After divorce, anger continues to plague a relationship that was once filled with love, especially if the divorce was initiated in an environment where one partner did not believe the other was serious. When anger follows, the only person at risk of injury is the child or children who continue to yearn for each others’ care, attention, affection, and validation. Putting it simply, children always want their parents to be together. Their brain does not permit them to understand the abstract implication of your conflict.
Parallel parenting is the best approach to parenting when co-parenting is not practical. Most parents tell themselves they can co-parent but fail miserably because of lingering misery due to the divorce. Parallel parenting is where separated or divorced parents can work together toward supporting their children. Through parallel parenting, both parents are involved in the child’s life but not each other’s. Communication remains key, like in any relationship; however, with parallel parenting, it is less emotional yet more directed towards the child and not each other.
A parallel parenting arrangement involves the joint custody of children between separated parents with clear boundaries. There is very little interaction between parents, but there is a clear plan for what is best for the child. Parallel parenting plans allow parents to spend time with their children without the risk of interference from the other parent. By developing clear guidelines for the logistics of the arrangement, parents can spend time with their children without interference. It is usually done through email, text messages, or mediators to allow each parent to distance themselves from the other, especially where domestic violence is involved, or there is a high level of conflict between the parents.
Both parents experience more independence and space in parenting their children this way. It is especially helpful when parents are engaged in an acrimonious separation or divorce, and their child’s wellbeing is at stake. Divorced or separated parents may find it difficult to parent their children without constant negative feedback, interference, or interruptions from the other parent. Children benefit from a less stressful environment when each person sets their own house rules and determines their parenting style.
When joint custody is awarded, the child must feel safe and secure with both parents. By creating a parallel parenting plan, each parent can create an environment where the child and parent can interact without the other parent interfering. It can result in a much more satisfying experience for everyone if each parent focuses on the relationship with the child. In addition to making life easier for adults, parallel parenting can make life easier for children.
Parallel parenting has several key benefits for children, including:
It might unintentionally cause the child to feel disconnected from both parents, even though parallel parenting allows them to have significant independence from each other. When parents communicate negative messages to their children, this is especially true. Additionally, when parents disagree on equitable time sharing with the child, especially when it is unclear from custodial documents, parallel parenting can be more difficult to manage.
Often, a parent demands spending time with their child regardless of their parenting competency after a separation or divorce. Parallel parenting agreements may put children at risk in cases of suspected child abuse. Supervised visitation may be the only safe option in which abuse has occurred. In any case, the custodial parent must make the best decision they believe will be in the child’s best interest. When in doubt, it is best to get the assistance of a licensed mental health professional to help you process your thoughts and feelings regarding this important decision.
Parallel parenting focuses on the child’s wellbeing, which should always be the parent’s primary concern. There are several situations in which parallel parenting may be beneficial within a family.
Families may benefit from parallel parenting if:
As a general reminder, parallel parenting is no longer appropriate when child abuse is suspected. In cases of suspected abuse by the other parent, reasonable steps must be taken with the appropriate agency and inform the relevant legal representatives.
Co-parenting differs greatly from parallel parenting. Couples who co-parent work together to develop shared parenting plans for their children. The parents work together to ensure consistency across both homes for the child regarding behavior expectations, rules, discipline, and daily routines. Children’s issues are discussed between parents, negotiated, and shared decision-making occurs between parents. Couples display mutual respect and work as a team to ensure stability and support for their children. Parents can pursue their independent interests yet put their children’s needs first when the time arises.
Parents in parallel parenting do not collaborate and have strict boundaries regarding Communication. In addition to making decisions alone, parents do not “check-in” with one another when they have children. In parallel parenting, detailed parenting plans clearly outline pick-up times, locations, and schedules. Parents refrain from direct communication and do not interfere or comment on the other parent’s parenting behaviors.
Parallel parenting plans can be difficult to create. Setting clear rules from the start allows you to focus on parenting your child instead of arguing with your ex-partner. Parallel parenting plans should be documented and filed with both parents’ legal representatives if necessary. By putting it in writing, there is no room to waver on what you “thought” the other parent agreed to in the plan.
A communication book can be helpful for some parents. This is where parents record information about their child’s day, health, or behavior. The communication book travels with the child between parents. Both parents can stay informed about what their child is doing when they are not in their custody. The communication book serves as a “safe space” where only information about the child is entered; it is not used to communicate negative feelings or thoughts toward the other parent.
Clearly state the dates, times, and locations of the transfer of custody of the child when creating the agreement. Expectations about consistency in children’s routines–from bedtimes to school attendance to extracurricular activities and everything in between– must be clearly stated in the plan.
Parallel parenting plans should include the following:
1.Treat like a formal binding agreement.
You must approach the parallel parenting agreement as if it were the most important business agreement you have ever negotiated and signed. You must be able to find answers to virtually all of your questions regarding your child’s care in this agreement, for example, who has custody and when; what exchange point will be used to transfer custody; what happens when your child gets sick or needs emergency care; is bedtime flexible or strictly mandated; etc. Share a copy of your agreement with a trusted member of your support network and your legal representative. As well as protecting your decisions, this document also covers your child’s welfare. As you hold your child’s other parent accountable after it has been written and signed, hold yourself accountable.
2. Outline any consequences if the agreement is violated.
Consequences should address any breach of the agreement. For example, suppose the child is not returned at the specified time. In that case, law enforcement personnel may be contacted, as may cancellation of visiting rights for a certain period if the parent fails to appear on the scheduled date. Despite your ex’s attempts to make you trust them, don’t let them dissuade you from stipulating consequences if they get it wrong.
3. Use the Plan as a Guide.
Follow the parallel parenting plan no matter how strong your emotions toward the other parent might be. A parallel parenting plan minimizes emotional engagement between parents and focuses on what is fair and in the child’s best interest. Our perspective becomes muddled when we get tangled up in our emotions, and we may lose sight of how our emotions negatively affect our children.
4. Maintain Established Boundaries.
Healthy boundaries are crucial to every relationship, whether it’s between friends, family, or colleagues at work. Indeed, no relationship is sustainable without boundaries. To ensure a parallel parenting plan is successful, boundaries are especially important. Resist the urge to “check in” on your child when they are with your ex. This is an important boundary that must be observed. Your ex must do their best to uphold this boundary too. It is essential to set boundaries so that your ex knows where you and your responsibilities begin and where theirs end.
5. Keep Communication to a Minimum.
Parental roles are clarified in parallel parenting agreements and communication frequency and methods. By eliminating conflict between parents, children are not exposed to any other dysfunction. Children do not enjoy witnessing parental conflict. Separation enables healthier parenting practices to take hold once a couple determines separation is necessary. Communicate with your ex only when necessary and as agreed in the parallel parenting agreement, you have established.
6. Your Child’s Welfare Must Come First.
Remember, most children want their parents to be together. Separation and divorce are forms of trauma that can negatively impact your child. This means you never give your child reason to mistrust their other parent and don’t communicate negative messages about them to your child. Do your best to keep your children out of the crosshair of your discontent with your ex. Your child will likely experience confusion and anxiety due to these practices, leading to a regression in behavior and problems in school.
7. Every child is an individual.
It is unnecessary for your child to reflect your feelings about your ex, just as you would not necessarily want them to reflect your ex’s feelings about you. It’s important to teach your children respect for their other parents because they absorb everything they’re exposed to. By doing this, your child will not feel that they are wrong to feel affection for both parents.
8. Don’t be a Bully.
Embrace the fact that there are many ways to do parenting “right” and that each parent can be successful in their own way. You must believe that your ex has their child’s best interest at heart just like you have their best interest at heart. Children tend to resent a parent for trying to hurt their other parent if they can’t see your negative viewpoint of your ex. It would help if you didn’t try to tell your ex how they should parent their child but rather let them make their own decisions. Having clear directives regarding when and what type of communication can be shared between parents helps keep them from trying to give unsolicited advice or feedback to the other parent.
9. Your Child Needs the Support of Both Parents.
Recognize that your child deserves to develop deep relationships with both parents and both sides of their family. Children need all the support and love they can get in life. By unfairly limiting the time they spend with the other parent or their extended family, your actions harm your ex and negatively affect your child. Children, like adults, have a huge capacity to love others, and you won’t lose any love your child feels for you by supporting their opportunities to get to know their extended family.
10. Alert Appropriate Authorities When Necessary.
If you suspect your child’s safety is at risk, alert the appropriate authorities. Personally confronting your ex may put you at risk of harm or danger. Make a call to the reporting agencies, i.e., CPS, legal representatives, and your support system for support. If your relationship with the other parent was high-conflict or involved threats of harm to you or your child, ensure you have someone present with you at drop-off and pick-up meetings.
No matter how a relationship ends, it is a significant transition. This becomes more of a concern when children are involved. It takes time to recover from the pain of a breakup. Truth be told, your life may never be quite what you would like it to be when the divorce is finalized. However, no matter how much distance you intentionally try to put between yourself and the other parent, your child will tie you together for life. Notice it is you who feels a particular way about your partner. It may not necessarily be the same for them. Indeed, their behavior may be in response to your resentment towards them. Nevertheless, therapy can help you deal with the emotions related to the breakup itself and help you manage the shift into parallel parenting. As time goes on, you can work towards co-parenting.
The New Hope Mental Health Counseling Services provides an objective, culturally competent perspective on your situation and can help you cope with the challenges you face as you master parallel parenting. Your child may benefit from therapy, too, if they are exhibiting negative reactions to the parallel parenting practice. Remember that therapy isn’t only about solving problems; it also helps prevent problems in the future. A saying observed at The New Hope is, ” You cannot regulate a child without regulating the parents.”
When parents cannot be civil to one another or treat each other with respect, parallel parenting can be the best path to moving forward. Each parent can choose how to parent their child when their child is in their custody. The creation of a clear plan is especially important because it allows parents to detach from their unhealthy relationship with each other and put their focus on their children, which is right where it should be.
LMHC, CCTS-F, CAMS-II
Clinton Clovis is currently finishing his PhD in Psychology with an emphasis in Mental Health Administration and Trauma.