Sometimes co-parenting just doesn’t work. For families like ours, parallel parenting is the answer.
My parents set the standard for co-parenting. They separated when I was 5 years old, and my brothers and I never witnessed conflict between them. They communicated peacefully, attended our school events together, and established a schedule and stuck to it. So when I became a stepmom, I thought, I got this! I’ll just mirror my parents and everything will be great! We’ll be the blended family wearing matching jerseys at our kid’s soccer game.
We are not those people. And it has taken some time for me to be okay with that. Sometimes co-parenting just doesn’t work. For families like ours, parallel parenting is the answer.
What is Parallel Parenting?
Parallel parenting is an alternative to co-parenting in high-conflict situations.
In parallel parenting, parental interaction is limited and business-like, and all communication takes place over email or text. Instead of making joint decisions, each household operates independently, with their own set of rules. Exceptions are made for decisions regarding medical treatment and education. In short, each family stays out of the other’s business.
Why Did We Decide to Parallel Parent?
We didn’t set out to parallel parent. Initially, we tried to co-parent peacefully, but the conflict became personal, dramatic and defensive. My stepson was being parented completely differently in both homes, and it resulted in struggle and stress during our time with him.
I had a deep conversation with my partner (my stepson’s biological father) about how to co-parent going forward. We turned to Google for help and came across the concept of parallel parenting. After much reading and research, we felt it would be beneficial to our child and our entire family to try this style of parenting.
How Do We Parallel Parent?
We now communicate over group text, which keeps all the parents in the loop but limits our conversations to the topic at hand. We keep communication business-like, to the point, and strictly in writing. No phone calls. We schedule pick-ups and drop-offs at school to limit in-person interaction and if we do see each other, we operate under the same standards as we do in our written communications, keeping conversations business-like and to the point. We communicate separately with his school and teachers so we’re not relying on each other to share information, and we celebrate birthdays and holidays separately. What child doesn’t want double the fun, cake and toys!? We have our own house rules, schedules, and expectations for our child, and we don’t worry about the other home’s rules or expectations. We discuss medical and health issues, along with other big decisions, but that’s it.
As soon as we started parallel parenting, we noticed a difference in our home immediately. We no long felt like we were being forced to parent our child in a way we didn’t want to or that we were engaged in a tug of war. Our stress was reduced and so was the anxiety we felt over certain texts. We were able to let go of our emotions towards the other house and shift our focus to loving and supporting our child and creating a happy and healthy home for him.
I don’t want this to be a permanent parenting style for our family. It’s still early in our journey, and I hope that in the future we will be able to peacefully co-parent as a strong team. If you are a parent in a high-conflict situation where co-parenting seems impossible, I encourage you to research other parenting styles or blend aspects from various ones to create your own. There is no one-size-fits-all co-parenting model.
Yasmen Wass is a soon-to-be wife, mama-to-be, and stepmom to a five-year-old boy living in sunny Orlando with her fiance. When she is not sharing her stepmotherhood journey on her blog, coffeeandgraceblog.net, she is balancing a professional career in law.