When Parallel Parenting is Best

When I first started dating Caleb, co-parenting was the only type of blended family arrangement I was familiar with. had ever heard of. To me, it was just another term to describe our future blended family. I really had no clue that it was a style of parenting, until I read more about it, for the good and the bad. (Warning future or present Step Mamas: that internet can be a cold dark place for us.) It sounded like a novel idea. Two families happily getting along, making decisions together, heck some even being friends and hanging out. That didn’t sound too bad. I could handle that. Then….. reality hit. Then I learned about parallel parenting. It all started to fit together.

What is Parallel Parenting?

According to Psychology Today, “Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited direct contact, in situations where they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner.”

I want to be clear on something. Yes there are occasional disagreements between Caleb and his ex; however the typical reasoning is that they are both very different types of parents and have different view points on what’s important. This definition seems very harsh for our current situation.

Parallel parenting is usually best for high conflict situations. There has to be some level of agreement between the parents in order to account for important decisions for the children, but there is also a “safe” level of disengagement between the adults for the sake of keeping things conflict free for the kids.

Think of it legitimately as parallel lines, where each line represents one of the families. Typically the families live their own life and follow their own rules and household expectations. There is very little overlap unless a serious decision regarding the children needs to occur, then conversations will take place or may previously been outlined. Depending on how high the conflict is, email, mediation, or other type of supervisor may be present when these conversations happen. The families only overlap when parenting time switches and even then, depending on the situation, that may not even happen.

Why Choose Parallel Parenting?

Parallel Parenting has a lot of benefits for everyone involved. Both parents are free from major conflicts and constant communication, when it isn’t pleasant for either party. Any children involved are free from the pitfalls of any major disagreement or fight between their parents. Parents can create new support systems for the children at their own household. It’s less stressful for everyone. Think of it as a business arrangement. Everyone knows their job and works to fulfill that independent and separate.

What Works for Us?

We’ve found some safe combination of co-parenting and parallel parenting. Things aren’t always clean cut and easy, so parallel parenting works. The kids both have “new families” at both homes with their own set of rules and expectations. Both households have very different rules and expectations. Email is usually the safest and most used form of communication. It’s documentable and non face to face. That too can backfire though, as there tends to be extra “strength” without a face.

Co-parenting is starting to semi work, but I know it may never be achieved or desired. Sometimes conversations occur and work out face to face just fine! Since the kids are picked up from our house twice a month, face to face conversations have to happen and making sure they are civil and friendly in front of the kids is vital. We’ve even found ways to support the kids together in extracurriculars, but there is still a long way to go.

How Can You Implement Parallel Parenting?

  1. Create a very detailed plan with some form of legal mediator present. This can be in the form of a divorce decree or a parenting plan on any type of family system (read: Our Family Wizard or the like). The important piece here, especially in high conflict situations, is some type of mediator. This will provide safety for both parties. Consider every single detail possible: school decisions, extracurriculars, lunch money, clothes, field trips, doctor/dentist appointments, holidays, vacations etc. The more detailed it can be upfront, the easier it is later on.
  2. Create a safe and loving environment at your own house. You are only “in control” of what happens at your own house, make it a good one.
  3. Be open and willing to discuss things that come up with the other parent. You can plan all you want, but not every thing can be pre-discussed. Things happen! They’re kids!
  4. Have hope. Yep. This is important. Parallel parenting does NOT mean that co-parenting is never going to happen (although in some cases, it may never). Parallel parenting may actually provide a future of co-parenting and happiness with families together.


Need some help? Have more questions? Feel free to ask! I’ve learned tons in the last few years of my life.

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and have no law degree or background. All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about our experiences. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice. Please seek out legal counsel for specific cases and situations.

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