A divorce or separation is one way to end a toxic, negative relationship. But breaking up doesn’t always stop the need for some level of communication, especially if you have children together.
Children need a relationship with their parents. So once their parents’ marriage or partnership ends, they might go back and forth between homes.
But let’s be honest: While the kids might enjoy quality time with mom and dad, constant communication and regular face-to-face interaction with an ex can be too much to handle.
If there’s a lot of hurt, anger, grief, and resentment between two people, constantly seeing each other can open old wounds and cause conflict. If you find yourself in this situation, you may want to try a strategy called parallel parenting to keep the situation amicable — or at least tolerable.
When a relationship ends on bad terms, a couple’s anger and dislike for each other doesn’t automatically disappear with the shared address. These feelings can linger for some time. And if so, each encounter could end in a yelling or shouting match — sometimes in front of the kids.
Parallel parenting in hostile situations minimizes the amount of interaction between you and your ex. And with less interaction, you’re less likely to get on each other’s nerves and fight in the presence of your children.
This approach allows the two adults to detach from each other, and then choose for themselves how to parent when the children are in their care.
This type of arrangement might be especially necessary when there’s a history of mental health issues like narcissism or borderline personality, in which a cordial relationship is impossible — either because one or both parents refuse to be reasonable or cooperative.
Parallel parenting isn’t the same as co-parenting. With co-parenting, you have two parents who are friendly with each other, at least on the surface. Even though their relationship didn’t work out, they’re able to come together and raise their children in a healthy environment.
This isn’t to say these parents don’t have ill feelings toward each other, too. But they’re able to put these issues aside. They problem-solve together and are capable of being in the same room without fighting. They can attend school meetings and child activities together. They might even have joint parties for the kids.
With parallel parenting, everything is separate. These parents don’t attend extracurricular activities, doctor appointments, or school meetings together. Communication is kept to a bare minimum, and occurs only when necessary.
If you’re coming out of a relationship with a narcissist or otherwise emotionally abusive partner, parallel parenting is likely a much healthier choice than co-parenting. Don’t let anyone’s judgement tell you otherwise if you know this to be the case.
Some might argue that parallel parenting doesn’t benefit a child, or that it creates more stress for kids because it doesn’t encourage a good relationship between parents.
The reality is, parallel parenting can be beneficial because it prevents conflict in front of the kids. This strategy — as unique as it might sound — may be in the best interest of your whole family.
Your littles may feel more safe and secure. And this style can help them cope with a divorce or separation. It may also be a stepping stone to eventual co-parenting — though don’t stress yourself out about getting there if it’s just not going to be possible.
We all know that emotions run high immediately after a breakup. So it’s easier for parents to lose their cool with each other. As time passes, though, parallel parenting may allow for wounds to heal and resentment to fade. At this point, you might be able to resume communication without fighting.
A co-parenting plan might allow for some flexibility, but a parallel parenting plan is straightforward and precise to avoid as much communication between parents as possible.
To avoid problems, consider going through family court to make all arrangements official.
Step 1: Determine how you’ll split time with the kids
This involves specifically stating which days your children will be with one parent and which days they’ll be with the other. You can also include details on where they’ll spend holidays, vacations, and even birthdays.
Step 2: Determine the start time and end time for each visit
So there’s no misunderstanding or confusion, a parallel parenting plan should also include specific pick-up and drop-off times for each parent. For example, mom might have the kids starting Sunday night at 7 p.m. through Friday’s school drop-off, and dad might have them starting after school on Friday through 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Step 3: Establish the location for pick-ups and drop-offs
The goal is to limit communication between parents. So choose a drop-off and pick-up location that’s neutral. This can be a parking lot in between both homes where the children can quickly move from one car to the other.
Depending on the hostility level, you may even want to arrange for someone else to shuttle the kids between homes — perhaps a neutral relative or friend.
Step 4: Discuss how you’ll handle cancellations
Cancellations will occur, so outline a plan for handling these situations. Make it abundantly clear whether a parent will be allowed to make up their time. If so, the plan should outline when they’re able to do so.
For example, the parent might receive an extra day during the week, or spend an extra holiday or vacation with the child.
Step 5: Create a plan to handle disputes
When a parallel parenting plan works, disputes are kept to a minimum. But no plan is perfect, especially when one parent is difficult.
If you foresee problems, ask the court to appoint a mediator (sometimes referred to as a parenting coordinator). Instead of arguing back and forth, you can schedule a meeting with your mediator to work through the conflict.
Parallel parenting can be an excellent way to protect children and shield them from endless fighting and hostility. This strategy is typically recommended when parents are unable to interact amicably.
And while it does encourage separateness, it also provides a cooling off period where parents can work through their anger and hurt — and in the end, hopefully develop a healthy co-parenting relationship.
For help coming up with a parallel parenting agreement, talk with a child custody lawyer. And don’t forget to let some trusted friends in on what you’re going through as well — support is everything during trying times like divorce and separation.