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Parallel Parenting: An Alternative to Co-Parenting

When people with children decide to divorce, the need to communicate does not end with the marriage. For some, this isn't a difficult transition. But for many folks, it can be extremely hard to co-parent, due to the upsetting emotions that can linger well after the divorce. Hurt feelings and blame can creep into parenting discussions, and it's hard for many to not let this show in front of the children. In the worst cases, the parents basically act out in front of the children, and expose them to a level of conflict that can be frightening and disturbing for the children.

Research shows that children who are exposed to conflict, whether in marriage or after the divorce, can experience significant problems in relationships, academics, and may even have problems with substance abuse. So, the goal of parents should be to reduce the level of conflict the children are exposed to as much as possible. Sometimes this means giving up the option of co-parenting. Co-parenting is wonderful if both parents are willing to cooperate with each other and talk through issues without bickering and conflict. However, if emotions are running to high to make co-parenting a viable option, there is another option called parallel parenting.

Parallel parenting gets its name from the child psychology term 'parallel play'. Parallel play is when children play together, side by side, without interacting. Co-parenting relies heavily on parent interaction, but parallel parenting depends on minimal interaction between parents. To put it bluntly, these parents don't get along, can't work together, and are encouraged to keep their distance from each other.

Parallel parenting first requires disengagement, meaning parents do not communicate about minor things regarding their child. Each parent has an area of responsibility for major decisions. For example, one parent will make medical decisions, while the other parent makes educational decisions. When an issue arises that requires communication, it should be done via email the majority of the time, to prevent any face-to-face or verbal interaction that could allow a negative exchange of words. When "big" issues arise, verbal communication is allowed, but hopefully with a 3rd party present.

A detailed parenting plan is usually established; one that leaves no room for doubt or ambiguity, and therefore nothing will need to be negotiated. Transfers from one parent to the other take place on neutral ground - typically either at school, daycare, or maybe a neighbor's house. And last, but certainly not least, each parent makes the decisions around their child's daily life when they are in their care. This means each parent makes decisions about bedtime, clothing, friends, and activities for their child, without any input or interaction with the other parent, when the child is in their care.

As you can see, parallel parenting focuses on compliance with the legal contract, instead of cooperation between parents. While this may sound rigid, some parents need this structure, in order to parent though the difficult time that divorce sometimes presents. Sometimes, as parents mature and time passes, it's possible to switch from parallel parenting to co-parenting. The key is to do whatever it takes to lessen the stress of divorce on your children.

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