Most people go into post-divorce life with the goal of finding a way to peacefully co-parent with their ex and to reduce the stress on their children. Cooperative co-parenting works when both parties believe that the other parent holds an equal role and value in raising the children. These parents may not always agree on all parenting decisions, but there is a mutual respect for each other’s role and neither parent allows anger or resentment to impact their parenting decisions. The goal is always what is best for the children and how to make it work smoothly for everyone. Parents that are not able to successfully co-parent often find themselves in a regular state of conflict with the other parent.
Conflictural co-parenting occurs when one or both people do not believe the other person has an equal right to parent. They may have a complete lack of respect for the other parent, they may interfere with the ability of the other parent to play an equal role, or undermine the other parent’s relationship with the children. Many times it can be best for those in a conflictural co-parenting style to follow parallel parenting.
Parallel parenting is a type of co-parenting that results in reducing communication with each other as much as possible. Each parent will focus only on their own parenting time without input to the other household or parenting time. The parents do not agree to standard rules or discipline techniques between homes and they each have their own routines. While it is generally better for children if their parents can have a respectful relationship and work together on parenting decisions, when the relationship is high-conflict, parallel parenting can be best for all involved.
Some benefits of parallel parenting include:
- Reducing the number of conflicts with your ex
- Allowing you to create your own household rules and parenting style
- Gives you the ability to create a new family structure in your own home with your children
- Reduces anxiety in yourself, your children and other members of your household
While parents can worry about the inconsistencies between homes, children are able to quickly learn the differences in one house from another and it is typically easier for them compared to having parents in high levels of conflict.
Some suggestions for successfully parallel parenting:
- Each parent needs to take on the responsibility of contacting schools or coaches for information. This relates to setting up your own parent-teacher conferences or looking up information on your child’s baseball schedule. You no longer rely on the other parent for this type of information. Communication moves to the lowest possible levels.
- You need to let go of control over the other parent. While you may not agree with their rules or discipline techniques, they are not yours to change. You have control over your house and they have control over theirs. (Excluding concerns of abuse which need to be addressed)
- What happens at each house, stays at each house. You shouldn’t be asking your child questions as soon as they get in the door about the activities they did, specific conversations or family details of the other house. This will help reduce anxiety with your children in feeling that they have to give you a report, that they are in the middle, or have to act the messenger. A simple, “did you have a fun weekend?”, will suffice.
- Do not relay messages through your children to the other parent. If there is information that needs to be passed on, do it through a more formal channel such as email.
- Do not share your opinions or feelings about the other parent to your child. Negative stories or feelings will make the child feel that they do not have your approval to be close to the other parent. Your feelings of sadness, jealousy or anger will make your child feel guilty and force them to take ownership of your state of happiness.
- Do not plan activities that fall on the other person’s days. Parallel parenting is necessary when the ability to compromise is gone – do not assume that you could have a conversation and adapt the custody schedule.
- Let go of the idea of fairness and reasonability. You will not be able to have a rational conversation with someone that holds high levels of anger. You will not be able to show them that you are right or genuine. You need to remember that co-parenting didn’t work for a reason and you can not reason with someone if they, or both of you, are consumed with your personal feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is the correct one. It would be wonderful if all divorced parents could let go of their personal vendettas and move on for the sake of the children, but the reality is that it’s not possible in all situations. Reducing communication and conflict is a way to protect your children and yourself.