Many divorced parents end up with joint custody of their children because courts recognize that it is important for the children to be able to maintain relationships with both parents. Some parents can put their feelings aside to successfully co-parent their children. However, when parents have a high-conflict relationship, attempting to co-parent may cause more harm than good.
Although parents who cannot get along may not be able to co-parent, they can still make joint custody work. A parallel parenting strategy may offer a way for children to have healthy relationships with both parents while minimizing the potential for conflict between parents.
How is parallel parenting different from co-parenting?
Co-parenting is an arrangement that involves both parents striving to maintain equal responsibility for their children’s upbringing. For this to work, both parents must be able to work together, communicate effectively and support the child’s relationship with each other.
In a healthy co-parenting situation both parents may be able to attend the children’s events without tension and have regular conversations about the children’s well-being. Parents may defer to each other before making other child care arrangements and may even incorporate shared rules in both homes.
However, when parents cannot work together or communicate effectively, they often end up exposing their children to their conflicts. This can sabotage their children’s connection with one or both parents.
Divorced parents who cannot get along can help keep their conflicts from affecting their children by implementing a version of co-parenting that limits the direct contact between the parents. This version of co-parenting, called parallel parenting, may still involve some decisions being made jointly, though it allows each parent to manage day-to-day decisions independently. It may require communication to be business-like and limited to information regarding the children’s well-being. It may also involve sharing information in writing or through technology instead of face-to-face.
Making a parenting strategy work
Whether parents adopt a traditional co-parenting strategy or a parallel parenting strategy there are a few guidelines that can help the strategy be more successful:
- Parents should agree to put the children’s needs first.
- A parent should never make negative comments to the children about the other parent.
- Both parents should be realistic when scheduling.
- Parents should avoid using the children as messengers.
Although traditional co-parenting can be a good strategy for some divorced parents, other parents may be better able to nurture their children when they have a little more space from each other. When parents cannot get along, parallel parenting can be an effective way to make joint custody work.