Co-Parenting or Parallel Parenting?
How to Make Family Ties Work
In Hawai’i, it’s not unusual to find multigenerational family members, as well as extended relatives, living together under one roof. This is due not only to the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing, but also to cultural and ethnic traditions that value family interconnections above all else. Even so, parents today face challenges our predecessors never imagined. Primary among these concerns is taking care of keiki (children), as well as kupuna (elders), while balancing paid work (often two or three jobs to make ends meet) outside of the home. Add to this the additional dynamics of divorce and blended families––where children and step-parents combine to form new families––and contemporary parents are called upon to engage in a heightened level of caregiving, but with far less time available to them.
So how can modern-day families make it all work? According to Terry Gaspard in DivorceMagazine.com: “Studies show that conflict is what creates the most pain and anguish for children after their parents split, and that keeping parental disagreements to a minimum is a key aspect of helping kids become resilient.” Divorce itself is not necessarily harmful to kids; it’s the fighting. Assuming that most families care about one another and want to have loving relationships, there are two options to consider: Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting.
“Co-parenting describes a parenting situation where the parents are not in a marriage, cohabitation, or romantic relationship with one another,” explains Gaspard. There’s frequent in-person contact and sharing of parental duties in co-parenting, and there must be a respectful relationship between parents to make this arrangement work well. Effective communication is important to maintain positive interactions and to be certain children do not feel torn between parents.
“Parallel parenting allows parents to remain disengaged with one another while they remain close to their children. They remain committed to making responsible decisions (such as medical or education), but decide on the logistics of day-to-day parenting separately.” In parallel parenting, there is an almost business-like structure, with little or no personal interaction between parents, perhaps even having an intermediary (like a mediator or counselor) draft in writing any changes that occur in plans, rather than having the parents engage in verbal communication. This form of parenting can also be successful, especially when the parents are not capable of courteous communication or still have unresolved conflicts that make it difficult to be around the ex-partner.
Depending upon the communication styles and level of comfort for each parent, one or the other parenting style could work well. The Co-Parenting Self-Assessment below helps to determine what would work best. Bear in mind that this may change over time, as the children grow, and the family adjusts to the needs of every member in each household.
Lani Kwon, MA, supports people in achieving their highest potentials, specializing in life re-design. She is a transformational life coach and the founder of Creating YOUR Calling® LLC. Lani is a professional keynote speaker and is currently a faculty member at Happiness U, Quantum Institute International and Still and Moving Center. She also co-parents her son with her ex-husband and best friend.
Which parenting relationship, co-parenting or parallel parenting, would work better?
How well do the parents get along?
- Is communication easy or strained?
- Is there agreement on most important decisions, or is there often conflict?
- How are disagreements handled?
- Are communications fair and equitable or unfair and biased?
- Is caregiving and financial support provided equally?
If the majority of answers to the above questions is, “We get along fine!”, co-parenting would work well. Co-parenting involves:
- Keeping the focus on the children and/or other relatives that need care, while also being flexible and making sure neither parent burns out.
- Maintaining open and honest, yet polite, communication directly between parents.
- Being fair and willing to compromise.
- Never placing the children or other relatives in the middle of disagreements.
If the answer to the above questions is “We can’t get along, no matter how hard we try,” then parallel parenting would work best. In parallel parenting it is important to:
- Maintain professional boundaries and perhaps enlist an objective intermediary to help draft plans and agreements.
- Maintain a business-like relationship in which caregiving needs are met. Do not share personal details with the other parent or have your children or other relatives do so.
- Keep your agreements in writing and make any changes in writing, so miscommunications do not occur.
- And never place the children or other relatives in the middle of disagreements.
Remember, the main goal of each of these parenting models is to work together, though in different ways, to do what’s best for the family, and to provide love and support to each member of the family, including the caregivers.
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