Co-parenting is never easy. for Massachusetts parents. Add in an uncooperative, combative, or narcissistic ex-spouse and it might seem downright impossible. But what other option do you have? Have you considered trying parallel parenting?
Ideally, following a divorce, couples are able come to some kind of co-parenting arrangement that involves creating a collaborative and respectful partnership for the sake of raising their children.
Effective co-parenting is rooted in joint decision-making and relies on good communication between exes. In this scenario, both parents are able see past who's right or wrong to work together to raise their kids.
If you're shaking your head right now thinking, "that really doesn't sound like me", you're NOT alone.
Many divorced parents find themselves in high-conflict relationships post break-up where communication is harmful or non-existent. This makes joint-decision making or planning nearly impossible to do.
If this sounds more like your current reality, you may need to adjust your approach.
Attempting to co-parent is not only unrealistic, it can also be damaging to your kids. And we know that's the last thing you want.
This is where parallel parenting comes in. It's a completely different parenting style that if used effectively, can minimize the negative effects on your children.
What Is Parallel Parenting?
This style of parenting works for people who had a highly contentious break-up or divorce. It's also suited to parents where one or more partners is abusive or dealing with issues like addiction, or mental illness such as bipolar, schizophrenia, narcissism, etc.
In these types of negative situations, parallel parenting might be the only feasible option.
Parallel parenting is about letting go of any kind of co-parenting ideals, accepting your partner for who they are (including their limitations) and trying to figure out the best situation you can for your kids.
This approach includes a lot less communication between parents, because the communication tends to go sideways when it happens.
Like the name "parallel parenting" implies, instead of parenting together as a team - you are more or less parenting side-by-side as two separate individuals, with little overlap (because that's when problems occur).
This system allows parents to disengage from each other while still playing active roles in their children's lives.
5 Secrets to Successful Parallel Parenting
Parallel parenting requires you to accept that you can and should be yourself, which means you need let go of the need for your ex to see you as right.
But it also means you need to accept your ex for who and what they are, and let go of trying to control every situation...because you can't.
The ultimate goal of parallel parenting is to reduce conflict and move forward. Each parent will parent their child the best way they can, without interference from the other.
It's about both of you doing right by your kids, without getting in each other's way.
2. Minimal Interaction
And to the point of not getting in each other's way, this also means you find ways to manage custody exchanges with minimal interaction between you.
You should set up a safe visitation, drop-off, and pick-up location for the kids that you both agree to use.
You can inform your ex about events, performances, games, etc. in which the kids are participating. Whether they want to attend, or not, is on them.
Then if they do choose to attend, your ex would arrive at the event separately. You're there for the kids, not to torment each other.
3. Keep Communication Business-Like
In order for parallel parenting to work, you need to view communication with your ex as a business transaction. You want it to be concise, to the point, and unemotional.
A very helpful acronym for dealing with high-conflict people is called BIFF. It stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm.
When sending communication to your ex, keep BIFF firmly in mind.
4. Use A Parenting Website Or App
Using an online or mobile tool helps keep communication transparent and business like.
Platforms such as OurFamilyWizard enable you to share schedules, expenses, medical records, and messages in a safe, structured setting that cannot be altered.
Should you need documentation of communication with your ex for a judge, counselor, or attorney to help settle conflicts, it's all right there in the platform.
5. Turn Conflict Into A Learning Opportunity
If your kids struggle with your ex's behavior, try to focus on the lesson and not the behavior itself.
This helps your kids focus less on the negatives of a situation they can't control, and more on learning how to deal with difficult situations.
Your ex may never change, so telling a child what their other parent is doing is "bad" or "wrong" isn't going to make things better. Or worse, your child could internalize the wrongness and think a part of them is bad too.
Instead focus on what your kids are feeling, and what they can do about those feelings given the situation.
What can be done differently next time? What did they learn? How would they handle that same interaction with mom or dad if it happens again? How can they manage their parent's limitations in a way that's healthier for them?
In this way you're not ignoring a situation, but you're choosing to focus on your child's learning and development rather than your ex's shortcomings.
Kids can learn valuable lessons about how to deal with difficult people (which they will encounter their entire lives) if you frame it like this.
Parallel parenting allows you distance yourself from the negative behaviors of your ex so your kids don't get caught in the cross-fire.
It lets you both parent at your best level, without hurting each other or your kids.
Ultimately, parallel parenting can help you untangle your emotions from your ex and focus on the love and support of your children. It lets you put your kids' needs front and center, where they belong.