Co-parenting arrangements are growing in popularity, and divorcing parents often hear about the numerous beneficial outcomes co-parenting can have on their child, such as the child having a higher self-esteem, learning good communication and problem-solving skills, and having a better psychological adjustment to the divorce. However, those beneficial outcomes often do not occur when parents have a contentious relationship because the frequent communication necessary for co-parenting can result in the child being exposed to frequent parental conflict.

If you and your ex have difficulty avoiding conflict, a traditional co-parenting arrangement may not be an appropriate choice. A traditional co-parenting arrangement may result in your child being exposed to frequent parental conflict, which can be distressing and can make your child feel like he or she must choose sides. However, there is a variation of co-parenting that allows you and your ex to have some space from each other after the divorce, while still being involved in your child’s life.

How is parallel parenting different from co-parenting?

Traditional co-parenting is a parenting arrangement that involves divorced parents maintaining near-equal responsibility for their child’s upbringing. To be successful, parents remain in frequent communication with each other about their child’s needs, collaborate on decision-making and allow their child to see them working together for the child’s benefit. Sometimes parents will incorporate the same rules in both homes to maintain consistent expectations for their child. Both parents are often involved in the child’s activities and often live close to each other to help make it easy for the child to go from one home to the other.

Parallel parenting is a type of co-parenting arrangement that allows parents to limit the direct contact they have with each other, while each remaining close with their child. In this type of arrangement, parents often share a commitment to make important decisions together, such as decisions about what school or church their child should attend. However, each parent will make his or her own day-to-day decisions regarding the child’s care, as well as rules for his or her own house. When parents must communicate, they usually do so through email or text messaging instead of in person.

Guidelines to consider in a parallel parenting arrangement

If you and your ex decide to give parallel parenting a try, consider setting up some guidelines for the arrangement early on. Some guidelines to consider, include:

  • Keep all communication relevant to the child’s well-being
  • Keep all communication business-like
  • Never use the child as a messenger
  • Share schedules on a calendar or in writing

Although traditional co-parenting arrangements can be beneficial for children, it may not be successful in every situation. Parallel parenting arrangements may be an appropriate alternative if you and your spouse have a high-conflict relationship, and parallel parenting can result in many of the same benefits as traditional co-parenting arrangements.