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Parallel Parenting: When Co-Parenting Doesn't Work

As many parents know, separation or divorce is not only the breakup of a romantic relationship. When you share children, the decision to separate from your partner has profound implications for the makeup of your family, the time you spend with your children, and even the way your children are parented.

These changes often feel devastating at first. It's not easy for most parents to fathom spending significant time away from their children or to relinquish control over the way their children are parented from day-to-day. It's normal to feel a sense of loss as your family dynamic shifts. Eventually, however, you and your family will adjust and these changes will become a new normal.

In the meantime, however, you and your ex will need to come to an agreement about everything from how you will divide parenting time to how you will make decisions about your children's education, health, and general well-being.

Typically, parents attempt what has been popularly referred to as "co-parenting" - an arrangement in which both parents take on a shared role in parenting and decision-making, even though they no longer share the same home. For many parents, co-parenting can be a successful and satisfying way for divorced or separated parents to raise their kids in harmony.

In some cases, however, co-parenting is not possible or even advisable. In situations where two individuals have difficulty communicating civilly with one another or when one parent has a mental health concern that could affect their ability to safely parent, it may be best to instead pursue "parallel parenting."

Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which both parents have a separate role in parenting, but do not share decision-making responsibilities. In this type of setup, each parent takes primary responsibility for decisions and activities involving their own household.

Why Co-Parenting May Not Always Be the Best Option

Co-parenting involves a high degree of communication, coordination, and compromise between ex-partners. For some, this constant contact can reignite old conflicts, leading to a toxic environment that could be more harmful to the children than beneficial. Particularly in cases where the relationship ended with a lot of unresolved issues, or where one partner harbors feelings of resentment or anger, attempts at co-parenting can quickly devolve into never-ending disputes.

A co-parenting arrangement can also be difficult to maintain when the parents have vastly different parenting styles or philosophies. Such differences can create tensions and conflicts, which can lead to an unstable environment for the children. In parallel parenting, each parent operates independently and makes decisions about the children's care and upbringing when the children are with them. This allows for a more consistent and stable environment for the children, since each parent is free to parent in the way they believe is best during their parenting time.

Parallel Parenting vs Co-Parenting: Key Distinctions

Parallel parenting and co-parenting both have the shared goal of ensuring the well-being of the children involved but achieve it in distinct ways:

  • While co-parenting necessitates ongoing collaboration and coordination between the parents, parallel parenting limits communication to only essential information about the children's welfare, primarily through indirect means such as emails or texts.
  • In co-parenting, both parents actively participate in decision-making processes related to child-rearing, whereas, in parallel parenting, decisions are often made independently within the confines of each parent's allocated time.
  • Co-parenting typically requires a certain level of harmony and agreement between the parents, whereas parallel parenting allows for autonomy, minimizing the potential for conflicts.

It's important to note that the success of parallel parenting hugely relies on each parent's commitment to respect the other's autonomy and decision-making. It requires an understanding that although they may not agree with the other parent's methods, it is crucial to support a consistent and non-conflicting relationship for the children.

Ultimately, the choice between parallel parenting and co-parenting should be made according to what is in the best interests of the child or children. Consulting with professionals such as therapists, mediators, or family law practitioners can help parents make an informed decision that best serves their children's needs and circumstances. Our recent blog about the benefits of divorce mediation for co-parenting may also be a helpful reference.

Special Considerations for Successful Parallel Parenting Arrangements

Successful parallel parenting requires a commitment from both parents to minimize conflict for the sake of their children's welfare.

Here are some key considerations to ensure a successful parallel parenting arrangement:

  • Set clear boundaries: In a parallel parenting arrangement, it's essential to create clear boundaries to minimize conflict. This includes setting up separate times for each parent to spend with the child, and clearly defining what decisions each parent will make.
  • Communication: While face-to-face meetings and even phone conversations may be better avoided in parallel parenting to avoid conflicts, alternatives like email or parenting apps can be used for necessary communication. It can help to maintain a professional tone, focusing only on the children's needs.
  • Consistency: If possible, it can still help to maintain some level of consistency between homes, especially regarding major rules and routines. This can help the child to transition smoothly between homes and provides them with a sense of stability and predictability.
  • Conflict resolution: If disagreements arise, consider seeking help from a neutral third party.
  • Respect: Even though you may not agree with your ex's parenting style, it's crucial to respect their rights as a parent. This includes not talking negatively about your ex in front of your children and acknowledging the importance of your child's relationship with both parents.

Parallel parenting is not the ideal choice for every family, but for parents who struggle with conflict, it may be the best way to ensure their children can maintain a relationship with both parents. It allows parents to disengage from each other while remaining fully engaged with their children.

At the same time, parallel parenting requires a high level of trust in your ex's ability to parent effectively without your input. This kind of trust can be difficult, and it is important to consider if you can truly respect the boundaries parallel parenting requires.

It is crucial, however, for parents to remain flexible and willing to reassess the situation as their children grow and circumstances evolve. Parallel parenting can provide the necessary distance for parents to heal from the breakdown of their relationship. It can also help parents learn to parent more independently in the aftermath of a breakup or divorce.

Over time, however, it may be possible to transition into a more collaborative co-parenting relationship as parents learn to trust each other. On the other hand, parents may start out co-parenting and evolve to an arrangement that more closely resembles parallel parenting as their children grow and become more independent themselves.

No matter the parenting arrangement that you choose, it is important for both parents to make sure they are communicating with their children in a way that puts their needs and welfare first. Ultimately, understanding your family's needs and circumstances can help you find the best parenting style for you and your children.

Legal Counsel You Can Trust

At Lane & Lane, LLC, we understand the difficult and often emotionally charged situations that arise when families have to make decisions about child-rearing. Our attorneys can provide you with tailored legal advice, as well as emotional support to help you make decisions that are in the best interest of your children.

Our experienced attorneys will provide you with compassionate and knowledgeable advice so that you can make the best decisions for your family's future.

If you need help determining whether co-parenting or parallel parenting is right for your family, contact us online or call us at (908) 259-6673 to schedule consultation.