Parallel Parenting: Making It Work for You and Your Kids

Experiencing a divorce, separation, or even a deliberate uncoupling can be a highly challenging process, regardless of the reasons behind the deterioration of the relationship.

Unfortunately, making the difficult decision to part ways when the lines of communication are beyond repair can make co-parenting virtually impossible.

It’s in these situations that parallel parenting might be the solution for both parties to spend time caring for their children independently of each other. 

Parallel parenting is a plan of action that divorced or separated parents who struggle to collaborate can use to raise their children independently of each other in a safe and positive environment. Communication is kept to a minimum, and neither parent can dictate how the other chooses to parent.

If you’re looking for an effective conflict-free way to parent your children, read on and discover how parallel parenting could be the answer. 

Understanding Parallel Parenting

Unfortunately, hurt, anger, and resentment can significantly impact effective communication between separated parents.

As a result, they may find they cannot co-parent without hostility and therefore need to implement a parallel-parenting strategy. 

How Parallel Parenting Works

Each parent has full custodial control of the child while under their care.

Communication between the parents is kept to a minimum, allowing contact only for emergencies or important issues regarding the child’s health, education, or welfare.

Finally, neither parent has a say in how the other parent manages their parental responsibilities as long as the child’s safety and well-being are not at risk.  

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting

The primary difference between these parenting strategies is the level of communication each allows.

Co-parenting strategies are typically used by those who have gone through an amicable divorce; both parents want to work together to meet their children’s needs jointly.

Parallel parenting methods, in contrast, are usually adopted after a difficult divorce where communication and the willingness to collaborate have broken down between parents. 

As a result of this friction, parents prefer to remain detached from each other when making parenting decisions and therefore limit contact.

Parallel-parenting plans can be formalized in court by a judge who will decide how the parents should implement the plan based on evidence and mitigating arguments.

Benefits of Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting can help reduce stress and shield children from emotional turmoil.

The limited contact between parents means there is no interference regarding parenting styles, and firm ground rules minimize the possibility of conflict-fuelled interactions. 

Parallel parenting also allows each parent the opportunity to heal and yet remain actively involved in their children’s lives.

This distanced approach helps avoid emotional outbursts that direct meetings may cause. In addition, communicating via text or email keeps things civil and official. 

This parenting strategy is also effective when there is a history of domestic violence between partners or when one parent is narcissistic.  

Disadvantages of Parallel Parenting

Many professionals advocate parallel parenting due to its structured approach and clear guidelines. However, one major drawback to this parenting strategy relates to differing parenting styles. 

This is because each parent does have to consult with the other when making decisions. This can be confusing for the child as they are often caught in the middle of two very different parenting approaches.

For example, one parent may allow a bedtime of 10 p.m. during the week while the other parent may insist on a much earlier time of 8:30 p.m.

As you can imagine, this can be hugely frustrating for the child and extremely irritating to each parent, resulting in increased tension.

Communication When Parallel Parenting

While communication when parallel parenting should be limited to avoid conflict, you still need to have a communication channel in place that can be used when required.

Below are some methods you can use to communicate without increasing conflict. 

  • Communication Book – Parents can use a communication book to pass information or messages back and forth to each other via the children. This method should not be used to send rude or inflammatory messages or comments!
  • Parent Apps – Parents can use platforms like Talking Parents or court-recommended parenting apps to contact each other, share relevant documentation, coordinate schedules, and share calendars without having to meet up or have direct conversations. 
  • Email/Text Messages –  Both are excellent forms of communication when tensions run high as they eliminate the risk of emotionally charged conversations that children may overhear. 
A young girl encouraging her parents to communicate while meeting in a law office.

Parallel Parenting Boundaries

It’s important to maintain healthy boundaries to ensure your parallel-parenting plan works. For example, an ex-partner should not be allowed to breach the boundaries and check in on the kids while they are under your care and vice versa.

Boundaries are the best way to set clear guidelines of what is acceptable and what isn’t, and they also clearly define where each of your responsibilities starts and ends. 

Effects of Parallel Parenting on Children

Parallel parenting reduces stress and limits a child’s exposure to conflict.

This allows them to develop strong relationships with both parents, and the individualized attention they receive can improve self-esteem and boost confidence levels. 

Parallel parenting also provides children with stability.

Knowing what to expect each week can help them to feel safe and secure; this is especially true for kids who have experienced a lot of change in their family unit. 

Parallel Parenting Book   

The Parallel Parenting Solution by Carl Knickerbocker JD is highly recommended for parents trying to find a positive parenting strategy that works without conflict!

Parallel Parenting Plan

Your divorce or custody lawyer will usually assist with creating a parallel-parenting plan as part of your divorce proceedings.

These plans are not automatically legally binding; however, formalizing the agreement may be suggested as part of the divorce if parents struggle to co-parent. 

This means the plan will be reviewed by a judge, and both parents will be legally bound to follow the plan. Legalizing a parallel-parenting plan is especially useful where child custody is being contested. 

Parallel-parenting plans should be very specific, leaving nothing for self-interpretation.

They should stipulate the processes that must be followed regarding your children’s health, safety, and education and the allotted time each parent will spend with the children. 

What to include in your parallel parenting plan: 

  • Allotted parenting time for each parent 
  • Rules for communication/contact 
  • Details for collection, drop-off, and transportation (neutral locations are best)
  • Decision process regarding emergency/nonemergency medical procedures, education, and extracurricular activities.
  • Rules regarding cancellation or rescheduling of custodial time
  • Consequences for breaching the plan rules

How To Make Parallel Parenting Work

A parallel parenting plan should be treated like a business arrangement where both parents are held equally responsible and accountable.

The consequences for breaching the plans should be clearly understood by both parties. 

The plan should be used to guide your actions when caring for your child, thus eliminating the risk of breaching the plan and having to endure consequences that may involve law enforcement or the cancellation of visitation rights! 

Finally, always put your child’s welfare and happiness first, and avoid speaking negatively about your ex in front of the kids as this only causes anxiety and confusion.

Remember that children need the support of both parents to thrive. 

Parallel Parenting With a Narcissist

Most professionals agree that parallel parenting is best when dealing with a narcissistic parent.

Unfortunately, narcissistic traits such as a lack of empathy and an over-inflated sense of importance can make co-parenting impossible. 

A parallel-parenting approach focuses on the important details (kids) and provides effective conflict management skills.

In addition, it eliminates the loopholes that narcissists use to turn the tables and get their own way. 

When parallel parenting with a narcissist, keep the below points in mind: 

  • Have a detailed, legally binding parenting plan that stipulates clear expectations and consequences. 
  • Ensure all communication is in writing (text/email), direct and to the point, and kept to a minimum. 
  • Establish clear, firm boundaries. 
  • Avoid in-person contact, and do not become involved in their lives or share details of yours.

What To Do When Parallel Parenting Doesn’t Work

If your ex is persistently violating the parenting agreement, you should document each violation, keeping a record of the dates and times each incident occurred.

Correspondence, such as emails and texts, should be kept as evidence of your efforts to resolve the issue. 

Ideally, you should try to resolve the matter amicably out of court; however, if required, ask your attorney to draft a letter highlighting why you feel the plan isn’t working.

Finally, after reasonable attempts have been made to rectify the situation, filing a motion of contempt with the courts may be the only solution. 

Related Questions: 

Does Divorce Destroy Children?

Yes and no. There is a lot of evidence to support that divorce can have a damaging effect on children.

However, remaining in a toxic relationship that could lead to domestic abuse and violence is far more dangerous both for them and you. 

What’s the Most Difficult Age To Parent?

At every age, children provide a different set of challenges for parents to manage.

With babies, parents face physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation due to the never-ending cycle of feeding, cleaning, and comforting.

Toddlers can be demanding and throw tantrums, but school-aged children struggle with social and academic challenges, which intensify as their child moves from their tweens into their teens!

Closing Thoughts 

As a loving parent, providing your child with a safe, happy environment in which to grow and develop is crucial. However, when conflict gets in the way, this can prove impossible.

Unless a parent’s or child’s health or safety is at risk, a parallel parenting plan can provide both parents with an equal opportunity to raise their kids in a conflict-free environment.