Parallel Parenting: When Co-Parenting Doesn't Work

Divorce is hard on everybody in the family. But it isn't necessarily the thing that's hurting your children most. It's when you and your ex continue to fight even after the breakup that hurts your children. Your kids will have a difficult time adjusting to the changes that divorce brings to their lives if they keep witnessing conflict between you. That's where parallel parenting comes in.

What It Is

When you share joint custody, but can't raise your children together amicably, parallel parenting allows you and your ex to be actively (yet separately) involved in their lives. After all, you both deserve your children's affection.

The difference with parallel parenting is that you and your former spouse have little contact with each other. Since co-parenting usually doesn't work when you can't get along, it's better for your kids not to witness the tension. Parallel parenting helps keep the peace.

Parallel parenting involves:

  • Understanding that you and your ex both have a right to develop loving and nurturing relationships with your children. That means keeping tensions to a minimum by doing whatever it takes NOT to put your children in the middle.

  • Limiting how much you talk to the other parent. The less you have to see your ex face to face, the less chance you'll have to argue.

  • Explaining the situation to your children's doctors, coaches, and school officials. For the custodial and non-custodial parent both, the other key players in your children's lives need to know you are involved.

  • Attending your children's sporting events, school functions, medical appointments, and special occasion events separately whenever possible. Although kids still like to see their parents together sometimes, if the two of you can't get along, it's better to stay away from each other.

  • Accepting that you can't control your ex's parenting style. Since there likely are different rules in each of your households, avoid creating more conflict for your children. Instead, help them to adjust to the changes in routines.

    Don't undermine your ex's parenting ability. If your former spouse has differing expectations when the kids are in that household, encourage your children to talk honestly to that parent about what's bothering them. In order to transition into parallel parenting, it is a good idea to meet with a therapist, like one found at Associated Psychologists & Counselors, in order to ensure that you and your ex-spouse both have the same expectations of how you will use parallel parenting. 

The Outcome

Parallel parenting can benefit you as well as your children. In time, anger and hostilities may subside, and the level of mutual cooperation grow between you and your children's other parent.

Parallel parenting can help you develop the ability to:

  • See the effect your emotional and angry confrontations have had on your children.

  • Take responsibility for your part in the problems between you.

  • Communicate more effectively.

  • Solve relationship problems more constructively.

  • Show feelings of empathy and compassion toward your ex-spouse. That doesn't mean agreeing with your ex on everything. It does mean listening and being open to the other parent's perspective.