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Parallel Parenting vs Co-Parenting: Which Approach is Right for Your Family?


If you have children and you are going through a divorce or have recently divorced your spouse, it can be difficult to know how to move forward as parents. Going from a married couple parenting together to a divorced couple parenting your shared children apart is rarely a seamless transition. Many couples struggle to find their footing as co-parents after the emotional turmoil of divorce, and this can be especially true if a couple’s divorce was contentious.

However, understanding the ways in which divorced parents have typically navigated the major pressure points of parenting after divorce can help you create a plan that works for your family. In this blog, we will discuss the differences between two of the main approaches to post-divorce parenting: co-parenting and parallel parenting.

What Is Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting is a form of parenting in which separated or divorced parents work together to raise their children, even if they are no longer involved with one another romantically. This form of parenting typically requires that parents remain in close and frequent communication so that they can make parenting decisions together, coordinate their schedules, and even attend family events together.

Co-parenting requires a sense of mutual respect, flexibility, and a willingness to compromise and problem-solve. Regular check-ins can help maintain a sense of connection between both households, as well as help to ensure that each parent knows what’s going on in their child's life.

Here are some tips and strategies for successful co-parenting:

  • Establish clear expectations: Both parents should agree on rules, expectations, and guidelines related to their children’s upbringing so that there’s consistency across households.
  • Respect boundaries: While keeping open lines of communication is necessary, each parent should respect the other’s privacy and be able to set and enforce boundaries.
  • Keep emotions out of it: It can be difficult not to bring your own feelings into conversations related to parenting; however, it is best if discussions remain focused on what is best for the child rather than what hurts one parent or the other emotionally.
  • Remain consistent: Co-parents should strive to create an environment where children feel safe and secure regardless of with whom they are staying. This includes consistency regarding discipline so kids understand that similar behavior will yield similar results across both homes.

Overall, co-parenting requires commitment from both parties involved to work properly. When done right, co-parenting can benefit both parents as well as their children by ensuring stability, predictability, and support across both households. This can be an especially fruitful way of approaching post-divorce parenting if you and your ex were able to remain amicable during your breakup and divorce. However, if you and your ex had an especially contentious divorce or you feel you or your ex is unable to act respectfully to one another, it may be best for everyone involved to forgo the pressure to remain in constant contact with one another.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is a type of parenting style that is used when parents are unable to agree on how to raise their children in a cooperative manner. Parents who choose this style of parenting essentially create two separate households where each parent takes responsibility for their own specific set of rules and expectations.

This style of parenting can be beneficial in situations where there are high levels of conflict between the parents or when parents have very different parenting styles. Even though the children may have different experiences and expectations across households, parallel parenting can still provide stability and support for their children.

Here are some practical tips for successful parallel parenting:

  • Find common ground when possible: Even if you agree to disagree about most things, it may be worth seeing if there are any baseline expectations you can set – perhaps regarding your child’s behavior or expectations about schoolwork.
  • Respect boundaries: Each parent should respect the other’s space and privacy even if they do not agree on certain decisions or choices. This means that you respect that the rules may be different for your child when they are at your ex’s house.
  • Embrace the differences: Even if you don’t agree with each other’s choices, embrace the knowledge that your child is learning to thrive in different environments. Consider how this may better enable them to adapt to different environments as they grow older.

Parallel parenting allows each parent to take ownership of their own household without compromising on the quality of care given to the child. Especially for parents that have experienced high levels of conflict or have very different parenting styles, parallel parenting can allow each parent to function in the way that works best for them without fear of interference from the other parent.

What are the Pros and Cons of Each Approach?

The key difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting is the level of communication between the two households. Co-parenting requires open communication between parents on topics related to their child’s upbringing, whereas parallel parenting typically involves less interaction between households due to the separation of rules and expectations by each parent.

One of the first things parents should consider when choosing a parenting style is the level of conflict between them and their child’s other parent. If there are high levels of conflict between them, then co-parenting may not be the best option. Rather than subject yourselves and your children to ongoing conflict, you and your ex may find that parallel parenting makes for two more peaceful and functional households than co-parenting might.

Additionally, parents should also assess how much involvement they want from each other. You might ask yourself, does the idea of making parenting decisions together make you feel supported or smothered? Ultimately, understanding your family's individual needs will help you make the right decision when it comes to choosing the best parenting approach for your family.

Both co-parenting and parallel parenting have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to understand each approach to determine which one is right for your family. Neither is necessarily better than the other. Thriving in a post-divorce reality often means accepting the reality of your circumstances, and that can include accepting that you and your ex are better parents when you don’t have to constantly negotiate parenting decisions together.

It's also important to remember that deciding to parent in one way or another is not necessarily a permanent decision. Parents may begin by co-parenting but may find themselves parallel parenting as their children get older and more independent. On the other hand, parents may find they want to parallel parent after a particularly contentious divorce but may eventually find that they have healed sufficiently to want to cooperate or coordinate more with each other as time goes on. Just as children go through their own developmental stages, so too will your own parenting ebb and flow to meet the needs of your children as time goes on.

Finally, co-parenting and parallel parenting are not necessarily distinct from each other in practice. You may choose to cooperate when it comes to your children’s educational needs, for instance, but agree to respect each other’s differences when it comes to bedtimes and other house rules. Most divorced families fall somewhere on a spectrum between these two styles of parenting rather than on one end or another.

Work with an Experienced Family Law Attorney

At McIntyre Tate LLP, we understand how important it is to establish a parenting plan that reflects the needs and preferences of your family. Our experienced and compassionate divorce attorneys can help ensure that the legal aspects of establishing your parenting plan and divorce settlement will be taken care of with sensitivity and understanding. And if you eventually decide to make changes to your parenting plan, you can rely on us to help you through the modification process.

Contact us online or call us at (401) 351-7700 to schedule a consultation to discuss how we can help your family.