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Many divorced parents are frustrated about their co-parenting arrangements. No matter what they try to do to work things with their ex, all of their efforts end up in conflict. Co-parenting feels more like game where there are no winners.

In these situations, the best advice is “no contact is no conflict”. If it wasn’t for the shared children they would have no contact and then there would be no problem but since that isn’t the case how do you co-parent with no contact? The answer is Parallel Parenting!

The situation reminds me of small children who are learning to share. Before they develop the skills to play cooperatively, they engage in parallel play. Both types of play look alike but when you watch more closely you realize that they are in the same room, with similar toys, playing next to one another but they are not really playing together. They are quite disengaged. Eventually, development will help create the skills needed for cooperative play. In the case of high-conflict divorce, parents may have to let go of the more mature cooperative parenting and shift to parallel parenting.

Parallel parenting purposefully disengages from the conflictual partner and concentrates on connection with the child. It may involve one parent focusing on dealing with the child’s school and the other on their soccer games. While both parents need to agree on major decisions, they will differ on daily logistics about bedtime routines, acceptable television watching, choice of baby sisters, and church attendance. When the daily heat can be turned down between parents, it makes the bigger decisions easier to navigate.

Parallel parenting protects the children. Research clearly demonstrates that high-conflict divorce results in higher rates of behavioral disturbances and mental illness later in life. More commonly, when a child tries to have a positive relationship with both parents who do not have a positive relationship with each other, they experience a “loyalty bind.” When the child is with parent A, he misses parent B. The child might even feel that he is being disloyal to parent B when he is with parent A and vice versa. This is easily intensified by parents who talk negatively about the other parent in front of the child. It can also occur when one parent acts like a victim causing the child to worry about them. Another way is leaning on your child for moral support and treating the child like the co-parent instead of a child.

It is a delicate balance to parallel parent and break down loyalty binds. A parents natural inclination is to protect their child and if they believe the other parent is harmful then…

The truth is that both parents are important to the child. To really protect them and find some sanity in the relationship, try using alternative methods to communication than face-to-face, like email or a notebook. Keep the wording factual about the child’s health, sleeping patterns, school events, weekend schedules, medical care, etc. Request separate school notices or records. Avoid showing up at the same events without prior knowledge. When you do end up at the same event, make a huge effort to demonstrate working together. You might actually find you can do it all the time!

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