As joint child custody has become more popular, so has the concept of co-parenting. Parents working together to raise their children can be very beneficial for those children, but it does mean that parents may not have the time they need to heal after a divorce.
Sometimes, divorce stirs up so many negative emotions in former spouses that they have trouble being in the same room together, let alone collaborating peacefully. Unfortunately, parental conflict can undermine many of the intended goals for co-parenting.
Co-parenting may not be successful for high-conflict parents
Parental conflict can even be harmful to children. This can be the case when it is frequent, hostile, aggressive, threatens the intactness of the family or is about the child. This is why parents who have a high conflict relationship with each other may not be a good fit for a co-parenting arrangement.
Fortunately, there is another parenting arrangement that they can try. Parallel parenting allows children to maintain ongoing relationships with both of their parents, while allowing each parent the ability to distance himself or herself from the other parent.
How does parallel parenting differ from co-parenting?
In a co-parenting arrangement, parents typically do many activities together. They may attend parent-teacher conferences together, jointly host the child’s birthday party and enforce the same rules in both homes. They may also make child-rearing decisions together and see each other regularly to exchange custody.
In a parallel parenting arrangement, parents may avoid in-person interactions with each other. They may only communicate through emails or text messages. All communication is generally brief, unemotional, business-like, focused on the child and lacking personal details.
Parents usually enforce their own rules in their own homes and have no say on the rules in the other parent’s home. They may even set up child exchanges that involve no contact between parents.
When high conflict parents eliminate most of the contact with each other, they can usually eliminate most of their conflict as well. This can help the child, and it can help each parent focus on what is really important to them – their child.
Parallel parenting may not be an appropriate fit for all families and may be only a temporary arrangement for others. However, it can be a useful tool to help reduce a child’s exposure to parental conflict, while keeping both parents in the child’s life. It can also allow parents the time they need to heal after divorce and the space they need from each other so they can each be the best parent they can be.