Divorce or separation can be a traumatizing experience…. no matter the situation. It is an end to a “family” the way it existed, leaving everyone in its wake to figure out how to move forward.
Research shows us that the quality of the parents communication and co-parenting relationships profoundly impacts how children adjust to the divorce or separation of their parents AND they do significantly better when their parents share custody. It can be challenging for parents to set aside their own personal feelings when dealing with their “ex” around parenting, separating that role from their previous intimate relationship as partners.
Traditionally, co-parenting is a type of shared parenting in which you and your ex work together to raise your children. The rules are similar at both homes, and you have a united front for the benefit of the children. In co-parenting, you discuss issues that arise with the children and agree on a solution together.
When there is high conflict or one parent who is difficult or having a harder time communicating in a healthy, productive manner, parallel parenting may be a crucial alternative.
Parallel parenting is co-parenting with added boundaries. The most significant boundary created is around communication. In parallel parenting you disconnect from your co-parent on a certain level by not communicating directly with each other. This distance can diffuse emotional outbursts and can be especially helpful in high conflict situations. Both parents commit to limiting their interactions to only what is most important and pertaining to your children and the parenting plan. The main form of communication is written so that there are no misunderstandings and reduces opportunity for manipulation of the agreement. This also creates accountability for things that are agreed upon eliminating the opportunity for a difficult parent to create a power struggle.
Tools for Parallel Parenting
The OurFamilyWizard is one parenting tool that can be used for parental communication. The website provides an online communication tool that is much more than just messaging. The different features of the website section out where parents should be communicating about particular topics such as the parenting schedule, child-related expenses, and vital family information. (www.ourfamilywizard.com) They also have something called a “tone meter” which will flag for emotionally charged wording and communication. This gives each parent a moment to reflect and evaluate their words before they send it.
Some parents agree on the major decisions regarding their children, such as religion, school, and extracurriculars, and leave the logistics up to the person exercising their parenting time. Other people assign a particular area to each parent, and that parent is responsible for making those decisions. In parallel parenting, parents switch out attending their children's appointments and events. This reduces the time they have to spend with each other.
Some other important considerations that lead to effective parallel parenting:
- Set boundaries with your co-parent and your personal life. Also give them space in their personal life. You may need to limit your social media or choose to unfollow or not view posts that may be connected to your co-parent. Don’t respond to harassing or intimidating communication.
- Talk to someone. Dealing with a conflict divorce or difficult co-parent is highly distressing and often leaves individuals feeling powerless. Seeking support from family and friends and finding a professional therapist to help you navigate these difficult experiences can be very helpful.
- Talk to your attorney. You have rights. Keep an open line with your attorney to see if there are any ways the legal system can help you with your boundaries.
- Determine your parenting plan and stick to it the best you can. Let go of what happens during your ex’s parenting time. Children adapt to different rules and schedules.
- Create communication boundaries and then decide how you will best handle the times when need to talk. Communicate as little as possible and when you need to use written communication.
Parallel parenting allows both parents to stay involved in their children's lives, even in a high-conflict separation or divorce. Studies have shown that children have the best outcomes when they spend at least 35% of their time with each parent. This is true even if one parent opposes joint custody or the parents are in a difficult situation.
The benefits of joint custody for children include:
- Fewer behavior problems
- Fewer emotional problems
- Higher self-esteem
- Better school performance
- Better family relationships
So how can you create a Parallel Parenting Plan?
Parallel parenting plans should be as specific and detailed as possible. The goal is to limit communication and contact between parents. Parallel parenting plans should include:
- The start and end of each person’s parenting time
- A specific exchange time and place
- Responsibility for transportation
- What happens in the event of cancellation or make-up times
- Specific days of visits
- When each parent has decision-making power