What is parallel parenting and how is it different from coParenting? Psychologist Alice R. Berkowitz explains.
Parallel Parenting is reserved for High Conflict Divorces. Parallel Parenting is for parents that still carry a great deal of animosity for one another (or at least one parent carries animosity for the other), cannot work together, continue to fight in front of the children, disrespect the other parent, cannot be consistent in their childrearing – in fact they often work to make the other parent even if it hurts the children. The rules for parallel parenting are:
1. Strict Parenting Plan: This means usually worked out by an evaluator, parent coordinator, or a judge. The schedule of when the children are to be with one parent and then the other is spelled out in a court order, including vacation days, holidays, etc. Drop-offs and Pick-ups are done either at school (when school is in session), at camp (during the summer-if they go to camp), by a neutral third party when school or camp are not in session, and if there is not a neutral third party, at a public place like in front of a store (or right inside of a store if they live in a cold part of the country), in an outside mall, or in very serious cases – inside a police station. There is no flexibility in changing days or if one parent travels for work, make up time must be planned for on a court monitored email.
2. Parental Contact can only be through Court Monitored Email Service or if that does not exist, Emails or faxes: Communication between parents is to be strictly confined to changes in schedules (if one parent is traveling), if a child is ill, school reports, or to inform the other parent of an important issue with one of the children. Contact is limited to avoid conflict and fighting and to protect the children from the animosity between parents.
3, Parent Teacher Conferences and Other School Events: Parents are to schedule separate parent teacher conferences. If needed, a court order can be sent to the school to assure that this occurs. At all other events, especially when children are present, parents are to split up the events – either by event or one parent can go to first half and the other second half. This excludes large school activities, like football, basketball, hockey, or baseball games or graduations, where there are many people and parents can avoid interacting. However, if there is an incident at any of these larger activities, one or both parents needs to report this to the minor’s counselor on the case, the parent coordinator, or their attorney. The idea is to protect the children from seeing negative interactions between the parents, as well as to protect the parents from experiencing them.
4. Agreed Upon General Rules for Each Household: In Parallel Parenting Situations – a set of household rules is agreed upon by both parents with either a custody evaluator, minor’s counselor, parent coordinator or judge. Clearly, the rules in each house cannot be the same, but the idea is to try to structure certain rules for the children that are consistent at each house. For example, bedtimes, showers or baths, morning schedules, mealtimes, homework times, brushing teeth and hair, curfews, driving, dating, etc. The basic rules around taking care of the children are what is hopefully set and carried through.
5. NO NEGATIVE COMMENTS ABOUT THE OTHER PARENT: This is critical for the children. They may not say it, but it hurts them deeply to hear one parent speak negatively about the other. It also injures their sense of trust in relationships and may cause deeper levels of emotional problems.
Parallel Parenting is Similar to Being Two Partners in a Corporation who may not like Each Other, but if they Don’t Work Together the Company will go Under. When I teach parenting classes to High Conflict Couples, I start with this premise. Do you want this corporation that you have built to go under because you two don’t like each other? How can you work together, both being heads of a money making corporation that supports many people, without fighting and without having much contact except for emails with each other. There is a great deal more to this, but this is the notion that actually really helps high conflict couples disengage personally and begin to look at their family as a company that they need to run. It becomes much more task oriented and each party over the ten weeks becomes less angry. It does not work for everyone, but for people that know they are hurting their kids and have to find another way at looking at parenting with someone they have been so hurt or angered by, this approach can be very successful.