What is parallel parenting?
By definition parallel parenting is when high conflict parents choose to disengage from each other, and maintain limited contact while continuing to engage with their children, but parenting separately. Basically, you don’t talk to each other unless you absolutely have to, and when you do, it’s typically through email, and occasional text for urgent issues.
How does this compare to co parenting? Parallel parenting vs co parenting has some distinct differences. When you co parent you attempt to make most important decisions together, and discussions are collaborative, productive and center around the best interest of the kids. This sounds great in theory, but some parents don’t reach that point quickly after divorce, and some never do. This is where parallel parenting comes in…
If you’re separated or divorced and there is significant conflict, resentment, frequent anger, unproductive conversations, selfish behavior, or perhaps a personality disorder in play – you are a great candidate for parallel parenting. In fact a lot of parents practice parallel parenting simply by being avoidant. While this is certainly one way to reduce conflict, it’s generally not in the best interests of the kids to have parents who are on completely different pages.
Our next piece in this series will focus on how to put together and maintain a parallel parenting plan. For now let’s discuss some of the basic tenets of parallel parenting and how it can help you keep the peace.
1.) Parallel parenting is agreeing to disagree
Look at that! You agreed on something….and it’s that you don’t want to talk to each other. That’s ok. You got divorced for a reason. This may seem like a harsh position to take, but in reality it’s more mature than pretending everything is fine when it’s not. When parents can’t collaborate or communicate without fighting, sometimes the best option is to avoid each other. The best thing you can do for your kids is to prevent fights and high stress, high conflict situations. Consciously deciding to stop doing the things that cause conflict is productive and healthy. Don’t feel bad if Tom and Laurie are co parenting beautifully, live 4 houses apart and have family dinners together with their new partners. You may get there someday, and you may not. You’re not Tom and Laurie right now, so accepting that and doing what you need to do to get by is the best choice for you.
2.) Putting a good parallel parenting plan in place leaves less to chance
In many co parenting situations parents make it up as they go along. They’re able to do this because they can communicate productively. If you hate talking to your ex and it always ends in a fight, you need do some pre-planning. With parallel parenting having a well thought out plan, in writing is imperative to making it work. When you agree upfront on how certain things will go it leaves fewer potential issues on the table that could create arguments. Some parents work with a mediator or a neutral third party to put this plan in place. Some plans are more formal than others, but the one thing they all do is outline what decisions and activities each parent will be responsible for. For example, Dad may be good with cars, sports, debate club, summer camp, college applications, and Mom is good with math, science, english, clothes shopping, nutrition, choir practice…these parents may agree to handle these specific decisions one on one with their kids with little input from the other parent. Health problems or behavioral issues may be one they will decide to collaborate on. Agreeing ahead of time leaves less grey area and closes the door on potential disagreements.
3.) Working with a third party or mediator can be a valuable part of the planning process
When you’re initially working to put together your parallel parenting plan, having someone else there to help you think through potential issues can be incredibly valuable. Paying the money to work with a mediator or other family specialist is probably going to be worth it if you and your ex don’t get along, but want to minimize long term conflict. Having someone there who is neutral, and experienced can help you keep things in perspective and keep your goals and priorities in mind. They will be able to make suggestions and foresee things you may not have considered, plus they’ll function as a go-between / peace maker during the process and will help prevent arguments.
4.) Communicating only when necessary and via agreed upon channels will reduce conflict.
Email has long been the preferred communication channel of parallel parents due to the ease of storage and organization. Text is also a popular option, but this method has a tendency to lead to heated conversations. Tone, voice and intent are often tough to pick up over text, and people in high conflict situations have a tendency to project their feelings onto someone else’s words. Whatever your preferred method of keeping in touch, it should be discussed and agreed to ahead of time. Choosing to deviate from this agreed upon communication channel, could be seen as being antagonistic or disagreeable, so make sure it’s something you’re truly comfortable with over the long term.
5.) A parallel parenting notebook can help parents share info without talking
Psychology Today recommends keeping a parenting notebook that can be passed back on forth during child transfers. Keeping notes while your kids are at your house can help parents stay on top of little changes in mood or behavior. Of course this requires some diligence on the part of both parents, and may be more appropriate with small children than teens, but that is up to each family. Some parents use programs like google docs to track their kids behavior and keep notes. Of course, our Truece software enables parents to keep private and/or shared notes about all kinds of topics relevant to their divorce, and parenting.
6.) Using a 3rd party tool like a coparenting app, software or your own email/spreadsheet/text system (whatever it may be) can help you stay organized.
Therapists, Mediators and Divorce Attorneys all advocate for divorced parents to keep good financial records, and to track what they’re spending on the kids. One of the primary sources of fear and stress in divorce is the expense involved and the altered financial situation that results from divorce. Setting a budget and keeping track of your spending can help reduce a lot of that stress. The Truece app helps parents track expenses, manage reimbursements, and provides a great reporting system that parents can use to make sure they’re staying on budget.
However you decide to parent, be it collaborative co parenting, parallel parenting, or some combination of the two – the most important thing is to try to do right by the kids. If avoiding your ex is the best way to prevent fighting and keep the peace, then feel free to do so. Some planning ahead of time on your own, or with a mediator can help you prevent issues and arguments down the road.