Parallel Parenting: When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work
By: Jennifer Webbe Van Luven
West County Psychological Associates
In a relatively healthy divorce, parents work through feelings of anger, betrayal and loss and arrive at a place of acceptance. Their frustrations over the other parent’s values and choices are controlled and pushed aside, making space for post-divorce life: effective co-parenting.
True co-parenting is possible only when both parents support their child’s need to have a relationship with the other parent and respect the other parent’s right to have a healthy relationship with the child.
Unfortunately, some people never get to the point of acceptance, becoming instead addicted to anger.
They convey this conviction directly or indirectly not only to the child, but also to school staff, sports coaches, other parents, counselors and anyone who will listen.
High-conflict exes are on a mission to overthrow the other parent. No therapist, lawyer, parenting class, well-intention friend or family member can make an anger-addicted parent take off the gloves and agree to co-parent.
If this scenario feels familiar, and you are wondering how you’re going to survive raising kids with your high-conflict ex without losing every last ounce of your sanity, there is one counter intuitive suggestion: stop trying to co-parent with your ex! Try “Parallel Parenting” instead.
What is Parallel Parenting?
Parallel Parenting is an arrangement where divorced parents co-parent while being disengaged from each other and having limited direct contact. An angry ex will only make you more and more angry as you to try to have a reasonable conversation with him or her.
Stop expecting reciprocity or clarification. Stop needing the other person to see you as right. You are not ever going to get these things from your angry ex, and you can make yourself feel crazy trying.
How to Practice Parallel Parenting
Here are some tips:
- Keep Communication to a Minimum Stop talking on the phone. When speaking with a hostile ex, you will likely be drawn into their drama of unresolved issues and nothing will get accomplished. There are e-mail programs such as “Talking Parent” that will assist you in keeping track of your e-mails and also allow a third party to review them at a later time. By using e-mail and text, you can choose what to respond to and you will be able to delete hasty retorts that you may have made on the phone.
- Make Boundaries for Communication Hostile exes tend to ignore any sort of boundaries, so you will have to be very clear about the terms for communication. Communication, whether by e-mail or texting should be used only for logistics: travel plans, a schedule change, and doctor appointments, for example. If your ex uses e-mails to harass and intimidate you, tell him or her that you will not respond, and, if the abuse continues, you will consult your attorney.
- Do Not Respond to Threats of “Taking You Back to Court” Hostile exes frequently threaten to take you back to Court to modify child support or parenting plans. Do not respond! Tell your ex that any discussion of litigation must go through your attorney. This will require money on your ex’s part. It is most likely that your ex does not intend on spending the money, but is using this as a scare tactic to get what they want at that moment.
- Avoid Being Together at Your Children’s Functions If you need to attend the same event, do not sit next to each other, find separate places to sit. It’s great for your kids to see the two of you together — but only if they see you getting along. So attend events separately as much as possible. If you must attend the same event, do not try to sit with each other; find separate corners. Schedule separate parent-teacher conferences.
If your child is old enough, when picking up, simply park at the curb and let him or her walk to the car or when dropping off, let them walk to the residence.
- Be Proactive with School Staff Provide school staff with the parenting agreement and explain to them the situation without going into too much detail.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff Just as in Co-parenting, Parallel Parenting requires letting go of what happens in the other parent’s home. You may not agree with the rules at the other parent’s home, rules involving bedtime, electronics, homework strategies, etc., but there is really not much you can do about it. Your child will learn to adapt to different rules and expectations at each house. If your child complains about something that goes on at the other parent’s house, encourage your child to speak to the other parent. Trying to solve a problem between your ex and your child will only agitate the conflict and teach your child to pit the two of you against each other. You want to empower your children, not teach them that they need to be saved.
Parallel Parenting is the last technique to be implemented when attempts at co-parenting have failed. If Parallel Parenting is your only option, it doesn’t mean you have failed. Just the opposite is true. This type of parenting will enhance the quality of your life and take your children out of the middle – an appropriate goal for all healthy parents.