Parallel Parenting: A Guide for Separated Parents

parallel parenting

Parallel parenting is an arrangement where divorced or separated parents raise their children with minimal communication and coordination between the households. Unlike co-parenting, where parents collaborate closely, parallel parenting establishes firm boundaries allowing each parent to have their own rules, routines, and parenting style.

While parallel parenting may not be right for every family, it can work well when:

  • Parents have a high level of conflict or distrust that makes co-parenting difficult
  • Parents have very different parenting styles, rules and approaches
  • There are safety concerns like domestic violence or substance abuse
  • One parent suffers from mental illness or personality disorders

When done thoughtfully, parallel parenting can reduce conflict and provide stability for children of separation or divorce. This guide covers everything you need to know to create a parallel parenting plan that meets your family’s needs.

What is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting refers to a child custody arrangement where divorced parents raise their children with minimal communication between households. According to Australian Family Lawyers, key features include:

  • Firm boundaries – Each household has its own rules, routines, and parenting style. Parents avoid questioning each other’s methods.
  • Limited contact – Parents have minimal direct communication, sticking to just essential logistics like schedules and emergencies.
  • United front – Parents never criticize each other in front of the children and respect each other’s households.
  • Focus on children – Parents put children’s wellbeing first and avoid using them as messengers or bargaining chips.

The goal is to allow both parents to be fully engaged with their children while avoiding conflict. Parents function more as business partners rather than co-parents actively coordinating the children’s upbringing.

Show Image<figcaption>Parallel parenting allows each parent to have their own rules and routines. Photo by Alex Green from Pexels.</figcaption>

How Parallel Parenting Differs from Co-Parenting

Parallel parenting differs quite significantly from co-parenting:

Co-parenting parents work closely together, actively communicating and coordinating their children’s schedules, activities, rules, and upbringing across households. The goal is consistency.

In parallel parenting, parents establish firm boundaries and avoid discussing parenting methods. Each parent makes decisions about their household independently to reduce conflicts.

According to a 2022 study in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, parallel parenting is often a better fit when:

  • Parents have a toxic or abusive relationship where communication triggers conflict
  • Parents have very different values, parenting styles, and household rules
  • One parent suffers from mental illness, substance abuse, or personality disorders
  • There are ongoing concerns about domestic violence or child abuse

In these situations, parallel parenting helps establish stability and minimizes conflict exposure.

Benefits of Parallel Parenting After Divorce

When parents have high conflict, parallel parenting offers many benefits including:

1. Less Conflict and Stress

Parallel parenting minimizes contact between hostile parents. This reduces argument opportunities and associated emotional stress for everyone.

According to marriage and family therapist Elisabeth Goldberg, LCSW:

“When parents utilize a parallel parenting plan, they experience lower conflict because they have fewer interactions. This leads to lower stress for everyone involved including the children.”

2. Consistent Household Rules and Routines

Since parents establish their own rules, a parallel parenting plan allows each household to have consistent expectations, discipline, and routines.

This reduces confusion for children compared to constantly shifting rules and standards between lenient and strict parents. Kids also avoid being put in the middle or manipulated when parents disagree over parenting decisions.

3. Parents Can Disengage from Toxic Relationships

Parallel parenting helps separated spouses disengage from unhealthy relationships, especially when domestic violence, mental illness, or addiction are present. This protects the safety and stability of children.

4. More Emotionally Available Parents

When conflict and emotions are running high between ex-partners, it’s difficult for parents to be fully present and attentive to their kids’ needs.

Parallel parenting allows parents to focus on their children rather than battling the other parent during exchanges or arguing over schedules and rules.

Ultimately, parallel parenting stops destructive parental conflicts from overshadowing childhood. Kids get to just be kids again.

Challenges of Parallel Parenting After Separation

Parallel parenting isn’t without its challenges. Potential drawbacks can include:

Inconsistent Rules and Expectations

When parents don’t communicate or coordinate discipline, children must shift back and forth between very different rules and parenting styles at mom’s versus dad’s home.

Too much inconsistency between permissive and strict households can certainly frustrate and confuse kids. Some support from a parenting coordinator may help align expectations.

Differing Parenting Styles

Similarly, when parents have very different approaches, children must adapt back and forth between contrasting parenting styles.

A child with an authoritarian dad and a permissive mom endures very different rules and reactions. This can certainly be challenging, but many children adapt well over time.

Limited Insight into Child’s Life

Parallel parenting also means parents have less insight into their children’s lives when they are with the other parent. Not knowing about their experiences, activities, and friends in the other household can worry some parents.

However, placing children at the center also means respecting their privacy and the need for two different relationships with each parent. As child psychologist Dr. Dana Dorfman writes:

“As much as parents may want insight into their child’s life when they are not together, they must recognize their limitations once they elect to parallel parent.”

While no single arrangement fits every family’s situation, parallel parenting offers a conflict-reducing alternative when co-parenting fails. The key is creating an appropriate plan.

Creating a Parallel Parenting Plan

A written parallel parenting plan outlines each parent’s responsibilities and schedule while minimizing direct communication. According to the divorce education service Affordable Divorce Illinois, key areas to address include:

Parenting time routines – Who has the kids and when? Pick ups/drop offs? Holiday and birthday routines?

Rules within each household – Curfews? Screen time limits? Chores? Religion or cultural customs?

Transitions – Exchange location/days? Transporting kids between houses? Late pick-ups?

Schools and activities – Who attends parent/teacher conferences? Extracurricular activity policies? Permission slips?

Medical care – Insurance coverage? Appointment scheduling? Emergencies? Access to records?

Communication protocol – What methods are used? Response times? Which topics can be discussed directly?

Financial contributions – How are expenses like childcare, healthcare, school fees, etc. divided?

Putting clear expectations in writing reduces confusion down the road. Apps like OurFamilyWizard provide useful tools for documenting schedules, logging expenses, making requests, and maintaining tone-controlled communication between parallel parenting households.

When uncooperative co-parenting triggers constant arguments, parallel parenting just makes sense for everyone’s well-being. The key is tailoring the plan thoughtfully to your family’s unique needs.

Tips for Making Parallel Parenting Successful

Here are some top tips for effectively navigating parallel parenting based on guidance from divorce and family experts:

  • Be businesslike – Approach the relationship like cordial business partners focused on logistics rather than emotions. Be reliable and respectful always.
  • Insulate kids from conflict – Never argue or criticize the other parent in front of children. If kids share complaints, listen calmly without reaction.
  • Allow separate relationships – Children have their own experiences with each parent. Avoid grilling them about time spent away.
  • Share just essential info – Only communicate critical medical, school, or schedule details. Save opinions for your household.
  • Use a parenting app – Tools like OurFamilyWizard facilitate quick, tone-controlled logistics communication between parents.
  • Establish neutral transitions – Exchanges should happen in neutral spaces like schools without lingering or interaction between ex-partners.
  • Seek counseling if needed – If tensions escalate or communication completely breaks down, enlist professional help from a child psychologist, parenting coordinator, or divorce coach rather than forcing co-parenting interactions.

The less business that needs direct discussion, the more effective parallel parenting tends to be. The priority is disentangling toxic parental relationships to preserve childhood peace.

With the heavy lifting addressed upfront in a thoughtful parenting plan, parallel parenting allows kids to thrive and parents to heal.

How Parallel Parenting Impacts Children

Parallel parenting is often misunderstood to be harmful or neglectful to children. However, research indicates that when conflict is high, parallel parenting may provide greater stability than clashing co-parents or a turbulent primary home.

According to a child psychologist Dr. Dana Dorfman:

“Children can manage having different rules at different houses quite well if it means having two happy, engaged parents rather than two parents in conflict…In homes with high parental discord, parallel parenting may support better outcomes.”

Without feeling torn between feuding parents or caught up in drama, kids tend to relax and open up. Each parent is also more attentive to their needs when not preoccupied with conflict.

Children still deserve insight into any major decisions about schooling, health, or religious/cultural upbringing. Seeking input from older children and allowing them some flexibility to share wishes is also wise within reason.

However, the top priority must be insulating children from adult arguments. Their well-being and safety come first.

Parallel parenting stops parental conflict from hijacking childhood–and that impact is significant.

Legal Considerations Around Parallel Parenting Plans

Australian family court judge Joe Harman emphasizes that parallel parenting plans require the same level of approval as any parenting agreement in divorce proceedings:

“Even though parallel parenting agreements aim to minimize co-parent communication, they still must deliver sound parenting arrangements meeting both legal and psychological criteria – especially upholding the best interests of affected children.”

Key considerations around instituting a parallel parenting plan through legal channels include:

  • Court approval – Get any negotiated parenting agreement registered as family court consent orders so it is legally enforceable. Having an expert like a child psychologist or parenting coordinator formally endorse your plan can assist in approval.
  • Following court orders – Even with a parallel plan aiming to limit contact, both parents must obey all registered family court orders around parenting matters. Violating orders risks sanctions or loss of custody.
  • Changing arrangements – Reaching new parenting agreements independently is not allowed without formal approval if consent orders are in place. Consulting a family lawyer is necessary to file variations officially.
  • Documentation – Keep written records of all scheduling arrangements, child-related communications, medical appointments, teacher meetings, etc. for future reference. Apps like Our Family Wizard facilitate thorough documentation.
  • Support services – Seek assistance from social services, family counselors, parenting coordinators, or children’s advocates if tensions escalate or violations occur. They can facilitate interventions or recommend plan adaptations in the best interests of children.

Registered consent orders empower families to tailor parenting arrangements to meet their needs–including implementing parallel parenting when suitable. However, legal obligations remain requiring both parents’ cooperation and formal processes for any modifications.

Parallel Parenting Requires Ongoing Adjustment

Successfully navigating parallel parenting arrangements often involves ongoing fine-tuning as children’s needs and family circumstances evolve.

Some examples of common adjustments include:

  • Increasing structure around transitions – Adding neutral pick-up/drop-off locations, limiting interactions during exchanges, and formalizing schedules.
  • Modifying communication protocols – Changing allowed topics, methods, and response times to control tension while still addressing child-related necessities.
  • Adding therapeutic support – Engaging counselors, social workers, or parenting coordinators to assist with high-emotion situations like reunifications after no contact.
  • Updating rules/routines – Instituting new expectations around technology, social media, dating exposure, etc. to match kids’ developing maturity and autonomy.
  • Planning contact interventions – In limited cases where total disengagement severely harms kids’ well-being, brief discussions or family therapy with both parents may help reestablish relationships.
  • Shifting between arrangements – In some situations parallel parenting functions as a temporary intervention before moving back to cooperative co-parenting or vice versa.

What works at age 6 may need reassessment by 16. Ultimately parallel parenting must remain nimble–adapting protocols and expectations as families grow.

The Bottom Line

A parallel parenting plan can stop constant co-parenting clashes from defining childhood after separation or divorce. When tailored thoughtfully to family dynamics, parallel parenting boundaries minimize conflict while protecting stability and safety.

However, parallel parenting takes effort. Compromises around holidays, letting go of control in the other household, and learning new handoff routines all challenge parents. Expect ongoing adjustment too.

With a commitment to children’s well-being over parental egos, parallel parenting does allow kids to feel secure. Most children still crave time, attention, and engagement from both parents. Parallel parenting makes this possible without the burden of adult drama.

While parallel parenting poses very real difficulties, for warring ex-partners it represents potentially the only path to being positively involved parents. And flourishing children.

By focusing on consistent love and support within each household, parallel parenting boundaries get parents out of conflict and kids out of the middle. That just might be the healthiest foundation possible for rebuilding post-divorce family life.

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