After a divorce or separation, it’s common to have some minor to major difficulty as you learn how to parent your child with your ex. In most cases, it’s best for your child to have a relationship with both parents, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy for you to get along with your child’s other parent. Most people are familiar with the term co-parenting, and fewer are familiar with the term parallel parenting. What do both of these mean in practice? Keep reading to learn more about two different ways of parenting your child when you and your ex-partner have broken up or divorced.
What Is Co-Parenting?
Co-parenting is when both parents put aside their anger and hurt toward each other and focus on their child by continuing to work together as parents. While it can be difficult, parents who choose to co-parent will generally behave amicably in front of the child and avoid arguments that the child is aware of. They might get together at times, such as on the child’s birthday or during his or her soccer games. Some co-parenting moms and dads will even arrange to spend holidays together, bringing along new spouses and stepchildren or new babies.
Co-parenting typically includes amicable drop-offs and pick-ups. The parents might both attend doctors’ appointments, or the parent who attends alone might take notes for the other parent to read. They might go to parent-teacher conferences together. If one parent has to travel for work, the other might happily take the child even if the trip falls on the traveling parent’s custody days. Then they might work together to allow the traveling parent to make up the time later.
Parents work together to come up with shared expectations and major rules (like when a child can begin dating or that the child can join just one sports team at a time), though there might be some differences when it comes to less important matters (such as bedtimes or whether the child can eat cookies before dinner). In many cases, co-parents will have roughly equal parenting time, to the extent that circumstances allow.
What Is Parallel Parenting?
Parallel parenting means that the child is only with mom on mom’s days and only with dad on dad’s days. Each parent will make his or her own rules, and those rules won’t typically apply to the time spent with the other parent. Events like concerts, sports matches, and parent-teacher conferences are done individually.
For example, if a child is on a softball team, the parents might each attend alternating games or might both attend all games but stay far apart from one another. Parents who choose parallel parenting typically do not spend any time together unless strictly necessary.
- Drop-offs and pick-ups might involve the child exiting one car and getting into the other car with no communication between the parents.
- Emails and texts might be the only type of communication; there are no impromptu or face-to-face conversations.
- Holidays and birthdays are always celebrated separately, and if one parent travels for work, they are typically responsible for finding their own alternate child care.
Other than in the case of emergencies, the parents usually do not contact each other. While this is not always the case, parallel parenting can sometimes become the default when one parent has primary custody of the child and the other parent has visitation. It is also common if one parent lives out of state and sees the child only on school breaks and for a week or two over the summer.
Which Parenting Style Is Better?
In general, co-parenting is easier for the children and should be used when possible. It helps children to feel more secure when both parents are on the same page. It can also help assure children that their parents both love them when the parents can interact amicably on the child’s birthday and communicate on the phone about upcoming events.
With that being said, if there is a lot of anger or animosity between parents, parallel parenting can actually be easier on everyone. There is less of a chance that there will be loud arguments or fighting, which can scare a child. Parallel parenting can also be a better option when there has been a history of domestic violence or other abusive behaviors. This is particularly true when one parent has supervised visitation and the other has primary custody of the child.
Is There a Spectrum of Parenting?
As with anything else pertaining to parenting, there is a spectrum between co-parenting and parallel parenting. Many people fall into a space between the two camps. For example, you might be able to have cordial conversations with your ex, but you draw the line at spending a day together on a holiday. You might attend parent-teacher conferences together but would not be willing to sit next to your ex at your child’s next ballet recital.
Don’t feel as though you have to do co-parenting perfectly or not at all; there is plenty of room for you to support your child while still also drawing and sticking to your own boundaries when it comes to your ex. There are plenty of situations where a parent might not want the other parent involved in a personal matter, and that is perfectly fine. If you can keep the lines of communication open to the extent that you feel comfortable and safe, then you are doing your best with your child.
Where Can I Turn for Help?
It is not generally necessary to hire a private attorney to help you navigate the path toward co-parenting or parallel parenting. You might be able to have mediation or if you would rather represent yourself and work directly with your ex and/or the courts, a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help. Contact us to find out if we can help you develop your parenting plan and define your parenting relationship with your ex.