What is Parallel Parenting, and is it Right For You?

Parallel parenting concept

We’ve said it before: parenting is hard, and parenting after divorce is usually even harder. Parenting after divorce when you have a high-conflict relationship with your ex-spouse can feel almost impossible. You want your children to have a positive relationship with their other parent, even if you can’t. But how? Parallel parenting may be the answer.

What is parallel parenting? It’s a method used by parents in different households who both want to actively care for their children while minimizing contact with each other. The technique is often appropriate when parenting with a narcissist, or in situations where emotions are high or there has been domestic violence between partners.

Just as parallel lines remain the same distance apart and never intersect, parallel parenting allows parents to regularly spend time with their child while (mostl) not having to deal directly with each other. Advantages of parallel parenting include shielding children from conflict and allowing them to build relationships independently with each parent.

Tips for Parallel Parenting

This parenting technique requires careful set-up to work effectively. Parents who share child custody will still need to communicate about children, and they will still have to deal with sudden contingencies, such as a sick child or a parent who needs to work late. By thinking ahead, parents can be prepared to “expect the unexpected” and create a system for necessary communication that does not require direct contact.

Create a Specific Parallel Parenting Plan

The more the mechanics of parenting time and child exchange are spelled out in a parallel parenting plan, the less you will need to communicate later to figure things out on the fly. A good plan will give both parents certainty about what is happening when, and how. Your plan should probably include:

  • Specifics of when each parent will spend time with the child, including start and end times
  • Who will drop the child off and pick them up for parenting time exchanges, and where (a neutral site between the parents’ homes may be ideal)
  • What warrants a cancellation or postponement of one parent’s time with the child, and how that should be communicated
  • Who will attend school events or doctor visits
  • Which parent the child will be with for certain holidays
  • How each parent will celebrate the child’s birthday with them
  • How parents will communicate necessary information to each other, and any limitations on communication (e.g. no calling except in defined emergencies)

Of course, creating a specific parenting plan requires communication. That can be through your attorneys, a parenting coordinator ordered by the court, or through a neutral mediator who meets with each of you separately.

Use a Parenting App

Just a few decades ago, divorced or separated parents had only a few options for communicating with each other, most of which were either stressful and anxiety-provoking (like phone calls) or inappropriate (like using the children to pass messages).

Fortunately, there are better options now. Some of the best include parenting apps. Our Family Wizard is one of the first and best-known, but there are many others. These apps allow parents to share information, maintain a shared calendar, upload pictures and documents, submit receipts and request reimbursement, and exchange necessary messages about their child.

Often, information added to a co-parenting app is time-stamped and cannot be edited later, and can be shared with judges and attorneys. All of this encourages parents to communicate honestly and respectfully.

Avoid Unnecessary Communication and Don’t Use Kids as Go-Betweens

Even when using a parenting app, it’s best to avoid unnecessary communication with your ex. It should go without saying that you should never use your child as a go-between or worse, to spy on your ex. If you suspect your ex is using your kids to send messages or find out about your personal life, talk to your attorney. Gently remind kids that their parents have a way to communicate when they need to, and that it’s not the kids’ job to carry messages.

Cultivate Acceptance

In parallel parenting, parents each must accept that the other is going to parent in their own way during their own time. There is simply going to be less, if any collaboration on day-to-day parenting practices. It can be frustrating, but the price of having the other parent not interfering in your parenting means that you don’t get to interfere in theirs.

Of course, if the other parent is doing something that is actively endangering your child, seek appropriate help, whether calling 911 in a true emergency, or contacting your lawyer to take court action.

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting

Co-parenting is a term you have probably heard a lot. What’s the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting? In general, co-parenting involves much more direct communication between parents who are actively working together for the benefit of their child. In co-parenting, you might sit down with your co-parent and make decisions together, from whether to allow your child to go on the school trip to what their bedtime will be. Co-parents may attend their child’s sporting or school events together and may even spend holidays together.

At one end of a spectrum is 100% co-parenting, in which parents live separately but communicate frequently and well about all decisions regarding their child. At the other end is parallel parenting, when parents communicate as little as possible and do not coordinate their parenting.

Depending on the reason that parallel parenting was needed in the first place, over time, parents may be able to move from pure parallel parenting toward more co-parenting. In some cases, as parents heal from the emotional wounds of their divorce, they find it easier to interact with one another. In other cases, such as when one parent has narcissistic personality disorder, that may not ever be possible.

If you have questions about parenting after divorce, we invite you to contact Brinkley Law Firm to schedule a consultation.