to the children, consider a parallel parenting approach. Read on to learn more about parallel parenting, how it works, its benefits, and tips to try this method with your family. 

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is a strategy where the parents interact with each other as little as possible and only about the child or children. This method allows both parents to maintain their relationships with and responsibilities for their children. Many parents, amid a difficult divorce or separation, choose parallel parenting while they find maintaining a civil relationship with their former partner a challenge. In extreme cases, the court may order a parenting coordinator to oversee parallel parenting, conflict mediation, and communication between parents with a pattern of disagreements to maintain the child’s best interests. 

Is Parallel Parenting Right For Your Family After A Split?

Parallel Parenting Vs. Co-Parenting

The opposite of parallel parenting is co-parenting, where both parents actively work together to raise the children despite maintaining separate households. However, this method often requires a good, or at least civil, relationship between the parents. Both parents engage in flexible, effective communication and generally are willing to cooperate for the sake of their children’s well-being. Both households have a consistent parenting plan, rules, and expectations. Parents may frequently have phone calls, text messages, and in-person meetings without conflict. 

Co-parenting isn’t ideal for all families after the end of a relationship. For some, parallel parenting is the best way to provide a healthier, more supportive environment for the children. 

Who Can Benefit From Parallel Parenting?

In most situations, it is the children who can benefit most from a parallel parenting arrangement. It can be important to remember that while the reasons for ending the relationship are likely clear to you and your former partner, your child wants to see both of their parents. Parallel parenting may offer several benefits, but it does have a few downsides: it is not appropriate for situations where child abuse is suspected, may lead to feelings of disconnection for the child, and unequal time can make the situation difficult to manage. Vastly different rules and parenting styles may also lead to confusion about appropriate behavior for your child. 

Parallel Parenting Benefits

  • Dealing with a narcissist. If your former partner has a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), it may be challenging to maintain an amicable co-parenting arrangement. Parallel parenting offers the opportunity to establish clear boundaries to minimize the effect a narcissistic parent can have on you and your child. 

  • Your child isn’t exposed to as much parental conflict and may avoid internalizing those problems. 

  • Keeping the parent-child relationship and prevention of alienation.

  • Significant independence from the other parent’s authority and influence during your parenting time. 

  • You can establish consistent routines for each parent with the child and let them know what to expect, making the transition easier for your child. 

  • There are likely to be fewer emotional or behavioral problems related to the divorce or separation if the child feels loved and supported in both homes and understands the rules at each place. 

  • Rather than arguing with each other, both parents can devote that energy to the child’s well-being, often resulting in a greater sense of safety. 

“In today’s divorce environment of extreme litigation, parental alienation, false allegations of child abuse, police reports, and restraining orders filed to gain an advantage in custody, an alternative to co-parenting is a must to keep the parent-child relationship and custody,” said the author of a paper about parallel parenting in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Behavior. 

How Does Parallel Parenting Work?

When co-parenting isn’t an option, parallel parenting may be the best choice, but how does it work? In some cases, both parties sit down with an intermediary to help keep the negotiations on track, often a lawyer or court-appointed official. It may be beneficial to seek someone to aid talks even if the court does not order one. 

Build A Parallel Parenting Plan

Parallel parenting works best when you establish clear rules and expectations from the start. The best way to maintain as little communication as possible with the other parent is to build a comprehensive plan to facilitate parallel parenting, with provisions for as many situations as you can include. Legal representatives for both parents should have a copy of the agreement on file. With a clear plan in writing, there won’t be ambiguity or disputes about interpretation. Treat your parenting plan like a legally binding contract. In many cases, it is, and its purpose is to minimize situations where emotions may cause either of you to lose sight of what’s best for your child. 

Parallel Parenting Plans Should Include:

  • Formal custody arrangements and schedule

  • Holiday and vacation schedules

  • Communication rules and contingency plans for emergencies and delays. 

  • A formal process for decisions about the child’s schooling and extra-curricular activities

  • Medical care plans, a framework for decision-making, and contingencies if either of you isn’t able to provide care

  • Agreements on significant parenting issues that affect both households, such as cell phones, internet usage, whether certain apps are allowed, dating guidelines, etc. 

  • Consequences for not following the parenting plan. 

Communication Is Limited

With parallel parenting, communication outside emergency situations may be limited to legal representatives or pre-arranged times. This limit helps prevent conflicts from arising and makes it easier for your child to manage the transition. Some parents use a notebook or journal to write basic information about their child’s time with them, including notable events, illnesses, behavioral problems, etc. The notebook provides a neutral, delayed way to keep both parents aware of what is happening in the child’s life. 

Plan Encounters Ahead of Time

When spending time in the company of your ex isn’t avoidable, do your best to plan the encounter in detail ahead of time. With a plan for the interaction, it may be easier to bypass potential trouble and manage a productive meeting. 

Respect The Other Parent’s Decisions And Time

A key aspect of parallel parenting is respecting the other parent’s time and decisions regarding your child. If it doesn’t directly impact your child’s safety or well-being, the parenting agreement may limit your options, and you likely want your former partner to respect your parenting time and choices. 

Keep The Conflict From Your Child

As much as you may want to vent your frustrations about your former partner, take care not to do it in front of your child. Make a special effort not to make negative statements about your child’s other parent. This restraint can help your child manage separation more efficiently and with fewer conflicted feelings. One study shows that parents who work to keep the conflict from children may help prevent some adverse effects of separation. 

Is Parallel Parenting Right For Your Family After A Split?

Reach Out For Help

The end of a relationship causes significant disruption and forces you to adapt to a new normal, no matter how it occurs. When children are involved, however, you have a permanent link to your former partner, and it is crucial to put your child’s needs first. Working with a therapist may help you identify and work through your emotions about the divorce or separation while building coping mechanisms and healthy parenting strategies for the transition to parallel parenting. If the animosity fades in the future and both parents can consistently engage in civil communication, perhaps you can work toward a co-parenting arrangement. 

How Therapy Can Help Navigate Parenting Disputes

Navigating parenting disputes during a split can be challenging for both parents—and especially the children. Individual and family therapy can help establish a healthy parenting approach while offering support, skill-building, and qualified advice. In some situations, your therapist may be able to help you and your former partner navigate conflict resolution. Many people choose the convenience of online therapy through virtual platforms like BetterHelp. 

Recent research indicates that online parenting interventions like therapy can be an effective alternative to appointments in the traditional office setting. The virtual environment may be a valuable setting for family therapy sessions in a parallel parenting situation. The study also showed that online therapy often offers significantly lower costs and increased accessibility. 


Parenting through a divorce or separation can be challenging, particularly if you aren’t on good terms with your former partner. The information outlined in this article may help you decide if parallel parenting is the right choice for your family.  

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