Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting: Which Is Right for You?

If you find yourself in a situation of a relationship ending, it can be a challenging ordeal, especially when there are children involved. Despite the fact that you and your former significant other may be moving on separately, it is important to remember that your duties as parents will not cease.

You’ll have to decide what type of parenting arrangement you will have, especially if both parents have an active role in the child’s life. 

What’s the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting? Co-parenting is a parenting style where both parents communicate effectively regarding decisions that impact the children. Both parents are hands-on and share equal responsibility. Parallel parenting consists of limited interaction and communication between parents to reduce conflict.

The big question is what parenting style you’ll adopt: co-parenting vs. parallel parenting. Which option is best for you and your current situation? Let’s find out!


Co-parenting is certainly the preferred parenting method for couples who have split up or divorced because it’s easier on the child and provides a healthy, happy, and amicable environment for children to grow up in.

How Co-Parenting Works

Co-parenting is about being able to solve problems together with the child’s best interests as a number one priority. This parenting style allows the child to move between homes with little to no hiccups.

Parents are willing to put their differences aside to attend meetings, family gatherings, and school functions for their child’s happiness. When interacting, co-parents are polite, respectful, and friendly.

While the child is raised in two separate homes, both homes are warm, loving, and healthy without any malice shown/communicated toward the other parent/home.

Communication When Co-Parenting

If you’ve chosen to co-parent with your ex-partner, you agree to communicate in a certain way.

For it to work, you should always communicate with your co-parent in a way that you’d like them to communicate with you. Be civil and polite, and remember to make requests instead of commands.

Treating each other with respect and being open to cooperating is paramount to the success of co-parenting.

Co-parenting may involve calling, texting, or seeing each other in person to discuss matters impacting your child.

Types of Co-Parenting

You might find it interesting that parallel parenting is a type of co-parenting. There are, in fact, three types of co-parenting:

  • High conflict co-parenting
  • Cooperative and collaborative co-parenting
  • Parallel co-parenting

Co-Parenting Boundaries

Below are five quick tips to help you set healthy co-parenting boundaries:

  • Don’t expose the child/ren to conflict. If you’re in the middle of a conflict with your co-parent, don’t use the situation to down-talk your ex-partner.
  • Keep things “above board.” Skip sharing intimate or personal details with your co-parent. Rather, keep it all about business; by that, we mean the child.
  • Be a clear and effective communicator. There’s no place for anger, accusations, emotionally charged or sarcastic messages and calls with a healthy co-parenting arrangement. Be concise in your messages and calls, and keep things strictly polite.
  • Include and show support toward your co-parent. Healthy co-parent arrangements see parents including the other parent in important events and milestones for the child. This includes school plays, birthday parties, family gatherings, sports days, etc.
  • Draw up a parenting plan that covers drop-offs, collections, holidays, special events, rules of engagement, and so on — and stick to it. Ensure both parties have a copy of the parenting schedule and that you always hold up your end of the bargain.

Challenges To Expect

You’ll have to find ways to work around several challenges of co-parenting. Some to expect include:

  • Differences in discipline style
  • Maintaining consistency in your child’s life (TV time, diet, bedtime, homework approach, etc.)
  • Different communication styles
  • Different rules in each home
  • Inequality in finances in each home
Parents with a little girl seated on a couch speaking to a divorce lawyer.

Parallel Parenting

If you’ve been in an abusive relationship or you’ve just left a relationship where the situation is volatile and you have irreconcilable differences, you may find that parallel parenting is better suited to you.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is reduced interaction parenting when two parents cannot work together to solve problems and make decisions for the child.

Parents in a parallel parenting situation won’t do anything together, opting to attend meetings and appointments separately and keep communication to a bare minimum.

In such instances, communication between parents is done strictly in writing. Therefore, there needs to be a strict parenting plan in place.

Communication When Parallel Parenting

There’s little to no communication between parents in a parallel parenting situation. If there’s something important to communicate, it may be done in writing (co-parenting apps are great for this).

In such arrangements, parents may communicate more in person regarding their child’s health or education.

Parallel Parenting Example

Parallel parenting is more about each parent doing what they feel is best for them and their household.

For example, one parent might allow the child to stay up until 9 p.m. on a Friday and not check the television programs they are watching.

The other parent may have a later bedtime in place but have parameters set on devices that only allow for age-appropriate content.

Parallel Parenting Boundaries

Parallel parenting requires boundaries for it to work. Below are a few tips for setting those in place. 

  • Don’t down-talk the other parent at all, especially in front of the child. 
  • Create a detailed parenting plan, including travel between parents, the cancellation process, and how difficult situations will be dealt with. Make sure you always hold up your end of the bargain.
  • Keep your interactions with the other parent professional and unemotional, and make sure communication is done in writing. 
  • Don’t send messages back and forth through the child.
  • Having a third party or mediator helps keep communications amicable.

Disadvantages of Parallel Parenting

Conflicting parenting style is the biggest disadvantage of parallel parenting as it can be confusing and uncomfortable for the child.

In some instances, parents may compete with each other by allowing things or changing rules just so that they can get “one up” on the other parent.

This could lead to spoiling the child or causing unnecessary conflict between the parents. Some children may even see an opportunity to play one parent up against the other.

Challenges To Expect

You can expect to be faced with the following challenges:

  • A difficult ex-partner who won’t budge on plans or schedules just to be difficult
  • Being unable to communicate when it’s important for the health and education of your child.
  • Causing your child to feel torn or disconnected.
  • Different household rules and morals can be confusing for a child.
  • Entirely different discipline styles or expectations of children.

When Parallel Parenting Might Be the Better Option

While co-parenting collaboratively and cooperatively is the top choice, it’s not always possible.

If you find that you’ve been in an abusive relationship, your ex-partner is a narcissist, or you just cannot have a conversation with your ex without emotions and anger flaring and losing control, parallel parenting may be the better option.

Can You Lose Custody for Not Co-Parenting?

Unfortunately, according to the Lawyersnlaws website, you can lose custody if a court finds that you’re not sticking to the agreements of your co-parenting plan.

This is most often the case when one parent disregards the visitation schedule, consistently arrives late for pick-ups and drop-offs, or breaches the initial contract/agreement.

Closing Thoughts 

Deciding what type of parenting arrangement you’ll have after a divorce or separation is important.

It can help you plan the way forward to enjoy a normal life without negatively impacting your child’s quality of life.

While co-parenting is ideal, you may have to opt for parallel parenting. Follow a strict parenting schedule, always be polite and professional, and you’ll do just fine!!