A man and woman arguing over the child.

Co-Parenting vs Parallel Parenting

It is always the best case scenario that children have two parents who can communication and work together amiably after divorce or separation. But when parents don’t get along or have ongoing escalated conflict over parenting issues, then co-parenting can have some drawbacks for children. Children need to be shielded from the conflict between parents. In fact, when parents fail in this vein, it can very devastating for a child’s emotional health as they are often caught in the middle.

Co-parenting is a great option when both parents support the other in having a relationship with the children. But when parents are not cooperating with one another, parallel parenting may be better.

What are differences between co-parenting and parallel parenting?

Co-parenting describes a parenting situation in which two separated or divorced parents work together to take care of their children. Each has equal value and responsibility for the child’s welfare and upbringing. The child has access to both parents routinely and know that it is okay to love both parents.

In co-parenting, routine communication between parents is essential although there is a lot less personal sharing. It is like a business relationship, focused, cooperative, and solution-focused. It is all about how to make things work best for the children. Both parents agree that the other is of equal importance in the child’s life and they rely on each other for help in covering all the bases with the children.

Parallel parenting is different than co-parenting in that it arranges a means for high conflict parents to disengage from each other while they both still have an active relationship with their children. This is a better scenario for parents who have demonstrated the inability to communicate respectfully or to work in a productive manner with one another. In parallel parenting, each parent decides separately the logistics of day to day parenting. Here are the general guidelines for a parallel parenting arrangement to work:

  1. Every detail in the parenting plan is in the court order.
  2. There are no changes to the schedule are made without written agreement.
  3. All communication is funneled through something like My Family Wizard.  Posts are non-personal, business-like and relate only to information relevant to your children’s well-being.
  4. Parents do not address one another to discuss problems or concerns.
  5. Parents’ do not attempt to influence one another about parenting choices or decisions.
  6. Children do not carry messages to back and forth between parents.
  7. Parents go through legal channels to resolve problems and make change to the parenting plan when needed.

Parallel parenting allows conflicts between co-parents to die down and often help lay the groundwork for future co-parenting. Time heals a lot and sometimes parents can learn to put aside their hostilities and finally treat each other with respect by taking a break from relating to the other parent when it is toxic. Regardless, both parallel parenting and co-parenting benefit kids because there is nothing more important than the relationship itself when it comes to their best interest.

Whether your co-parent or you parallel parent, the key to success if to keep the focus on the best interests of the children. It is so important that you do your part to maintain a cordial relationship with the parent. When children to see that their parents are working together for their well-being they will feel loved and know that they are important to you. This is what I believe children need after divorce above all else.

Erin Bunnell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent over 20 years working with co-parents in a program that helps reduce conflict, establish appropriate boundaries and protect children from the effects of chronic conflict after divorce or separation. As a divorced parent herself, Erin uses her own co-parenting experiences to help parents heal, cope, and find positive ways to move forward in a high conflict co-parenting relationship. You may reach Erin at [email protected].

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