Parallel Parenting: The Pros And Cons Of The Approach

Children of divorce already have it tough. Even the healthiest of parents in the world with the most respect for one another can raise a child who blames themself for the split or who resents the fact that they don't have two parents in the home at once. And especially when there is a less-than-stellar relationship between a kid's parents, divorce can get nasty for everyone. And when there's so much hostility between the two parents, co-parenting seems like an impossible task. That's where parallel parenting comes in. 


Typically people hear about divorced couples choosing to share custody of their child and parent separately but in constant communication. They split duties, coordinate whose turn it is to do certain drop-offs or pick-ups, and decide to raise a child together with each other's input. But again, if that's not doable without WWIII erupting, parallel parenting could be the choice for you.

What is parallel parenting?

After a divorce involving children, co-parenting is the type of parenting situation we mostly hear about. This involves two parents working together to raise their children even though they're separated. They make decisions together, attend functions for the child, and figure out dilemmas involving the child. If you don't have a healthy relationship with your ex, or you know that a fight ensues whenever you come together to make decisions, the idea of co-parenting might seem insurmountable. But parallel parenting is another option for very "high conflict" exes with children, as Edward Kruk, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, wrote for Psychology Today.


"Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which divorced parents can co-parent by means of disengaging from each other," Dr. Kruk wrote. This means both parents have "limited direct contact" with one another. As Healthline reported, "everything is separate" to put the child first. These parents don't attend anything together, including "extracurricular activities, doctor appointments, or school meetings." 

Why might people choose parallel parenting?

When two parents choose a parallel parenting style, they have little communication. Again everything is separate, and they only communicate when it's absolutely necessary. It might seem like an odd or unproductive way to parent, but as Healthline pointed out, this is the best-case scenario for people who share a child with a hostile ex. This shouldn't take place when there are concerns about abuse in the home or if one parent poses a threat to the child. 


As stated before, Dr. Edward Kruk wrote in Psychology Today that if there's a ton of conflict and no hope of having civil conversations with the child present (or at all), parallel parenting is a suitable option because it allows both parents to "disengage from each other" while having a whole relationship with their child. Because decisions are made separately without any discussions, Dr. Kruk wrote that it's best sometimes to divide choices among each parent. So medical decisions go to one parent, and education choices are made by the other. The only time they'd have to convene about something is in the event of severe or urgent decisions that arise because of their kid.

Pro: Parallel parenting allows parents to gain distance and perspective

Because co-parenting is the most well-known way to parent when you're separated, parallel parenting might sound odd. But there are benefits to this parenting style, and the biggest one boils down to why it was chosen in the first place: because the relationship between the parents is so strained. And even though parallel parenting has its issues, which we'll get to in a moment, the complete separation between the two exes means there isn't a chance for blowout fights or continued emotional trauma in front of the child.  


According to The Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen, using parallel parenting between two parties that can't communicate civilly or spend time together to decide on things for their child is ultimately better for the child in the long run. It means that there are fewer or no arguments, hopefully removing the opportunity for the child to feel at fault for issues or the separation. Healthline wrote that this type of parenting is a way to protect the child from seeing the nasty side of their parents' relationship or split.

A big con of parallel parenting is how isolated it is

Parallel parenting has some obvious disadvantages, including that both parents are so separated from each other's decisions. As The Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen wrote, parallel parenting might create feelings of not getting the "full picture" of their child's life. With this parenting style, you can't go to every game or school musical because it might be the other parent's turn to be there. And maybe you'll miss out on important days or lose out on making decisions because it's not in your jurisdiction of choices. 


Parallel parenting can also be confusing for the child because they're growing up in separate homes entirely detached in discipline styles and what they're allowed and not allowed to do. This can strain whichever parent's house or rules are least favorable to the child. They also write that the kids can't come to you about these issues; they have to take it up directly with the parent they're having trouble with. 

Parallel parenting can help your child's wellbeing

Again, if co-parenting with an ex means that there will be arguments every single time you're together, then that's a problem. Kids are very wise, and any strain, harsh word, or insult thrown at one parent from the other will be noticed. Kids can see these things and harbor resentment, fear, or even hatred directed toward one or both parents. 


As Healthline writes, parallel parenting can lead to your kids feeling "more safe and secure" in an environment where they'll never have to choose between their parents. It eliminates scenarios where they'll feel like they have to be the mediator. Parallel parenting also allows the parents to reset their resentment toward one another. They wouldn't have to see each other or feel the pain the other causes. So this time apart, parenting your child separately might be the break you need to heal and let things settle. As they write, this is an excellent choice if co-parenting is an eventual goal.

But you're going to have to enlist outside help

As you can imagine, two people with ill will toward each other and are toxic or hostile probably can't agree on anything. So before parallel parenting can even begin, both parents must set up the arrangement. This means delegating who gets to make what decisions and what the stipulations are so that it can run as smoothly as possible. As Dr. Edward Kruk writes for Psychology Today, a proper parallel parenting setup can only happen "with careful external monitoring after initial judicial determination of parenting arrangements." And as The Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen writes, you will have to get a court-appointed mediator. 


This also means that you will have to enforce strict boundaries with your child's teachers, doctors, coaches, and friends' parents. You cannot in any way be a messenger to your ex since you have no communication. You have to lay this all out with outside authority figures. You also can't make decisions that aren't in your purview and step on your ex's toes. There are a lot of precautions and things to be careful of; otherwise, significant issues and fights can arise and escalate. 

Your parenting style is up to you. You have to consider what will be best for your child's well-being and minimize any trauma they might retain from a divorce, especially if it's an ugly one.