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Parallel Parenting Techniques: Minimizing Conflict for the Sake of Your Children

Reading time: 11 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
April 22, 2024
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parallel parenting: couple fighting over parenting

What you’ll learn

Discover parallel parenting: minimal contact, maximum independence. Learn core elements & key strategies for successful co-parenting harmony.

After a divorce between parents, the typical result is a joint custody agreement and a co-parenting plan. However, there are many situations where parallel parenting is the more practical and possible approach. Rather than working together on every parenting decision, parallel parenting makes it possible for two parents to share custody without speaking to each other, and coordinating the minimum amount to maintain the joint custody schedule.

Many see parallel parenting as an agreement of non-interference, where each parent’s household is a completely separate realm where different decisions might be made. If you are considering this strategy for your custody agreement, we can help by taking you on a tour of the benefits, drawbacks, and how parallel parenting compares to traditional co-parenting.

Understanding Parallel Parenting

What is parallel parenting? Parallel parenting is when two parents reach a few basic agreements, then parent separately with minimal contact or influence on each other’s parenting styles.

The core element of parallel-parenting is limited communication. Parents only discuss the most important details of child rearing and logistics, and often only through email or text. This method works best when a divorce has been high-conflict or when there are extreme differences like distance or schedule. The arrangement allows children to maintain a strong bond and parenting time with both parents without other complications getting in the way.

When to Use Parallel Parenting

  • High-conflict situations
  • Long-distances between parents
  • Extremely different work schedules
  • Different parenting specialties and priorities

Parallel parenting works best when two parents are unable – for any reason – to co-parent in the traditional way. Co-parenting involves teamwork, communication, and aligning parenting policies. Parallel parenting, however, requires minimal alignment, agreeing only on the most essential facts like child health requirements and drop-off logistics. 

Parallel parenting is often chosen when parents cannot talk without conflict, and so minimal communication allows for more productive parenting decisions. But it is also effective in other scenarios. When parents live too far apart to align their parenting methods, this type of parenting is the ideal solution. It is also useful when parents have extremely different schedules and just can’t find the time to coordinate.

Parents with very different priorities or specialties may also use this method, for example, if one parent becomes the competition/touring parent for a child’s athletic, musical, or other skill-based activities while the other provides a more stable home life between games and trips.

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Addressing the Challenges of Parallel Parenting

When embarking on a plan to parent separately, it’s important to prepare yourself for the challenges ahead. There are advantages and disadvantages of parallel parenting to consider. This policy can be very successful, and a huge improvement on the alternative, but it comes with a few matters that you’ll need to address right off the bat.

Mother sitting on bench with two children beside her, looking at phone screen while spending time outdoors.

Credits: Pexels

Coordinating Logistics, If Nothing Else

The key challenge of parallel parenting is logistics. Even if each parenting style is completely separate, transportation and timing are where parents will need to communicate to get it right. As family schedules change (work schedules, school schedules, and extracurricular activities), parents will need to constantly coordinate when, where, and how the kids will transition from one parent’s realm to the next.

Aligning Shared vs Separate Responsibilities

What responsibilities does each parent have? When splitting the parenting role down the middle, some parents divide up specific responsibilities and some simply build a wall where each parent has 100% of the responsibilities during their time. But there are a few important questions to ask.

  • Who takes the children to the doctor?
  • Is either parent a better coach or supporter in sports or music?
  • Who gets calls from the school if the child is sick or has a behavior problem?

Managing Parent-Child Relationships

It is vitally important that the lines drawn in parallel parenting do not interfere with each child’s relationship with both their parents. The goal is to allow children to maintain a strong dual-parent bond even if the parents rarely see or speak to each other. Parents should also avoid asking about the other or saying negative or alienating things about the other parent or their parenting style.

Achieving a Co-Parenting Dynamic

Co-parenting vs pararallel parenting do not have to be mutually exclusive. Many parents going parallel eventually achieve a co-parenting dynamic – aligning things like medication, consequences for misbehavior, nutrition, curfew, and other policies even with minimal communication. This creates consistency for your children and can even make them feel more cared for in both homes.

Providing Stability Between Homes

The biggest challenge of parallel parenting is achieving stability. Children should not feel that they are being shuttled between two different worlds, just between two separate homes of parents who love them. The more stable your arrangement, the better. That requires teamwork, even with a minimal communication policy.

👉 Learn why parents shouldn’t be friends with their children. Explore the importance of setting boundaries in parenting in this article “Setting Boundaries in Parenting: Why Parents Should Not Be Friends with Their Child“.

Pros and Cons of Parallel Parenting

The Advantages of Parallel Parenting

  • Minimizes Parental Conflict
  • Ensures Dual Stability
  • Enhances Overall Wellbeing in Children
  • Reduces Stress Over Differences
  • Fosters Adaptability
  • Provides Parental Policy Flexibility

The advantages of parallel parenting are many. Parents who cannot communicate calmly or coordinate easily often choose this route for the advantages it has to offer. By minimizing communication, parents can avoid conflict and worry less about what happens in the other home. At the same time, a mutual agreement of parallel aprenting provides greater stability for the kids.

Children get to spend equal time with their parents without any fighting, which promotes their wellbeing, and the agreement to build a wall reduces the amount of stress over any differences between parenting styles.

By choosing to parent separately, parents also create more flexibility in the child custody plan, and children often learn how to adapt to different environments, which will become useful skills in adulthood.

Mother sitting on bed, holding daughter in her arms, sharing a tender moment together.

Credits: Pexels

The Disadvantages of Parallel Parenting

  • Disjointed Policies
  • Difficult Logistics
  • Constant Changes in Routine
  • Parental Communication Gaps
  • Things Slip Through the Cracks

Of course, there are also a few downsides to parallel parenting. The “cons” often relate to the disjointed experience between the two homes. Children may suffer from a drastic change in schedules and routines, including bedtimes, tooth brushing, homework policies, and eating habits. The disconnect can also lead to problems that “slip through the cracks” in the parental communication gap.

Of course, parents must also work harder to arrange practical logistics, from holidays to trading the kids over weekends to deciding who gives rides home from after-school events.

Key Differences Between Parallel Parenting and Co-Parenting

The definition for parallel parenting lies in the difference between co-parenting vs parallel parenting.

Co-Parenting

Most joint custody divorces result in a co-parenting arrangement. In co-parenting, both parents work together to build a comprehensive parenting plan. Policies like homework time, bedtime, and behavioral expectations are kept relatively consistent between both households. Parents may agree to coordinate if a child is grounded, even if the child changes households in between. They may maintain the same schedule and conference on how to deal with parenting challenges as they arise.

In other words, co-parenting involves a lot of communication and cooperation between divorced parents to form a united front. Co-parents may even attend events together to provide shared support.

Co-parenting works best when parents can get along and agree on most parenting policies.

Parallel Parenting

In parallel parenting, however, communication is kept to an absolute minimum, which makes coordinating policies in-step nearly impossible. Instead, parents agree to leave each other’s parenting styles alone. Each household is a separate kingdom and the children move between two different worlds. Perhaps a few policies are agreed upon through formal discussions or emails, but these tend to be only the most vital details, like when a child must take their medication and how to safely trade-off when it’s time to change households.

Parallel parenting works best when parents cannot get along, cannot agree on policies, or their situations are so different that the same policies between households might not be practical.

How to Make it Work: Design an Effective Parallel Parenting Plan

The key to success is to build a comprehensive parallel parenting plan. The more you plan and structure ahead of time, the less you need to communicate or worry in the months and years to come as both parents do their best to raise their children in stable yet separate environments. Fortunately, you don’t need to start from scratch. We can share a practical step-by-step guide to creating your own comprehensive parallel parenting plan that will adapt with changing schedules and needs.

1. Agree on the Basics

The first step is to agree on the basics. Parents often share a few foundational priorities, such as a child’s health, safety, academic success, and opportunities to grow. You can also discuss the basic division of the schedule, the child’s medical needs, and a few things you already know work best in parenting your children.

This step is often taken care of during the divorce custody process, but it’s never too late to get started if your divorce is already complete, or if you are living separately without a divorce.

2. Build a Structured Schedule

The cornerstone of your parallel parenting plan will be a structured schedule. Here is where you will draw your boundaries and base your logistics planning. Determine when the kids will spend time with each parent and approximately where the practical time-divides will be. Will a different parent pick them up from school every Friday? Will the kids fly between parents every season? Decide this now and set the schedule into a rigid structure that both parents will adhere to absolutely.

3. Choose a Communication Channel

Decide how you will communicate in the limited capacity of parallel parenting. Email or text messages (or both) are the usual routes, so that you can carefully choose your words both composing and responding to messages. This can help keep conversations civil and focused only on parenting matters.

4. Divide Responsibilities

Determine how parental responsibilities will be divided. Maybe one parent is the ‘Sports’ parent and the other has better health insurance. Maybe one parent is the better math tutor and the other gets the kids to summer camp. Or maybe both parents take on full responsibilities during their time. This depends on what works best for your split family.

5. Coordinate Trade-Off Logistics

Logistics are important. Once you have a schedule, determine how and when the kids will travel between households. Make sure kids are never left without a ride home and establish backup logistics in case someone’s car is in the shop or other interruptions occur. Logistics are a vital part of parallel parenting, so carefully consider each stage in the swapping process.

6. Define Boundaries

It is very important to set boundaries. Define what kinds of communications won’t be sent or responded to. Define when the schedule can or cannot flex based on changing conditions. Define the types of things you will and will not say to the kids to maintain their sense of peace and stability.

7. Build an Update Policy

How will both parents stay updated with what’s going on in their kid’s lives across the line? Injuries, friend troubles, behavioral problems – parents should be able to communicate these issues and help each other provide consistent support, even if they talk about nothing else.

Some parallel-parents use a log book and record important details in a journal that travels with each child. Others use an online document or even a task management system, like at work. Or you might trade a weekly email with itemized updates. 

Dad holding little girl in his arms outdoors, sharing a loving moment in nature.

Credits: Pexels

8. Split Up the Holidays

You will need to split up the holidays and agree not to worry what happens during the other parent’s celebrations. How you divide holidays will depend on family traditions and fairness. Maybe the kids spend Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other, or every other Christmas, or trade off halfway through Christmas day. Maybe one parent gets all summer, and the other gets the entire holiday season.

Be sure to ask your kids how they feel, as holidays matter a lot to children and teenagers, and they might have some good ideas.

9. Create an Emergency Response Plan

How will two separate parents respond to emergencies? Who should the school call if the child is sick? What should you do if one parent can’t take their custody time due to an accident or an emergency shift at work? Have a plan. Have several plans and backup plans. Consider every type of emergency and how you might deal with it while avoiding any high-stress arguments at the moment. It’s better to have a plan of action already set up.

10. Hold an Annual Revision Conference

Lastly, prepare to hold an annual revision conference. This may be a meeting, phone call, or a more involved series of emails. Consider how each person’s schedule (parents and kids) may change with each year and how the agreement might need to adapt.

You may also find that during these conferences, co-parenting emerges as your shared desire to be good parents and growing skill in separate parenting overcomes any previous obstacles.

Bonus Tips for Successful Parallel Parenting

Build Separate Support Systems

Have separate support systems. Each parent should cultivate backup childcare and support for their own personal needs. If you are emotionally wounded after the divorce, seek professional therapy and support from your own friends and family. Build a support system of family friends your children can trust. This will create greater stability in both households, and reduce the chance that exes will cross paths.

Keep a Shared Document Space

Share a Google Drive or similar document space where digital copies of the kid’s documents can be stored. Scanned birth certificates, medical records, school permission slips, and other documents can be made available with zero need for communication with this helpful technique.

Schedule Important Conversations

Sometimes, parenting requires an important conversation. Maybe your child has a new behavioral problem or wants to put a ton of time and energy into a new activity. Send an email letting your ex know that you need to talk and schedule the conversation so both of you are prepared to talk shop. This will reduce spontaneous comments and help keep your discussion focused on parenting alone.

Embracing the Solution of Parallel Parenting

If you are looking for a way to share parenting responsibilities without talking to your ex, parallel parenting is the ideal solution. Parallel parenting is extremely effective in diffusing high-conflict co-parenting situations for the wellbeing of your children. Kids can maintain a strong relationship with both parents without enduring the constant stress of arguments and disagreements. Instead, parents create intentional distance and coordinate only on the most important and logistic elements of parenting.

Explore parallel parenting for your own situation by building a plan with your ex that creates two stable households where your children can grow and thrive with two parents who love them equally – but separately.

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References

Buccheri, T., Musaad, S., Kelly K. Bost, K., Fiese, B. (2018). Development and assessment of stressful life events subscales – A preliminary analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. 226. 178-187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2017.09.046

Hong, Y., McCormick, S., Deater-Deckard, K., Calkins, S., Bell, M. (2022) Household chaos, parental responses to emotion, and child emotion regulation in middle childhood. Social Development. 30. 786– 805. https://doi.org/10.1111/sode.12500

Radomir-Belitoiu, R. (2019). The Relationship between Parental Styles, Anger Management, and Cognitive-Emotional Coping Mechanisms in Adolescents. Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy, 22(4), 17–24.

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