Is Parallel Parenting The Best Choice For My Family?
Updated February 11, 2020
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
Divorce is life-changing; it can be emotionally and physically draining. The routine is changed, everyday life is different, and some couples cope better than others. It can be difficult to adjust to a new way of doing things. Picking up the kids, cooking dinner, and cleaning the house are now responsibilities that need extra planning.
Sometimes everything falls into place with two households instead of one. You're able to easily organize your schedules to share parenting responsibilities. Yet, this is not always the case. Conflict, resentment, and stress can throw well thought out plans into chaos. Divorce counseling is always a good start. It can help ease the transition from married to divorced and can provide solutions for dealing with conflict and anger.\
Dealing with divorce is stressful, and when tempers flare, children suffer. Arguing, avoiding, and blaming are common, and sometimes children are the focus of the fighting. Sharing custody is the biggest decision a couple must make when going through a divorce. If a divorce is particularly nasty, sharing custody is not an easy thing to negotiate.
The best choice for any family going through a divorce is one that reduces conflict and provides the most amicable solution. While parallel parenting may be perfect for one family, it may not be the best fit for another. Like other custody agreements, there are positive and negative sides to parallel parenting. However, it is sometimes the only option, and in some cases, parallel parenting is court-ordered.
What Is Parallel Parenting?
Parallel parenting is all about maintaining separate households, sharing custody, and parenting with the least amount of contact between the parents. In most cases, this means a parenting coordinator/mediator/court-appointed third party will help to set ground rules and negotiate between the couple if problems arise. Each parent maintains their own household, separate and distinct from the other parent. This can reduce the conflict between parents. While this may seem like a perfect set-up for the parents, it may not be the best outcome for the child(ren).
Parallel parenting can be difficult, but in cases where amicable behavior is not an option, this may be the only way to move forward. This type of parenting works when both parties stick to the rules, pick up and drop off according to pre-determined times, and meet with the parenting coordinator to settle disputes. Parallel parenting gives each parent control over how the child is raised while they are in their care.
How Parallel Parenting Works
Parallel parenting is all about maintaining the peace. Almost all contact between the parents is done through email, or the mediator, with little to no face-to-face contact. Pick-up and drop-off times are negotiated. Once the times are set, both parties must stick to them. Each parent will have control over what the child eats, wears, and does while they are with that parent. Special events and any other activities that both parents may want to have to say over must be negotiated through the mediator.
Rules for behavior are set individually, although it would be best if these rules were agreed to mutually. Parallel parenting can be tailored and custom fit for each family. The parenting coordinator will do their best to assure fair and rational outcomes. Some couples insist on no face-to-face contact while other couples are more flexible; all of this is discussed with the coordinator.
It's All About The Child
The main concern of parents and courts is the mental well-being of the child. Parallel parenting is designed to ensure every child of divorce can have a healthy relationship with each parent. Here is a list of reasons a couple may opt for parallel parenting:
- The child is caught in the middle of parental conflict.
- Parental conflict is making it impossible for each parent to have a meaningful parental relationship with the child due to interference from the other parent.
- To eliminate a child's exposure to parental conflict
- Parents cannot get along with each other
- One parent or both have a protection order in place
- To limit or eliminate parents meeting face-to-face to control conflict
- Parents cannot get along and make decisions together on major areas of parenting
Effects of Divorce on Children
Parallel parenting is intended to reduce conflict between parents, which in turn helps minimize the impact on the well-being of the child(ren) involved. In high-conflict divorces, opting for a parenting arrangement other than parallel parenting could have a substantial effect on the child(ren)'s social and academic performance. While the effects of divorce will vary by child, it is common to see a decline in academic performance during a divorce. This is largely due to being distracted by conflict and struggle at home. Other common effects of divorce on children include a decline in the child's social interaction. Children may begin to withdraw, losing interest in things they once enjoyed. They may also begin having difficulty relating to others and begin avoiding social interaction altogether.
A divorce with parental conflict may also impact a child's cognitive functioning. Children may become emotionally sensitive as a result of having difficulty processing their emotions. This may be exhibited by excessive anger and irritability. It's also important to understand that a divorce with high-conflict between parents without parallel parenting may have a physical impact on the involved child(ren) as well. The physical effects of divorce are often the result of engaging in destructive or risky behavior, such as drug and alcohol use or having sex. Additionally, the physical impact of divorce could manifest in other ways such as getting sick more often, getting over illness more slowly, and even having difficulty sleeping.
Expected Behavior From Parents During Parallel Parenting
This may seem like an unnecessary topic, but for many, a divorce situation coupled with shared parenting can create explosive emotions that are detrimental to the child; even if the child is not involved in the fighting. Below is a list of commonly expected behaviors for parallel parenting plans. It is meant to help parents control their impulses and stick to the plan.
- Parents agree to disengage and limit face-to-face contact.
- A schedule for parenting developed by a mediator with input from both parents is created. Both parents agree to stick to the schedule and assume there will be no flexibility in scheduling to avoid conflict.
- No part of the schedule is left to chance, every detail is worked out and agreed to so there is no room for conflict.
- If a conflict does arise, both parents should go to the mediator to work through the conflict. No face-to-face interaction is acceptable. This includes angry phone calls and complaining in front of the child(ren) for any reason.
- Both parents agree to parent independently. This means each parent is responsible for finding out about special events, school grades, and any other important events from the school or the child. Neither parent is responsible for informing the other.
- Parents agree to divide important care decisions before they arise. For example, one parent may be responsible for health-related decisions while the other is responsible for education decisions. Both agree to keep the other informed of emergency situations.
- When a face-to-face situation arises, both parents should interact in a businesslike way with no arguing.
- If a face-to-face meeting is required, it should be done during working hours, not after, and it should only last for 30 minutes.
- Do not share personal life with each other. Maintain a wall of separation to avoid conflict or hurt feelings.
- Parents agree that all interactions should be done through email, not through messaging, phone calls, or face-to-face interaction. There will be times when parents need to communicate, and email is the best way to avoid conflict.
- Drop-offs and pick-ups should be done in a public place to avoid conflict.
- Both parents agree not to tell each other how to parent, stick to the decisions that are assigned and do not worry about the decisions of the other parent.
- If serious issues arise and it becomes next to impossible to remain neutral from the other parent's decisions, negotiate through the mediator to resolve the issue.
No one is perfect. Problems will occur, but sticking to the plan and using the proper channels to address the problem will help keep conflict to a minimum which is what your child needs. It is never easy to share parenting responsibilities and remain separate from decisions made by the other parent. Caring parents worry about their children, but remember, the conflict will hurt your child more than any perceived bad parenting decisions ever could.
Parallel Parenting Vs. Co-Parenting
Parallel parenting and co-parenting are two very different things. Co-parenting is done together. Parents get along and their relationship during and after the divorce is amicable. Parallel parenting is done separately without input or contact from the other parent. Most parents want to co-parent; it is the healthiest way to raise a child after a divorce. However, not all parents can be co-parents, which is where parallel parenting comes into play.
Counseling - Therapy - Making The Best Choice
Sessions with a trained therapist can help all parties deal with divorce less destructively. Explosive emotions are a part of many divorces and it can be difficult to make the best decisions for the children. Getting counseling with a trained family therapist can help put the relationship in perspective. Therapy is great for any couple going through a divorce, but it is extremely helpful and constructive when there are children involved.
Listen to the counselor and try to be honest about how divorce is affecting the family dynamic. In some cases, one or the other parent is not used to parenting alone; sometimes, one parent leaves all the major decisions up to the other parent. This type of situation can create a lot of conflicts and emotional upheaval. The best thing to do to prevent this is to seek counseling. The advice and guidance can be beneficial in helping reduce the negative effects seen in children of divorce. Divorce counseling can also help children cope with their emotions during and after the divorce process.
Parallel parenting tends to be a good option for high-conflict divorces where parents have difficulty communicating with one another amicably. With face-to-face interactions being a precarious situation with the potential for conflict, online counseling is an ideal solution for divorce counseling. Working with an online counselor eliminates the face-to-face interface that would be required with a traditional counseling appointment. Instead, parents can communicate with each other and the counselor in a virtual room. This can help parents make progress in coming to terms with the best ways to parent their child(ren) and helping them get through this transition to a two-household family. ReGain counselors have helped others as they have gone through divorces with children. Hear what others in similar situations have to say about their ReGain counselors below.
"Dr. Anstadt is amazing. I appreciate him always reaching out to make sure things are going smoothly in between our sessions. He follows up and genuinely cares about my situation. I would recommend Dr. Anstadt to anyone who is seeking insight on coparenting and new relationships after divorce. Thank you for everything!"
"When we were matched with Alicia, I felt things were hopeless. Authorities had been involved, we'd been to emergency crisis family counseling. It was bad. I'm amazed in just a few short days Alicia turned our situation around and I'm hopeful for where our co-parenting relationship is headed. I wish I'd known how helpful someone like Alicia could be to help us be effective parents."
Going through a divorce can be a painful process, especially when you seem to be in constant conflict with your ex and children are involved. Parallel parenting is a solution aimed at creating peace in high-conflict divorces while a child continues to maintain a relationship with both parents. Navigating these waters can be stressful, but ReGain is here to help you create a parallel parenting plan that works for you.