What Is Parallel Parenting?

Patricia TichenorLegal

child holding hands with divorced parents

Parents who are unmarried, separated, or divorced but share legal custody of their child must decide how they want to raise that child.

Some parents whose relationship has ended are comfortable collaborating with each other and working as a team to raise their child. However, if you and your child’s other parent are not on amicable terms and want to keep your interactions as separate as possible, parallel parenting may be a good option.

Here’s what you need to know about this parenting style and whether it might work for you and your family.

What is parallel parenting?

Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which both parties co-parent by disengaging from each other, meaning they parent separately from the other with minimal collaboration. This often occurs when the parents cannot interact without conflict – an environment that negatively impacts a child’s psychological and emotional state. A parallel parenting agreement allows each parent to build a relationship with their child, without letting their personal issues interfere.

In practice, each parent operates “in parallel” with the other. Parallel parents do not attend any events, appointments or other activities together. Every interaction with their child is separate, as there tends to be tension otherwise. Communication is typically kept to a minimum and is business-like in nature. They may discuss major issues, but day-to-day decisions are largely carried out independently of one another.

The exact details of a parallel parenting agreement should be well-defined; the higher the level of conflict, the more clearly outlined any legal arrangements should be. For example, having a primary caregiver can reduce stress for the child in certain cases, while other situations may call for more equal parenting time. Taking the time to discuss specific parameters, from decision-making authority to communicating with the child when “off-duty,” will help save both parents (and your child) from unwanted tension.

Is parallel parenting right for my family?

A parent’s goal is to do what is best for their child. Ideally, this means that the child can maintain a healthy relationship with each parent, while being protected from any tension from their parents’ relationship.

A more collaborative arrangement is a great option if you and your ex get along and are still open to spending time together as a family unit. However, if you and your child’s parent cannot interact without conflict, it might be healthier to choose parallel parenting. For children of divorce or separation, parental conflict causes significant anguish and can have lasting negative effects.

Since parallel parents have limited or indirect communication, conflict is typically reduced. However, it also requires more initial planning to ensure that the child’s needs are met and both parents can stay informed. Both parents must also give up trying to control the other side, something that can be both challenging and freeing.

Keeping this information in mind may help you decide whether parallel parenting is right for your family. Regardless of which arrangement you choose, you and your ex should work together in the best interest of your child, with minimal exposure to your own conflict. When a child sees their parents putting aside their differences to work together, they will develop better communication and conflict resolution skills – something that will help them develop healthier relationships in the long-term.

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