Parallel Parenting: The Complete Guide

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Divorce is a highly stressful event for partners and their children alike. Although you and your spouse have decided to separate ways, it is essential for your children to form and keep a healthy bond with both of you. 

Research has shown that kids exposed to ongoing parental conflicts are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, and relationship issues. If you and your partner are going through a high-conflict separation that prevents you from communicating constructively, parallel parenting can be the right approach to raising children after divorce. 

What is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is a parenting style in which both separated parents look after their children without much interaction between themselves. This parenting style is the best solution for high-conflict divorces where ex-partners cannot communicate without getting into arguments and conflicts. 

When communication and cooperation between ex-spouses are not possible, co-parenting is hardly an option. If you are going through a hostile separation, parallel parenting can help you and your ex remains involved in your children’s lives without interacting with one another. 

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Parallel Parenting Vs. Co-Parenting Explained

Co-parenting is a post-divorce parenting style that involves a significant amount of face-to-face interaction between parents, their cooperation, mutual understanding, and teamwork. 

Typically co-parenting is a better option for ex-partners on good terms and can agree on coordinated and cohesive parenting styles. Co-parenting parents are usually in constant communication, both attending their kids’ milestones such as birthdays, concerts, graduation, and other events. 

On the other hand, there is usually no communication between parents in parallel parenting, while important events are divided between them. Children stay with one parent or another for holidays, birthdays, and other milestones. Each parent makes parenting decisions independently while children are in their care. 

Co-parenting parents are typically on the same page and equally engaged in decision-making. They discuss essential behavior rules for their kids directly, while parallel parents use a third-party (usually a therapist, mediator, or lawyer) to communicate and make parenting decisions. 

Benefits of Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting is typically a short-term solution used until parents are ready to transition to co-parenting model. This approach to childcare after divorce has benefits for toxic couples who need time to settle down before agreeing to co-parent. 

1. Protects Children from Conflicts

Not understanding the real reasons for divorce, children often blame themselves for their parents’ toxic relationship. Also, high-conflict separation can cause children to feel afraid and insecure. A parallel parenting model reduces the chances for kids to experience the conflicts of divorce

2. Helps Maintain Relationships with Both Parents

A parallel parenting approach helps both parents keep up relationships with their kids and stay involved in their lives while going through a hostile divorce. 

3. Allows for Minimal Interaction between Parents

Strict parallel parenting rules limit the communication between parents, which helps reduce stress for everyone involved. 

4. Reduces Stress for Parents

Parallel parenting guidelines and rules can keep ex-spouses away from stressful in-person confrontations, protecting them from stress, anxiety, and depression. 

How to Make a Parallel Parenting Plan?

To make parallel parenting work, you need to establish a concrete parenting plan in a written form. This document should contain detailed information regarding childcare, defining how you and your ex will raise kids separately. 

Developing such a plan at the beginning of your separation is necessary to avoid conflicts and stress. 

Here are some concepts to include in your parallel parenting plan. 

Step One: Determine how You’ll Split time

The parallel parenting plan should precisely state how you will split time with children during the week or month and how much time the children will spend with parents. Both parents need to stick to this plan.

Step Two: Visitation Rules

It is essential to set the rules around vacations and visitations for birthdays and holidays. It is best to plan such events ahead of time to avoid conflicts. Also, any changes to the plan need to be made with the child’s best interest in mind. 

Step Three: Pick-up and Drop-off Schedule

Develop a detailed plan that includes the exact pick-up and drop-off times and location for both parents to avoid contacts between parents, miscommunication, and conflicts. 

Step Four: Communication Rules

A parallel parenting plan needs to set clear communication rules. For example, you may decide to communicate only via emails or texts to minimize face-to-face contact. 

Parallel Parenting in High Conflict Relationships

This type of parenting is the best option for toxic relationships that end in a high-conflict separation where:

  • Partners are unable to communicate
  • There are continuous conflicts  
  • One or both partners are inflexible and unwilling to co-parent 

Parallel parenting provides the grounds for both parents to spend time with their kids while minimizing or avoiding contact with each other. This post-divorce parenting method protects children from separation conflicts. It sets clear parenting rules, which is why it is considered a much better option for high-conflict relationships than co-parenting. 

Parallel parenting quote

Parallel Parenting with a Narcissist

People with narcissistic personality disorder thrive on drama and conflicts, so any attempt to co-parent with a narcissist can turn into a real struggle.  

A narcissist will blame you for their failures and mistakes, reach for triangulation to pull kids into your relationship, and use gaslighting to twist reality and manipulate you.

Since co-parenting requires cooperation and teamwork, this parenting method may be out of the question when you raise children post-separation with a narcissist. 

Your narcissistic ex may believe that they are above the law, so they may refuse to agree to custody, visitation rules, pick-up, drop-off schedules, and other parenting decisions. They may use children to keep controlling you and intrude on your boundaries.  

Therefore, the best way to protect yourself is to have a parenting plan in writing. Parallel parenting enables you to have a parenting plan in writing that precisely states parenting and communication rules. 

Narcissists don’t shy away from using children to manipulate and abuse their ex-spouses. So, try to limit or minimize communication with children while they are in your ex’s care.

Parenting challenges can be hard for any new or existing parents. Here is more information on what you can expect when working through a parent coaching program.

Parallel Parenting Summary

This style of parenting is often used as a post-divorce transitioning approach. Once the ex-spouses are ready to communicate and cooperate, they can transition to co-parenting style.

However, in toxic relationships with a narcissist and high-conflict divorces, a transition to co-parenting is often not possible. Parallel parenting has proven to be the best option for hostile divorces with a high amount of animosity between the parents.  

Navigating a post-divorce relationship can be hard. It is important to take time to work through your own hurt and to heal, especially in an effort to minimize any projection onto your children. If you would like to speak more, please book a time to speak with me and we can discuss how coaching can help heal from a breakup. 

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Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood is a Certified Life Coach, and best-selling author. Her mission is to empower high-performing adults and teens to become resilient self-leaders by reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming imposter syndrome, working through trauma, and re-discovering their AuthenticMe®.

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