Parallel parenting is a method used by divorced or separated parents who wish to continue to parent their children in parallel, whilst agreeing to limit contact and interaction with each other. This technique is particularly helpful in divorces that involve domestic abuse, high-conflict, or where communication is extremely difficult.
Luisa Williams from My Family Psychologist explains more.
You parted ways with your difficult ex-partner. You’re on your path to freedom. But you have a child together. So what comes next?
Rebuilding your life when a relationship ends and healing from any emotional trauma you’ve experienced is difficult enough. Even when you’re ex was abusive, sometimes it’s impossible to cut ties for the sake of your child.
What is parallel parenting?
Whilst co-parenting works by cooperation and continued communication, for some it gives your ex-partner the opportunity to continue to mistreat you. Instead, parallel parenting increases safety in challenging relationships by deliberately keeping communication to a bare minimum.
While major decisions can be agreed upon together, each parent adapts their parenting method when the child is in their care. It allows you to distance yourself from your ex without depriving your child of a parent and sets clear boundaries that prevent further abuse or conflict.
The aim is to facilitate emotional healing from the relationship while prioritising your child’s needs and protecting them from conflict.
To give you the best start after divorce, here’s 5 tips for parallel parenting.
1. Create a parenting plan
It’s best to plan ahead to avoid disagreements. The more prepared you are and the more detailed the plan is, the less you’re likely to argue with your ex and the more minimal the contact is. Minimise stress for your child and ensure your safety by agreeing as much as you can in advance, including:
- Agreeing timing of visits, including dates and start and end times, in writing.
- Establish how to handle cancellations, and when and how they should be communicated.
- Consider how often the child will see each parent?
- Who will attend your child’s functions or doctor visits?
- Agree who will drop them off and pick them up?
- Plan ahead to decide where your child will spend their holidays and birthdays?
- Choose a neutral location or even ask a family member or a trusted friend to pick your child for you.
- Set out financial responsibilities, and dos and don’ts.
- You can figure out logistics using email or another form of communication that doesn’t involve meeting face to face.
2. Let yourself heal
Ideally, after separating from an abusive ex-partner, you’d cut contact and never see them again. But when there are children involved, this is not always possible to eliminate them from your life completely. When some form of contact must remain, prioritise fulfilling your needs as well as supporting your child. Incorporate self-care into your routine to reduce stress and reconnect with your self. The best way to deal with the situation is by moving forward, so when you’re ready to, concentrate on your long-term goals. Focus on building resilience and reintroducing happiness to your life.
3. Accept the current situation
Parallel parenting, and maintaining some contact with an abusive or difficult ex-partner after you’ve chosen to divorce, can be very challenging. It’s natural to struggle with negative emotions such as guilt, regret, shame and anger, and feeling as though things aren’t fair. You may find it hard to accept that your ex is still a parent to your child. Try to practice acceptance. Things are the way they are and all you can do is make the best out of the situation. Focus your energy on parenting your child and providing them with all the love and support they need.
4. Keep communication to the minimum
Only communicate with your ex when it’s necessary. Agree to contact them via email or use a parenting app, and document every interaction. Keep your communication impersonal and matter of fact, discussing only topics that relate to your child and sharing no personal information or detail. Try not to let your ex provoke you or use your child as a messenger. It can be difficult not to ruminate on the relationship whenever an email pops up or whenever your child is spending time with them. Try to distance yourself and treat interaction with your ex as a business that’s necessary to keep your child happy.
5. Appoint a mediator
If there’s a lot of resentment between you and your ex, or your safety might be compromised, it’s a good idea to appoint a professional mediator. Mediation helps divorced parents to align their intentions and focus on their shared priority, the child. With the help of mediation, divorced parents can make well-informed decisions, reduce conflict, and set out an effective and mutually beneficial plan for all members of the family.
Parallel parenting can be challenging and confusing, and the details of an arrangement will depend on the individual situation. Consider getting advice from a professional.
If you need help and support with parallel parenting you can contact My Family Psychologist, who offer specialised counselling services for adults, couples, and children as well as mediation services.