Are You Good Candidates for Parallel Parenting?

There are three style of parenting after divorce. 1) Cooperative, 2) Conflicted or 3) Disengaged and Parallel parenting.

Cooperative parenting is the style used by parents who have low conflict and who can communicate effectively about their child. You agree on most parenting values, have relatively consistent parenting styles and have few arguments about your child's life. You rarely put the child in the middle. When you disagree, you resolve your differences peaceably. Research shows that children do best after their parents divorce when parents can use this model.

Not all parents can parent cooperatively after divorce. This can be caused by many factors, including:

  • Different perceptions of how to parent; both before the marriage ended and after the marriage ended.
  • Unwillingness of one or both parent to accept the end of the relationship
  • Concern about the adequacy of the other parent's parenting ability
  • Jealousy about a new partner in the other parent's life
  • Personality traits of one or both parents that stimulate conflict
  • Continuation of hostility that began during the marriage

It is useful to consider the source of the conflict, but the fact that there is continued conflict is the most important indicator of how well your child will do after the divorce. What you can do to lessen the conflict is to disengage from your former spouse. This means that you do not have much if any contact with the other parent. When you disengage, you must avoid contact with that parent to avoid conflict from developing. Once you have been successful in reducing the conflict, you may be able to move to the next style of parenting.

The next step in this process is called parallel parenting. This style of parenting has each of you doing the best job you can parenting the child during your parenting time, without attempting to have your style mesh with the other parent's style. It means you accept that the other's style is different, effective; just not your style. You share major events impacting the child with the other parent, but not the minor issues. If you determine that you cannot cooperatively parent, the disengaged style or parallel style might work best. It is similar to two young children who play on parallel slides. Each climbs to the top of the play structure and slides down. They play next to each other; not with each other.

Parallel parenting means that there is sufficient structure to the parenting time, that parents exchange a minimum of information. They do communicate about major issues, such as problems at school or health. Email, text or fax each other, so the sender can consider the message and the tone before sending the information. It also permits you to retain a copy of the message and agreements that were reached. Such parents do not communicate about more minor issues, such as problems the child is having playing with a friend or activities after school. This helps you avoid debates about the parenting plan or each other's style. Such communications should not be shared with the children.

It is important to have a detailed parenting plan that permits exchanges through the child care provider or the school. As much as possible, allow the holidays and vacations to be celebrated by the parent who is scheduled to parent the child, particularly for lesser holidays. If Thanksgiving and Christmas are particularly meaningful for your family, agree to alternate those, since any deviation will means a disruption in the schedule and an opportunity for conflict. Be clear about exactly how these holidays will be defined and when and where the exchanges will occur.

For very young children, have a journal that travels back and forth with the child, detailing eating and sleeping patterns, developmental concerns and the child's emotions. Be sure to note any medication that child is receiving and when it was last administered.

Parents who parallel parent should avoid telling the other parent how to parent. An adjunct to this is do not respond when the other parent attempts to do so. Be tolerant of and support different styles of parenting to avoid conflict. Some matters are very important, such as adequate supervision, providing medication, getting the child to school, well rested and prepared, appropriate discipline and boundary setting. If you cannot work these issues out without conflict, then you should consider working with a parenting coordinator, a third party neutral, who can help you work through these issues.

There are different ways to parent a child. Different children within one family will have differing needs. Try to accept that the other parent provides valuable parenting to your child. Do your best to parent the child during your time. Many children do very well growing up in different homes and accepting the strengths that each parent brings to the process.