Divorcing parents often struggle to balance the end of their marital relationship with their individual continued roles as parents. Yet, as research has shown, a child’s development is greatly impacted by both parents being able to continue to support and parent their children.
The key to such an arrangement is conflict management. Depending on the family dynamic at play, this may be accomplished with either co-parenting or parallel parenting. Each style is different, but the end goal is mitigating the negative impacts of divorce that may do great harm to children. How do these two approaches differ? Which is best for your unique situation?
Coparenting has become a buzz word around divorce. It means that both parents respect one another as parents, even if they don’t respect each other as individuals or spouses. There’s a fundamental belief held by both parties that the most important facet moving forward is that each parent has a right to have a good relationship with the children. Responsibility and access to the upbringing of the children are divided fairly. Children are openly assured that they can love each parent without guilt or consequence.
While the parents are cordial and may coexist at special events and family functions, the pivotal point of the co-parenting relationship is establishing boundaries. This enables both parents to work together for the well-being of the children, but onlookers don’t confuse cooperation with reconciliation.
All of the above centers around each parent being able to communicate in an open and healthy manner. This mature approach doesn’t leave room for anger to boil over from the failed relationship, and it certainly requires the two to interact calmly and rationally. When this isn’t possible, then parallel parenting may be the better option.
Parallel Parenting 101
Coparenting is the favored approach by child psychologists, but only if it doesn’t foster conflict. Of course, just like marriage itself, parents will disagree and sometimes be on different pages. That’s not the type of conflict in question. In some breakups, one or both parties are simply too angry, hurt, adversarial, or resentful to allow agreement on much of anything. In such cases, a range of conflicts often arise, and many ends with one or both parents undermining the other parent. In severe cases, the children can easily become pawns to inflict hurt upon each other.
Instead of engaging with the other parent, parallel parenting is about disengaging. There’s very little direct contact, which helps lessen the likelihood of children being subjected to arguing and being used to hurt one parent or another.
Direct contact is replaced by tools like interactive online calendars and mediators. Whereas the terms, such as schedule and expenses, are often left to ongoing communication in co-parenting, parallel parenting sets the terms in stone and requires written agreements for changes. Both parents remain committed to putting the children first and making responsible parenting decisions, but the logistics that go into day-to-day parenting are more solo.
How Can Parents Decide Between Coparenting And Parallel Parenting?
The definitions provide a fairly clear springboard in deciding if you should co-parent versus parallel parent. You can also use the answers to the following questions to help determine which style best suits your situation:
- Can you recognize your ex is still your child’s parent and honor their right to equal access and responsibility in the child’s life? Coparenting.
- Can you communicate respectfully with your ex? Coparenting.
- Do you need to be shared responsibility without continued insight into the other parent’s life and parenting decisions? Parallel parenting.
- Do you need to stop disputes and shield children from parental conflicts? Parallel parenting.
- Are negative feelings - resentment, anger, mistrust, stress, etc - interfering with your ability to communicate? Parallel parenting.
- Do important events and occasions need to be divided to avoid contact with your ex? Parallel parenting.
- Are parenting styles similar enough to have constructive conversations about rules, boundaries, consequences, and rewards for the children? Coparenting.
- Do things go smoother when each party can communicate their thoughts to a neutral third-party versus directly to each other? Parallel parenting.
While these two approaches look and operate very differently, do keep in mind that parallel parenting doesn’t have to be a long-term strategy. When the divorce is fresh and feelings are raw, it may be best to begin with parallel parenting. As time goes on and marital issues that are no longer relevant to their lives apart begin to resolve, many parents can transition to a constructive co-parenting relationship.