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While the emphasis of parenting after divorce is clearly on co-parenting, the fact is that parallel parenting doesn’t make you a bad parent.
Co-parenting is held as the gold standard, the target we’re all to aim for. It means working collaboratively with your ex on everything to do with your child, being jointly actively involved in their school, attending your child’s events together, having consistent rules between your two homes, sharing Holidays and special occasions and even vacationing together.
That’s best case scenario but the reality is that few parents can accomplish this at this level all the time. For some parents, it’s an impossible standard most of the time and trying to follow these guidelines actually creates more problems than it solves. It can lead to more conflict which in turn increases the stress and anxiety.
We know that it isn’t the divorce that harms children the most but exposure to ongoing, unresolved conflict. That means reducing conflict is key and that’s where parallel parenting comes in.
So what is parallel parenting? When and how do you adopt this model? Are there situations when it doesn’t work? Joining me to discuss these questions and more is Jai Kissoon from Our Family Wizard, the third-party communication platform that is used by parents worldwide.
Listen in below or keep reading for a synopsis.
What Is The Goal Parallel Parenting?
Simply put, the biggest goal of this alternate to the co-parenting model is just to make it through the parenting experience. Shared parenting for many parents is not a Kumbaya experience, where everyone is happy, gets along and life is fantastic.
“Parallel parenting to me is about creating that business-like relationship,” said Kissoon. “It’s very matter of fact, you’re not letting emotions get in the way but you’re able to get the things done that need to be done for the child without necessarily having to have tea on Sundays.”
As the name suggests, parallel parenting means that you and your child’s other parent follow separate tracks, for example having different rules to follow at each home. It does mean that your child has to move between those tracks and one of the challenges, is to help your child adapt to this. Chances are however that you and your ex had different approaches while you were married – they may even have been a contributing factor to your divorce – your child is probably well aware of these differences and they won’t be a surprise.
While you still have a shared responsibility with your ex to make sure that all the important decisions are handled correctly, it’s your life, it’s about your relationship with your child and it’s about keeping the emotional strain on yourself and your child to an absolute minimum.
“You can disengage from your former partner but you stay connected with your child,” said Kissoon. “It’s this business relationship between the parents.”
When To Adopt Parallel Parenting
Kissoon believes that parallel parenting is a great option for people who don’t necessarily have the desire or need for ongoing contact with the other parent beyond the minimum necessary to ensure a functional shared parenting relationship.
Kissoon also makes the point that people are put off by the term ‘co-parenting.’
“It’s ‘we got divorced, we’re separated,'” said Kissoon. “‘I’m not looking to co anything, we’re done co-ing.’ I get that. That’s a very natural reaction after you go through the stress of a separation.”
Nevertheless, you still have the responsibility to act in the best interest of your child and to make sure that things don’t get overlooked. One indicator of needing to switch parenting styles is if your child is being used as a messenger between you and their other parent.
“When you use the child as a messenger it puts an undue burden on them,” said Kissoon. “It creates a situation where they’re no carrying a weight that they don’t necessarily have the capacity to deal with.”
For example, asking your child to tell their other parent that you can’t pick them up next week from school, puts your child in the position of delivering that message when possibly their other parent has had a difficult day at work, is struggling with other stressors and now has to adjust their schedule to suit you. That likely gets reflected back to your child who then understandably starts to think that it’s them that is the problem.
Another situation when parallel parenting is indicated is anytime when there are protection or restraining orders in place. “You can be a very horrible partner and still be a good parent,” said Kissoon.
The reality however is that it is a very individual decision.
“There are lots of different technology solutions and methodologies, psychology and therapy to try to get people to move past,” said Kissoon. “At the end of the day each family is so unique and each family has so many of their own concerns. A lot of them are similar but it doesn’t feel similar when you’re that person going through the this.”
Parenting Style Is A Range And Fluid
Co-parenting or parallel parenting is a range – it’s not an either or option. It can be very dependent on circumstances. You may find yourself following a parallel approach when it comes to certain issues, such as bedtimes or food choices bu a co-parenting approach to school homework. You may also move to a parallel approach when the circumstances between you and your ex are fraught and tensions are running high.
Following a parallel track maybe the best choice immediately following separation but with time, as trust and confidence in each other increases, you may be able to move to more of a co-parenting style. It might also be that by the time the kids are in their mid-teens there’s just not much to manage anymore.
Another time when we see a shift toward parallel parenting is when new partners are added into the mix. Having another adult giving input and opinions on your child, can challenge and upset the negotiated balance that parents have established and moving to more of a parallel track can provide the framework for renegotiating that.
It’s a matter of what is going to work for your specific situation at a particular time.
“One thing that families need to remember going through these challenges is that what’s right for your friend down the street who’s going through divorce or your coworker isn’t what’s right for you,” said Kissoon. “I always tell people to be very wary of outside influence and advice and articles you read on some random blog. Remember, you know the child’s other parent. You have to figure out what works best for your relationship.”
How To Get Started
One of the first steps in moving away from co-parenting is using to a third-party communication platform, such as Our Family Wizard and starting to follow some basic guidelines for how to communicate to reduce conflict.
(You can read my review of the Our Family Wizard app here.)
Whether you’re using text messages or emails (as opposed to voice mails and phone calls), the challenge is that you don’t get to feel the tone of the message and you don’t know the circumstances under which the message is being received. It’s easy for things to be taken out of context and to be misinterpreted.
“I once had a judge tell me that his advice to all the parents he talks to is when you’re communicating with your ex, the communication you’re sending shouldn’t be any longer than your first knuckle,” said Kissoon. “If you’re writing long paragraphs, you’re not helping yourself. You’re wasting your time.”
The beauty of using a third-party system is that it puts you in control of when you check and respond to messages. It’s less intrusive than a barrage of text messages to your phone. It’s also a central repository which makes it easier to back and check conversations and if you ever do need support for court motions, it’s all right there.
Parallel parenting does mean stepping up and taking responsibility. You can’t rely on your other parent to do things for you such as making sure the school has your emergency contact information or enrolling yourself in the school electronic communication system.
At the same time, it is still in your child’s best interests for you to share information and that’s where communication platforms like Our Family Wizard help. For example with a shared calendar, you can enter school activities and events. It’s not your responsibility to remind your other parent of those events – it’s their responsibility to check the shared calendar. The end result is often better than the individual efforts and it can help improve the parenting relationship.
Sharing other basic information about your child can also help. Kissoon heard from a dad who was in tears because for the first time he had been able to do his Christmas shopping and not have to call his ex to ask about clothing sizes because they had shared them through the communication platform.
What Makes Parallel Parenting Work?
For Kissoon, the key to making parallel parenting work is pretty simple. “You’ve got to love your kid more than you hate your ex.”
It’s about being so committed to the outcome for you child that you’re willing to put aside your own pettiness and emotions so you can do what is best for your child. You’re still going to harbor resentments and bitterness but you’re able to set those aside from this now business relationship with your ex.
“You’re not going to just get over it like that,” said Kissoon. “I think that’s a fanciful vision of the future. But in the meantime, let’s not let history cloud the future.”