What is Best for My Children: Parallel Parenting, or Co-Parenting?

One of the most challenging issues parents can face during times of divorce is how each party envisions parenting post-divorce. Parents will always need to work together to an extent to ensure their children’s best interests and needs are met. Two main methods for post-divorce parenting are parallel parenting vs. co-parenting. Understanding how they differ will help you decide what is best suited for your family.

What is Parallel Parenting?

In this technique, each parent maintains entirely separate households and shares custody while still having the least amount of contact with the other parent. Often, a parenting coordinator or mediator will be enlisted to help the parents coordinate with each other with minimal interaction.

What is Co-Parenting?

Here, the parents will work together and seek equal responsibility for the child's care and decision-making. Parents consult with each other and reach decisions jointly when raising their children, which necessarily requires significant communication and interaction. These parents have perfected the art of child before self and will often throw joint birthday parties or attend the child's graduation together.

Parallel Parenting v. Co-Parenting

Each situation offers very different benefits and drawbacks that will impact how your family proceeds after the divorce. Parallel parenting is usually used in situations where the level of conflict between parents is high. Both parents still want a relationship with their children and recognize the importance of the child having a healthy relationship with each other. However, they also are smart enough to realize that they cannot work together without some acrimony, which is harmful to the parent-child relationship.

In parallel parenting, parents make a mature decision to relinquish certain aspects of parenting to the other party for the sake of stability for the child. In most cases, parallel parenting allows the parents to come together to make big decisions for the child, such as medical decisions or educational ones. However, the day-to-day tasks with raising the child are left largely up to the other parent who is in possession of the child at that moment.

For co-parenting, the parents will be communicating with each other consistently, which can inevitably lead to disagreements (even between the friendliest of divorcees). This can be a challenge when there is no intermediary to resolve disputes. As in any healthy relationship, consulting with a licensed family therapist can help alleviate disputes and provide each party with tools to successfully co-parent a child. Co-parenting will also require each party to be very organized. You will each need to have a solid understanding of the child's schedules, needs, and expectations. And of course, with the parents working together well and talking frequently, it can be difficult for a child to understand that the divorce is final and their parents will not be reconciling. Co-parents should encourage communication between themselves and their children as well to ensure they are not making incorrect assumptions about their relationship.

The Benefits of Either Method

No matter the approach you and your ex-spouse take, parallel parenting and co-parenting will provide immeasurable benefits to your children.

  • A close bond with both parents. Each system allows the children to have a close relationship with both parents and will not have to worry about the other party interfering. Studies show that when children have a good relationship with both parents, they have higher self-esteem and a sense of security. This, in turn, leads to better adjustment as they grow up and into adulthood.
  • A good model for future relationships. When parents’ divorce, whether or not they parallel parent or co-parent, each method demonstrates a level of cooperation between their parents. As long as the communication is respectful between the parties, the children will have a good template to follow in the future when their relationships break down.
  • Better communication skills. Even in parallel parenting, when communication is at a minimum, each approach will encourage better communication skills with the child. Parallel parenting is designed to keep any communication that is done respectful and productive, which any child can take into the future. Co-parenting requires constant communication, and the child can see good skills demonstrated for them to mimic in the future.
Steps to Take to Assure Your Children Post-Divorce

It will always require a period of adjustment for children who adapt to living in two separate homes. Parents will need to be proactive and tailor their approach when helping children acclimatize to the new reality.

For younger children, reassure them that both parents love them equally, even if they no longer love each other. Then, show them this is true by not putting them in the middle, and keeping any disagreements you have with each other outside the child's view. Treat your spouse in a cordial manner whenever the children are around. Try to be enthusiastic any time your child has a visit with the other parent – or at a minimum, be neutral and let your child express their own feelings.

As they grow older, children will inevitably have more complex schedules and will feel less dependent on their parents for transportation. Be accommodating and work together with your child and the other parent as their needs change. Encourage their friendships and try to create an openness for the other parent to be involved in your child's social life. A child who has the same ability to bond with their friends at each parent's home will be more well-adjusted and have stronger relationships with each parent as a result. Finally, work together with the other parent to slowly encourage more independence from your child. It is important that they spend time on their own or at other friend's houses. Coordinate schedules so that one parent does not feel like they are sacrificing all their benefits for the sake of a good social life.

If you are facing a divorce and want to know more about co-parenting vs. parallel parenting, get in touch with the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free, initial consultation today at 201-845-7400.

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