Parallel Parenting: The Case For Another Way

parallel parenting

Haven’t heard of parallel parenting? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. After a divorce or split, former partners often assume coparenting together is their only option. And they’re stumped about how to handle it when things go sideways.

What Happens When Coparenting Fails?

When coparenting is working, parents are able to rise above previous conflict to focus on providing a consistent, stable environment for their children. And in circumstances where the parents in each house are able to stay civil and communicate, coparenting can be the best option. 

Unfortunately, in many cases coparenting can be strained and tenuous at best or high-stress and high-conflict at worst. Yet many parents continue to try to force it to work. 

Trying to force coparenting when the relationship between houses is toxic impacts every single member of the family. But children suffer the most. 

-Cameron Normand

Kids are sensitive. They see much more than adults give them credit for and can often pick up on the slightest tension between their parents, which can make them feel stuck in the middle and like they have to be the peacemakers. It can also put them in a loyalty bind and make them feel like they’re betraying one parent when they’re with the other. Or that it’s somehow their fault. They can feel torn between their parents and confused by what’s going on between the adults in their lives—none of this is good for them in the long term.

What Is (and Isn’t) Parallel Parenting?

But there is another way. And that’s parallel parenting. 

Parallel parenting is essentially the opposite of coparenting. In parallel parenting, each household maintains its own separate parenting styles, rules, and expectations. Literally everything is separate. Parents don’t attend the same meetings, appointments, or sports or school functions. 

Now, this can present its own challenges. While coparents can talk about common rules and boundaries for the children between houses, parallel parents don’t have these conversations. So situations may be handled differently in each household. But the good news is that kids can easily learn what to expect at each house.

Parallel parenting doesn’t mean zero communication. There will be information that needs to pass between households. But parallel parenting recognizes that indirect communication may be the best way to convey that information. For example, email, using a mediator, an app, or even keeping a “parent communication notebook” that goes with the child between houses.

Parallel parenting doesn’t have to be permanent. Remember, every family and their needs are different. A family could parallel parent for a period of time before moving into coparenting. Or coparent before deciding to move into parallel parenting. The approach can even be different for different children in the same family. 

The (Sometimes Surprising) Benefits Of Parallel Parenting

In high-conflict situations where coparenting simply doesn’t work, parallel parenting can be the best option for all family members. It can ultimately help to: 

  • Cut down on conflict between the adults, which lowers stress levels and improves the environment at each house.
  • Provide a sense of stability for the child, because they know exactly what to expect at each house and they’re shielded from conflict. They’ll no longer feel like they’re in the middle of parental disputes.
  • Set and maintain clear boundaries and expectations, which helps every family member.
  • Emphasize to children that both parents are equally important in their lives.

The goal of all parenting is to provide an environment where the children feel loved, prioritized, and safe. But when parents have a high-conflict relationship, their disagreements and hostility often comes first. They rarely set that priority with that level of intention. Most times, former partners just can’t put their differences behind them, even when they know it’s best for the whole family. 

This can be detrimental to the children’s long term health. 

Parallel parenting can reset the environment so that the children are shielded from their parents’ conflict. They then become empowered to form positive, loving, and healthy relationships with both parents, and take the time they need to adjust to their family structure.

Find What Works For Your Family

Remember, every family’s needs are unique. There is no one parenting style that is better than another and there is no solution that is one-size-fits-all. Each family has its own different history, personalities, and needs. You have to do what’s best for your dynamic and your particular situation.

Is parallel parenting ideal for everyone? Probably not. If you have a decent enough relationship with the other house, you may be able to make coparenting work. But if conflict is more of the norm, if it’s impacting the kids, or never seems to resolve, parallel parenting might be just the fix you’re looking for. 

For more stepfamily help, check out our Ten Habits That Healthy Stepfamilies Follow HERE.