Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting is an approach to co-parenting when other models are not effective. The goal for good and effective co-parenting is COOPERATIVE PARENTING, Cooperative parenting involves:

  1. Good, effective. Clear, and open communication about all aspects of child growth and development,
  2. A spirit of cooperation- a team approach to work on decisions and problem solving. It involves a dramatic reduction of competition between family members.
  3. A level of trust in each other so that not every comment is discarded.
  4. Insight into respecting that each parent brings a different perspective to issues and that is actually good for kids.

Cooperative parenting involves having an efficient blend and caring for each other parent.

Aspects of PARALLEL PARENTING include:

  • A brief scheduled time to talk.
  • Firm limits on the topics to be discussed-health issues, school/daycare matters, and activities for the children, and necessary scheduled changes.
  • Parent communication is time limited and done under business-meeting rules.
  • There are rules of disengagement if communication is not effective.
  • Every effort to make transfers at school. Daycare, or even neutral places.
  • Use of counseling, a coach, mediation, or even an arbitrator when re-occurring problems arise.
  • Firm rules of conduct when both parents and other family members are together with the children.
  • The parent who has the children will make the day-to-day decisions about the children.
  • Every effort is to reduce and minimize conflict between the parents-limit debates.
  • Limit communication by e-mail, or short letters, no text messaging.
  • Perhaps split up duties between each parent-duties are assigned.
  • No assumptions-each parent is responsible for gathering information from school, daycare, and healthcare providers.

The goal for ALL separated parents would be cooperative parenting. Information is shared and discussed, problems are resolved when they arise, the parents and extended family have a team approach, there is faith and trust in what each parent says, there is respect for the other parent as a parent, and both parents have moved in a positive direction regarding healing from the split. Kids of divorce can flourish in this environment. Unresolved conflict between parents will challenge and compromise normal child development. The conflict is the poison.

Parallel Parenting – A form of joint child custody

For when parents don’t agree on how, but neither is “bad”.

At about 2 years of age children don’t yet know how to share, but may enjoy each other’s company. They happily play beside each other, each with their own toy. By about 3 years of age, children are learning to share and can then play with each other as in the case of rolling a ball back and forth. Developmentally, children thus move from parallel play to cooperative play.

Parenting post-separation can mimic these two distinct stages of children’s development.

Where parents can agree on parenting styles, routines, diet, religion, school, etc, they can practice cooperative parenting. The parents may themselves have irreconcilable differences with respect to each other, but they are in agreement with regards to the parenting of their children. The children go easily from one parent’s home to the other. Rules and routines remain fairly consistent. Clothing, schoolbooks, notices, etc., are easily shared.

While it is best for children when their parents can get along, or at least resist conflict, negotiate and agree on parenting matters, not all parents are thus capable. Second best is when parents can agree not to intrude on each other’s life and decisions and at least establish clear rules for parenting when each is responsible for the care of the children even if the rules differ between households.

When the conflict between the parents extends to matters involving the children and they cannot reconcile the differences, then parallel parenting may offer a solution for both to remain meaningfully involved. In these cases, parents do have different rules and routines, different parenting styles, different religious beliefs and practices and may be poor at sharing clothing, books notices, etc. Parallel parenting allows each parent to carry on in their own way with the understanding that neither will intrude on the other.

Even though parents may carry on with their differences, for parallel parenting to work, there must still be agreement on the issue of choosing a school, religion, medical care and the like. With parallel parenting, these matters may be negotiated; each parent may be assigned their own span of authority; or the parents can agree to the use of an arbitrator.

Some argue that different rules, routines, etc., can be confusing to children. However these differences are often overcome in a matter of weeks to months. Just as children learn the rules of each classroom teacher, group leader or coach, they learn the rules of each parent. To make it work though, the parents must agree not to meddle or undermine each other’s rules. The child must be given a clear message from both parents that even though the rules or routines may differ, they must respect both.

Parallel parenting is indicated in those situations where the parents differ but where neither parent’s decisions are truly harmful. The parents may be in conflict, but they are able to control themselves, minimize their interactions and follow an agreed upon plan. Parallel parenting is contra-indicated in those cases where parents continue to undermine each other’s authority, cannot resist conflict or engage in behavior that may be harmful to the children.


Parallel parenting plans are appropriate for parents who

  • Do not get along, are highly reactive to each other
  • Feel uncomfortable in each other’s presence
  • Have an order for protection, OR
  • Cannot cooperate in one or more areas of parenting


  • A child has a right to a meaningful relationship with each parent.
  • A child has a right not to be caught in the middle of parental conflict
  • Each parent has a right to have a meaningful relationship with his or her child without the interference of the other parent,
  • When parents separate, the greatest predictor of a child’s well-being is the level of conflict between the parents. Children exposed to high conflict have a poorer prognosis.
  • If the parents do not get along, feel comfortable in each other’s presence, prefer not to deal with each other or, more seriously, have an order of protection then it is in the child’s best interest for parents to develop a parenting plan that eliminates the opportunities to interact and have conflict with each other.

Conduct of Parents In A Parallel Parenting:

  • Nothing is assumed; everything is spelled out in the parenting plan.
  • Polite, businesslike, not personal  – There is a wall between your parenting relationship and the rest of your personal life; nothing personal is shared with the other parent.
  • Meetings are public and formal, NOT private and scheduled by appointment at a mutually convenient time.
  • Meetings and calls should take place during regular working hours and last no more than thirty minutes.
  • Following meetings or communications, the parent initiating should send the parent a written summary of understanding reached and the other parent send back a confirming understanding, that includes any different understandings, if any.
  • Meeting may require the presence of a third party.

How Parallel Parenting Works:

  • Parents disengage and have little or no interactions with each other.
  • The schedule is written down in detail and placed on a calendar. Nothing is left open to interpretation, because loopholes breed conflict.
  • In order to minimize conflict, there us no assumption of flexibility in scheduling.
  • Parents work independently for the best interests of their child.
  • Each parent’s household functions independently; each parent is responsible for making decisions about the child during the time that the child is in that parent’s household. Don’t tell the other parent how to parent!
  • Major decisions are communicated rather than discussed by the parent who has the authority to make the decisions. For example, health, education and welfare issues about your child.
  • In the event of emergencies, parties will communicate.
  • When parents do need to share information with each other, parents will use

E-mail, fax (if there is privacy). Parents will avoid face-to-face communication whenever possible.

  • Transition times takes place at school, day-care or activities to minimize parental conflict and parental face-to-face with each other.
  • As much as possible, i.e. Each parent is responsible for contacting school for notice of meetings, report cards, etc., and each parent will sign an authorization for each parent to be able to do so,
  • If any deviation or change from the agreed upon plan or order is requested. Negotiations will take place with the assistance of a pre-determined neutral.
  • A parenting coordinator may be necessary to arbitrate parenting issues that are not specified by the parenting plan.

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© 2017 R. M. Hack. All rights reserved. Prior written approval to reproduce this page.