FAQs: Parallel Parenting and Co-Parenting

Parties must still navigate the tricky path of raising children together long after the ink on the divorce paperwork dries. If the divorce was particularly acrimonious, finding the patience to tolerate the other parent long enough to effectively raise your children can be the biggest challenge of all. Many experts say the parties should focus on co-parenting. But there is another option: parallel parenting. Keep reading to figure out which method is best for your family.

What is Co-parenting?

This is a partnership, first and foremost. Parents should consult each other on most decisions regarding the children. Parents will be able to work past their own personal conflicts and put the children first. Essentially, no decision is made without the parent’s ‘okay.’ There is a lot more interaction between the parents – think throwing joint birthday parties, showing up for a child’s school play together, and the like.

What is Parallel Parenting?

According to one definition, it is “an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other.” The goal is to limit contact with your ex-partner, ultimately reducing conflict and making sure that your children stay out of the crossfire. This is ideal for parties who still begrudge one another, but do not need to feel like a failure because they don’t feel like catching up with their ex-spouse over a cup of coffee.

How Does Someone Practice Parallel Parenting?

The underlying theory is that of disengagement. Certain topics will always trigger conflict between parents, so the best way to handle it is to not talk about it verbally. Parallel parenting relies heavily on electronic communication, emails, and software to reduce one-on-one interactions. Using written communications will enable each party the time to process the other parent’s suggestions on that topic, meaning a lower likelihood of a major blow up.

Unfortunately, children of divorce frequently suffer the negative effects of conflict between their parents. Parallel parenting reduces the opportunity for parents to argue – at least in front of the children.

How can a Party Co-parent?

Co-parenting allows both parents and their children to have a close and cooperative relationship. However, even in the most amicable of separations, the fact that parents will be consistently communicating with each other will inevitably lead to some disagreements. In some cases, such positive communication can actually cause the children to believe that their parents will ultimately reconcile, which can be disappointing when you do not. Therefore, each party should insist on clear boundaries. Information and sharing should be strictly related to the children and facilitating decisions.

What are the Advantages of Co-parenting?

In co-parenting, children can see that their parents are working together as a team. This avoids what's called ‘loyalty conflicts,' that children can develop in a more traumatic separation. Sometimes children can feel pressured to take sides or act as a messenger after a divorce. When parents decide to co-parent, they take a proactive and respectful approach to raising their children together. Children are more confident and do not feel like they are put in the middle.

What are the Advantages of Parallel Parenting?

While co-parenting is an idyllic method, it is simply not possible for everyone to achieve. Therefore, parallel parenting offers significant advantages by being a workable solution for parties that have high conflict levels. The communication between parents remains respectful and avoids children turning into messengers, or having to pick sides. Parallel parenting often requires written agreements to schedule changes, meaning there are no surprises. Everyone is on the same page because calendars are usually shared digitally. Therefore, it offers the best of both worlds: parents stay committed to making big decisions jointly (such as the education of their kids) while the daily logistics are separate.

Whichever method the parents choose to implement, they will both offer distinct advantages to their relationship with their children. The kids and parents will maintain strong relationships with each party, which will foster a sense of security. This means they will have higher self-esteem and fewer issues with trust and commitment as they grow into adulthood. Of course, seeing their parents cooperate – even when they cannot normally get along – shows them the importance of good communication skills. Witnessing their parents negotiate challenges in raising them will also allow them to become better problem solvers.

What are the Disadvantages of Co-parenting?

Despite its benefits, co-parenting can present challenges to parents, especially if they are not fully committed to the practice. Sometimes, parents might feel that they are not able to adequately express themselves should they disagree, for fear of raising conflict. Co-parenting is not right for everyone, and parents should be honest with themselves and each other if it’s just not working.

What are the Disadvantages of Parallel Parenting?

One of the biggest drawbacks with parallel parenting is that parties might not feel they get a full picture of what’s going on with their child. Inevitably, they miss out on time and events when children are staying at the other parents’ house. Children might have difficulty adapting to different parenting styles as well – maybe mom is more lenient and lets the kids eat in front of the television, while dad insists they eat at the table together. Children will learn to adapt to the different expectations, but it will be up to you to encourage them to solve any problems they have themselves. So, if the child complains to you about how mom’s house runs, then they must handle that with mom directly and leave you out of it. Ultimately, this will empower your child and strengthen the relationship they have with the other parent.

Children can tell when parents have a high-conflict relationship, even when they make efforts to minimize it. Therefore, parents must be proactive and not be afraid to enlist the help of third parties to facilitate communication. Working with teachers, doctors or even a court-appointed parenting coordinator can create a more cohesive world for children of divorce.

If My Ex and I Don’t get Along Now, Can We Ever Decide to Try Co-parenting?

Of course. As time goes on and the children grow over, many parents are gratified to find that co-parenting becomes easier and more natural. But it is a slow process, so parents should not put undue pressure on themselves and force a parenting style too early. Parallel parenting can be a relief for parents who truly want the best for the children but can’t seem to move past old wounds just yet. Yet in time, by insisting on basic ground rules and clear communication, children will reap the benefits of any parenting style that avoids conflict.

If you have questions about what to expect after a divorce or family law dispute, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation.

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