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Understanding Parallel Parenting: Meaning, Advantages, and Strategies

The style of parenting when separated parents are required to parent their children together even as their own relationship is beyond repair is called parallel parenting. This happens when parents realise that their marriage is over or they are in the midst of a messy divorce but they decide to co-parent despite their personal differences and conflicts. In parallel parenting, separated couples parent  their child independently from one another with limited communication between themselves except wen necessary like coordinating visitation days, attending school events or important appointments. This technique can ease high conflict situations so that children are not affected.

What is Parallel Parenting

The main feature of parallel parenting is maintaining limited interaction between separated parents and setting clear boundaries between them when they share custody of their children. Communication is usually through email or mediators so that the parents have minimal contact which is especially important in cases of high conflict or domestic violence. By having fixed guidelines through a parallel parenting plan, parents can spend time with their child individually without interference from the other parent. It gives each parent a feeling of freedom and independence and freedom without the fear of interruption, negative feedback or interference from the other parent. Each parent has their own house rules and parenting styles which creates a calm environment for their children. 

Parallel parenting should not be confused with co-parenting as in co-parenting the parents are in a cordial relationship which enables them to proactively parent together in a positive environment. Parents make long-term decisions for the children together despite their broken relationship. They resolve issues together by communicating effectively which makes it easy for their child to move between homes. They attend functions and events together and maintain a polite and respectful relationship with one another. They have a shared parenting plan and agree on discipline, rules, behaviour expectations and daily routines and ensure consistency across both homes for the child.

Parallel parenting, on the other hand,  is an alternate approach for parents who are not able to interact with one another due to high conflict and cannot agree on the children’s best interests. By parallel parenting, parents keep decision making separate, rarely attend their children’s events together and usually only communicate in writing. There is no or little collaboration and strict boundaries between parents as they do not consult one another about decisions or check in with the other parent. Parallel parenting involves detailed plans regarding pick-up times, locations and schedules and do not comment or interfere with each other’s parenting styles.

Benefits of Parallel Parenting

A child’s safety and security with both parents in parallel parenting is paramount. A detailed parallel parenting plan helps both parents to create a secure environment. The parent-child relationship in a calm and peaceful environment is the main focus  and it benefits the whole family as it can improve communication, academic performance and parental confidence. Some of the major benefits of a parallel parenting arrangement are

  • Less exposure of the child to parental conflict
  • Increased sense of security for the child with both parents
  • Less mental, emotional and behaviour problems
  • Better academic performance
  • Consistent routines with each parent
  • A sense of better self-esteem for both children and parents
  • Parents are able to focus on the child’s wellbeing
  • Enhanced confidence in parenting decisions for both parents
  • More predictability and a sense of routine for children

Though parallel parenting is the best option for high conflict situations between parents, it has a few possible drawbacks. As both parents are completely independent from the other, it can create a sense of disconnect for the child, especially if parents tend to give negative messages about each other to the child. This parenting arrangement can be disruptive if the custody agreement does not include equal time between the two houses.

Strategies for Successful Parallel Parenting

There are a few parenting strategies and tools that can help the parents involved in parallel parenting make the situation more relaxed and calm for themselves and their children.

  • All Agreements Should be in Writing
  • Whether it’s the child custody schedule or a parenting plan, everything should be in writing. Of course, how you approach it depends on individual circumstances but your parenting agreement should be formalised.

  • Be Specific
  • Whenever you enter into an agreement, formal or informal, you need to be very specific about terms and conditions. A parallel parenting plan example would be to have specific times and places for where and when you collect the children so that it limits the things parents have to discuss outside of the written agreement.

  • Plan Changeovers
  • Another parallel parenting plan example is to have changeovers of children occur at school pick up and drop off times, so that the children are not exposed to an argumentative or conflict situation between the parents. If not possible, changeovers are best in public spaces so that children can move from one parent to the other without chances of conflict.

  • Communication Rules
  • There should be specific rules around communication either through messaging or email. You could use shared calendars or similar tools to reduce the chances of disagreement or confusion.

  • Keep Separate Times for School Obligations
  • Ask your child’s school for separate times for parent-teacher meetings. If the hostility between parents is very high and they find it impossible to attend their child’s school events together, they need to plan ahead about which parent attends which events. It could either be alternate years  or have special clauses in place about contact with each other at those events so that both parents can attend and their child doesn’t feel torn between the parents.

  • Plan for Decision-making
  • Parents need to plan about how decisions will be made and in case that fails the services of a family mediator or a parenting coordinator can be employed.

Many times parallel parenting may be beneficial or the only option. When communication between separated parents breaks down, they are disrespectful to one another or or they are resentful towards each other, parallel parenting methods can be adopted. Sometimes, relationships may be so impacted or if there is child abuse involved, parallel parenting may not work. Depending on the circumstances of your relationship, it may not be practical or possible to parallel parent as it could be unsafe for you or your children. Any parenting arrangements have to keep the safety of the child as a priority and at times police or professional intervention may be necessary. If you would like to update yourself on the various nuances of parallel parenting, get in touch with the EuroKids website.

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