Parallel parenting is a strategy newly separated couples can use to raise children together in a healthy and respectful way.
Because the simple fact of the matter is not all separated parents can be friends after divorce.
But children need the love and support of both parents to develop in a healthy way.
What parents can consider is employing parallel parenting style in raising their children. And while it may sound straightforward, parallel parenting can be tricky to implement.
In this article, we’ll explore what parallel parenting is and cover 10 ways to deal with a high-conflict co-parent.
What Is Parallel Parenting?
Parallel parenting is a form of co-parenting, which typically refers to divorced couples — with minimal contact — raising children ‘together‘.
Essentially, it’s an agreement parents make, both legally and off the record, to parent their children in tandem.
Why would divorced couples choose parallel parenting?
Sometimes there are just too many hurt feelings for parents to work things out on their own.
Imagine a wife that switches into full defense mode the second her ex-husband disagrees with her.
Then her husband screams at her because she’s not listening to him. The discussion just can’t move forward.
For high-conflict couples, parallel parenting is the better alternative co-parenting style.
What is the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting?
Both parallel parenting and co-parenting involve two parents working together after separation to raise their children.
What’s different is the degree of communication.
Co-parents choose to work closely with each other and discuss their child-rearing plans regularly.
Parallel parents are on the other side of the spectrum. They choose to maintain a distance and follow the child-rearing plan down to the last detail, with minimal communication.
But what’s important to note is: there is no right or wrong here.
One style isn’t better than the other.
What truly matters is:
Which one works for you?
Why Is Parallel Parenting Better for High-Conflict Couples?
Studies have shown that divorce is not what damages children’s mental well-being.
Diogo Lamela, Ph.D., a professor in Psychology, Education, and Sports, found that the cause of mental health problems for children of divorce, as a matter of fact, is the parental conflict that follows divorce.
Sandwiching children in parental conflict causes behavioral problems and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and somatization — the manifestation of psychological distress.
Because conflict is destructive to children and parents, the magic of parallel parenting disengages parents and subsequently, dissolves conflict in the family.
So, now that we now know what parallel parenting is, it’s time to explore how it works in practice.
How Do You Deal With a High-Conflict Co-Parent?
Dealing with high-conflict parents can be a soul-sucking task. But learning effective parallel parenting strategies can help you learn how to become a cohesive parenting team, instead of two hurt adults bickering over their children
Here are 10 ways to deal with a high-conflict co-parent using parallel parenting techniques.
1. Heal yourself
The most powerful practice you can do is forgive.
Forgiving your partner liberates you from hatred, anger, and resentment.
As cliche as it sounds, this saying is true: hating someone is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.
Perhaps, you need to forgive yourself too. Self-blame and self-hate are equally poisonous, if not more.
Science has shown the consequences of holding grudges for an extended period: you’re filled with bitterness, stuck in the past, feel increased anxiety and depression, and even experience heightened physical pain.
If you don’t forgive your ex-partner and yourself, you can never be truly present.
For proper guidance, check out this ultimate guide to forgiveness.
2. Grow yourself
The very reason you’re reading this is to grow yourself. We applaud you for taking this step towards personal growth.
Expanding your parenting knowledge and experimenting with new ways of parenting help you to discover better ways to raise your children and yourself.
Read books, take parenting classes (including single-parenting courses), learn from parenting experts and other parents, and dedicate yourself to personal growth.
As Dr. Shefali Tsabary, bestselling author, clinical psychologist, and Author of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Program, explains:
We cannot expect the child to be something that we cannot emboody ourselves.
To raise great children, first, you become great.
3. Be authentic
You might say, “I have to act like friends with my ex in front of my children.”
Trust us, the person who hurts the most from this falsehood is you.
Putting on a mask and pretending you’re friends with your ex doesn’t help at all. Besides, your children will be able to sense inauthenticity.
It’s much more beneficial to be who you are and just explain what’s happening to your children. If the child doesn’t yet understand, that’s okay. They eventually will.
If you can’t be friends with your ex, it’s okay.
Your children need you to be authentic.
4. Control what you can
Picture this: your children come home after a weekend away with your ex, and you notice them behaving in a way you’ve been actively trying to teach them not to do.
You felt compelled to warn your co-parent not to teach the children ‘bad’ stuff.
This kind of situation is common in parallel parenting. You want the other parent to follow your way of parenting, while the other parent wants you to follow theirs.
You can’t control your co-parent’s way of parenting. Period.
What you can control is your thinking, your behaviors, your reactions, your attitude, and your emotions.
When the child behaves in a way you feel was influenced by your co-parent, put yourself in your child’s shoes and ask,
“Is this good for ________ (your child’s name)?“
If it’s a helpful behavior, why not let it go?
If it’s a non-helpful behavior, explain to the child the reason and consequences of the action.
5. Meet your child’s needs
Children are particularly fragile after a divorce. Their mental and emotional states have been impacted, and they don’t know what to do about it.
During this stage, their needs have to be answered and affirmed to maintain a healthy relationship with their parents.
According to Dr. Shefali Tsabary, children ultimately have three needs:
- Am I seen for who I truly am?
- Am I worthy of your attention and praise for who I am?
- Do I matter in your life?
Parents need to make an extra effort to meet these three needs after separation or divorce to shelter their children from potential long-term impacts.
6. Respect your ex
A bad spouse doesn’t necessarily equal a bad parent. You may be angry with your ex-partner, but they may look quite different in your children’s eyes.
Criticizing your ex in front of your child isn’t helpful. This is a person your children look up to and model their behavior after. Their very own personal superhero.
Be careful what you say about that person — especially in front of your children.
Respect your co-parent in the same way that you’d like to receive respect.
7. Get professional support
Reaching out for support during this difficult transition isn’t just okay — it’s recommended.
Find places to share your emotions in a safe and supportive environment. That could mean talking it out with a family member or friend.
Or it could mean seeking professional support in the form of a counselor or therapist.
The bottom line is, don’t bottle up your emotions.
If you do, your emotional tank will burst and affect your mental and physical health — anxiety, depression, heart diseases, insomnia and more.
8. Create a parenting plan
A detailed parenting plan can prevent the worst family drama. The more detailed it is, the less opportunity you have to disagree with your ex-partner. Which is ultimately healthier for you, your ex, and your children.
Here’s what a co-parenting plan must include:
- Custody plan. Who is the child going to stay with? Who will pick up or drop off the child?
- Visitation schedule. How long will the child stay with each parent? How will you exchange the children?
- Routine and activities schedule. What is the child’s current schedule? What is the child’s daily routine?
- Financial responsibilities. Who will pay for the child’s expenses?
- Major decision making. What are the do’s and don’ts in both houses? What is the education and medical needs plan?
I’ve written a complete guideline to create a detailed co-parenting plan, so feel free to read it after this.
9. Use technology
Thanks to technology, people can work together with minimal contact. This is the perfect option for parallel parents.
You can use:
- Emails for communication
- Online calendars to schedule visitation, holidays, vacations and other activities
- Online journals to record daily events
- Photos to share family outings
- Social media to keep yourself up to date with your ex’s activities with your children
- Online documents to update the co-parenting plan regularly
Figure out what technology can help you make parallel parenting work.
10. Be a mature adult
Sometimes, you and your co-parent need to make important or urgent decisions. At that time, you need to put aside your differences and discuss things objectively.
In other words, act like a mature adult.
Parallel parenting doesn’t eliminate the need for communication. You need to be prepared to discuss things with your co-parent in a calm, respectful manner. If that’s impossible, ask a third-party to facilitate the discussion.
One helpful tip is to treat it like a business meeting.
The Hope of Parallel Parenting
Parallel parenting can help high-conflict couples continue raising their children’ together‘ in a conflict-free environment.
This is healthy for both parents and children.
Because what truly matters is the parents have moved on to the next chapter of life, — free of baggage from the past — and children grow up physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.