Parallel Parenting: When You Just Can’t Co-Anything Anymore

You’ve probably heard of co-parenting, a term used to describe the situation in which a child’s parents are no longer married or living together. These parents are no longer together as a couple, but they work together to parent the child. But, what happens when the conflict between the parents is really high? They really can’t co-anything anymore, including child rearing. That’s when it might be time to change course and consider parallel parenting.


The Ups and Downs of Co-Parenting

One of the beautiful things about co-parenting is that the child has access to both parents, and to the love of both parents. Both parents support the child’s relationship with the other parent. And, after divorce, that love and support can be more important than ever in assisting the child to move forward while maintaining psychological stability in uncertain and changing times.

However, one of the tricky things about co-parenting is that the parents must be communicative. The parents must have a way to interact comfortably with one another to discuss, plan, and continue to help the child grow, develop, learn, and do all of the things that any other child – tween, teen, young adult -would do as they mature into adulthood. This piece doesn’t work for everybody. In fact, for some couples, it can be too hard to even get to the point of sitting down to discuss the child’s upbringing. For some couples, the animosity, frustration, jealousy, envy, grief – whatever the emotion may be – is just too painful and too much of a barrier. How do these couples go forward for this child?

Parent Next to Each Other, Not With Each Other

Successful parenting is going to involve communication – like it or not. But, successful parenting can be managed without constant, or even regular, contact. According to parenting expert Dr. Edward Kruk, Ph.D, “parallel parenting is an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited direct contact, in situations where they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner.”

In other words, when the parents have come to the conclusion that they just cannot be civil to one another – even for the sake of the child – it might be time to look at parallel parenting. And, sometimes, for the sake of the child, it is better for the parents to just stop regularly communicating.

How does it get to this place?

In divorce, both the husband and wife can harbor some deeply settled negative feelings. It is an emotionally-charged period and those negative feelings can prevail for a long time, regardless of whose fault the divorce might be, or who decided to divorce whom. For quite some time. Parallel parenting may be the key to keeping the conflict from the child, especially when there is hostility, by keeping communication to a bare minimum.

With parallel parenting, the parents make a plan, usually written, and come to a conclusion about major decision making. One parent may make all decisions related to school, the other to healthcare, for example. The major topics are outlined in the plan and everything else is considered routine and will be handled by the supervising parent at the time.

What this does is allow the child truly exclusive, conflict-free time with each parent, and it gives the parent time to feel as though he or she is in charge without fear. There is little, if any, collaboration by the parents on a regular basis which means that there are fewer and fewer reminders to set off those negative emotions and healing can begin. As Dr. Kruk writes, “the passage of time allows the dust to settle between parents, to the point where parents achieve cooperative parenting from a place of initial disengagement.” Gradually, trust may be restored and the parents might even return to a more outwardly collaborative form of parenting.

How to begin parallel parenting?

The initial parenting plan will need to be very specific, as it will outline exactly who makes which decisions. The goal is to prevent the need for the parents to communicate with one another. Of course, in some situations, parallel parenting may not be appropriate, such as where there is family violence that could put any of the parties at risk. But, for many situations involving higher conflict relationships between parents, parallel parenting can begin to ease the hurt and start to build a neutral connection.

Detached, but not completely.

Although the goal is a more detached form of parenting – one parent gives way completely to the other during that parent’s time with the child — it doesn’t mean that there won’t be certain times when the parents have to communicate. Instead of meeting face to face or phoning, parents would text or email to keep the other updated on the child’s emotions, sensitivities, or healthcare matters. They could also keep a journal to pass back and forth as the child comes and goes between homes.

So, when considering how to go forward from this point, with your child and a high-conflict ex who is really hard to stand, parallel parenting could be helpful in making your child feel safe and you feel more everyday stability. Parallel parenting isn’t for everyone, so let’s talk if you think this is something that could work in your situation. Contact us to see if parallel parenting might be a good option for you and how to go from here.

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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades.  The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.

That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.

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By:  Daniel Findling


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