What is Parallel Parenting and Should You Try It?

little girl smiling up at her mom while working on homschool letters at table

What is parallel parenting, and should you try it? I imagine many haven’t heard of it, or maybe that was just me. Parallel parenting is not a parenting style I’ve ever heard of, but there are so many styles of parenting that it doesn’t surprise me.

The parenting experts are constantly telling us what we are doing wrong, what we are doing right, and always telling us how to do it all better. What’s right or wrong? Who even knows? At this point, I just recommend keeping your kids alive, happy, healthy, and thriving, and you’re all right.

The good news is that all children are unique. It’s not that difficult to keep them alive, but happy, healthy, and thriving is a robust set of challenges when you take each kid’s personality into consideration. In truth, even that’s not entirely true. For example, we have three daughters and a son, and so far we’ve proven it is much simpler to keep the girls alive.

Our son lives by the motto that if he can jump on it, off of it, climb it, or do a flip on, around, near, or off of it, he’s going to. Keeping him alive with his daredevil mindset has been a bit more of a challenge. The parenting hacks that work on the girls don’t work on him.

Parallel parenting, though is a different take on parenting. If you’re not sure what it is, join the club. We’re all learning together as we go, which might prove beneficial. What I’ve learned about parallel parenting so far is that it’s not for everyone. And I mean that literally.


Parallel Parenting is a Method of Co-Parenting

The term co-parenting is one that applies traditionally to divorced couples who share children. This is not to say you can’t still parallel parent as a married couple, but honestly, it’s for those raising kids while not in a relationship. Parallel parenting is when you both parent your kids in a way that suits you, but you also don’t attend the same functions, go to the same events, and you don’t do anything together.

In short, parallel parenting means you and your children’s other parent have no reason to be in the same room or same place at the same time. Your sole method of communication is done via technological communication. Or snail mail. A carrier pigeon? A third party mediator? Whatever works. We don’t know your relationship.


So, Parallel Parenting is Co-Parenting?

No, it is not. Parallel parenting is a method of co-parenting. Traditional co-parenting is when two ex-partners work together to raise their kids. They may celebrate birthdays and holidays together, show up for the same events (school plays, sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, etc.), and spend time together working as parents.

For example, co-parents who have a child with health issues might both attend appointments with the child’s doctor as a show of support for their child. In a parallel parenting situation, one parent is going to these events and the other is not. They switch off and do things with their kids, but never together.

Parenting Hacks

The Main Difference Between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting

Perhaps the biggest difference between these two parenting methods is the style of parenting. Co-parents typical share the same type of parenting style. They tend to agree on how to raise their kids, and they share an open line of communication. Parallel parenting, on the other side of things, typically includes two parents who disagree on parenting styles.

Perhaps one is an indulgent parent and the other is an authoritarian parent. The point is that neither parent agrees, and they don’t work together to parent their child. The rely on bare-minimum communication, and they parent their kids their way with no regard for the other parent and their parenting methods.


Should You Try Parallel Parenting?

Despite the fact that parallel parenting doesn’t sound overly impressive, it’s a helpful parenting style for parents who are involved in high-conflict co-parenting relationships. For example, ex-spouses who do not get along, cannot agree on anything, and who are unkind to one another might not be able to be in the same room at the same time.

Their conflict overshadows everything else that they have in common, and their parenting is not handled well as a result. There are a million reasons why two adults cannot get along in any capacity, and those are the people who are most likely to benefit from using parallel parenting.

If you and your child’s other parent are unable to be together, agree on things, and co-parent civilly, parallel parenting is something you should try. It allows you to both be part of your child’s life, but it also allows you to avoid being part of one anothers life. You can use extended family members to help with the exchange of children on your day or theirs, and you can communicate via text messages or even email. The rules of parallel parenting aren’t set in stone. You figure it out through trial and error, and then you work on it from there.

Car Activities for Kids

Are There Any Benefits to Parallel Parenting?

Yes! The benefits of parallel parenting are numerous. For one, you don’t have to deal with a person you conflict with. However, the most important benefit of parallel parenting is that your child gets to have a positive relationship with both parents without your own issues getting in the way of that. Of course, it’s important that you refrain from speaking ill of one another, questioning your child incessantly about their time with their other parent, or making your child feel as if he or she is just a pawn in some ugly game.

If I’m being honest, I fail to see how mature, grown adults cannot be in the same room as one another to civilly parent their children even if they no longer care to be together. Sure, I get it if your ex-spouse did something absolutely horrible – but in my mind, absolutely horrible people who do absolutely horrible things don’t get to see their children unsupervised. Of course, I’m not privy to the details of anyone else’s relationship and their personal feelings for one another, so I may be entirely mistaken. I understand the world is filled with immature, unreasonable, ridiculous people, and many of them are adults, so I suppose I can see why this is a problem for some.

Some other benefits include providing parents with an increased sense of confidence when making their own parenting decisions. Perhaps the level of disagreement you and your child’s other parent faced when making parenting decisions in the past caused you to feel as if your parenting is not good enough. Now you don’t have to worry about that. In addition, parallel parenting often provides children and their parents with a reduced level of stress in terms of everything.


What are the Disadvantages of Parallel Parenting?

The biggest drawback associated parenting is the simple fact that each parent feels a certain lack of involvement in the lives of their children. Your children are living a completely different life outside of your home when they are with another parent, and that does have an effect.

This is particularly true when your parenting styles do not line up. For example, now you are raising kids who are being disciplined differently in one home than the other, and that also leads to confusing feelings for the children. For example, if one parent is indulgent and rarely disciplines their child an the other is an authoritarian parent who does not allow kids to bend or break the rules at all, it’s confusing. Kids might not understand why one parent is so ‘mean’ compared to the other, and it can cause conflict.

In addition to this, parallel parenting is a massive learning curve for many children. The fact of the matter is that many kids simply do not understand why their parents’ homes are vastly different. They might have a completely different set of rules in one home, and going back and forth between two completely separate lives is a challenge. This is probably more true for younger kids than older ones, but it will require a certain level of patience on behalf of everyone involved in this method of parenting.


Parallel Parenting Need Not Be Forever

The good news about parallel parenting is that it’s not a death sentence. There is no law that states you must use this method of parenting for the rest of your life. You are perfectly capable of using it when it’s necessary and adapting later. What does this mean? Essentially, and I promise I say this in a non-judgmental manner, you and your ex may eventually mature to the point that you can get along again. If not get along, at least tolerate one another.

It’s not uncommon for couples to have a difficult time together when you are newly separated or divorced. If one of you moves on, if one cheated, if one of you is more hurt than the other, it’s difficult to be around the other. As time goes on, as healing occurs, and as you both move on, you may find that co-parenting is easier and parallel parenting is no longer necessary.

Only you know what works best for you and your family. There may never be a time when you can work together as co-parents. There may come a time when you can. The point is that your kids will one day grow up and they’ll no longer need you to do any type of parenting together. They’ll choose who they want to spend time with and when, and your only job is to respect the relationship your children have with their other parent.

smiling woman and son laying on floor doing creative project

Does Parallel Parenting Work When One or Both of You Meets Someone New?

This is where things become a little trickier. If you’re parallel parenting, you don’t get much of a say in the introduction of a new person to your children. Many parents are respectful enough to put the needs and feelings of their children first – and those who are not probably are not reading this article, either. Most parents wait a while before introducing their children to someone new. A revolving door of dates is never a good idea when there are kids involved, so most parents wait until things are serious.

The only problem with this is that parallel parents don’t get a say in the other parent’s way of parenting. This might be difficult for you, and that’s understandable. However, the good thing about parallel parenting, of course, is that it is not permanent if you don’t want it to be. If your ex meets someone new, that someone might be serious enough about your ex and the kids that they want to try co-parenting. It’s worth trying, but the results are very personal.

How to Parent Your Children After a Split is Personal

No two instances are the same. I’ll be honest with you – I don’t know many divorced couples. All of our close friends and families are happily married and have been for many years. We haven’t been to a wedding in forever – except my younger brother’s wedding a year ago. I mean…we haven’t been to a wedding in over a decade. Our friends are all approaching their 20th wedding anniversaries. Our kids and their friends will be the next weddings we attend. That said, I don’t know any divorced couples with kids personally enough to know their situation.

I do know some exes can work well together and parent their kids first and put their own problems last. Honestly, I know there are some who cannot stand one another, but still put their kids first. I don’t know a couple who cannot stand one another to the point they cannot even co-parent, but I do know these couples exist. What happens in your situation is dependent on you and your ex. Just do your best, and remember that putting your kids before yourself in a situation like this one is almost always the right choice.

At the end of the day, you might not be baking Christmas cookies with your ex and the kids, but you can get to a point where you’re not fighting all the time. As everything when kids are involved, the learning curve is sharp. You will, however, eventually find a way to make it work.

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