Parallel Parenting: When You and Your Ex Can’t Play Nice


How Parallel Parenting is a viable alternative to banging your head against the wall

Parallel ParentingThe continued post-divorce acrimony that plays out in the arena of parenting is the probably the most aggravating and stressful part of divorce for all involved. Parents struggle with a sense of wanting to make this transition easy for their children but when left over marital issues continue to play out in the co parenting arena, the adults often throw up their hands in frustration. The continued conflict is worrisome as it is the fighting, not marital status, that hurts the kids.

So, here you are embroiled in a constant struggle of trying to play “nice.” Ideally we would all like co-parenting to be like silly sit-coms with mad-cap situations leading to easy going resolution. The parenting books tell us how it “should” go, but is it too idealistic to believe this is possible all, or even most, of the time? After all, if you had good conflict resolution with your former spouse, you might not have gotten divorced in the first place. Also, we need to consider that the crumbling of a marriage and the subsequent divorce process can be extremely hurtful- containing aspects of betrayal, unkindness and deception. The emotions are even stronger if there was abuse, addiction or cruelty. In those cases, can we really expect cooperation?

The courts are filled with cases of couples who do not comply, no less cooperate. Absent or late child support, bickering over visitation, battles about decisions ranging from major to minute plague post-divorce parents. In Atty Mues post on his site on March 3, 2012, he discussed what the courts can and cannot do. He also stated that in spite all our best efforts, cooperative co-parenting may not be possible.

And I agree. But does the improbability (or impossibly) of cooperation mean that all divorce families are sentenced to years of anguish, stress, anxiety and drama?  I hope not. However, we need a different model if we are to have peaceful co-existence.

In truth, there are people who do not WANT to play nice. Whatever the reasons-maybe left over acrimony and bitterness or perhaps as Atty Mues suggested a personality Disorder such as Borderline (or Narcissicism), this may be the sad reality.

So rather than banging your head against the wall and spending gazillions of dollars on therapists, attorneys, coaches, a Guardian ad litem, mediators and such, maybe it is time to consider a Parallel Parenting Plan.

Parallel Parenting derives its name from Parallel Play. When young children play together without interacting, this is parallel play. Think of two toddlers in a sandbox playing quietly side by side “doing their own thing” but without interaction. Trouble only ensues when one gets into another’s space and tries to mess with the other’s bucket and shovel.

While Cooperative Co-parenting depends on interaction, Parallel Parenting depends on minimal interaction between the parents. There are no illusions here–these folks don’t get along, can’t work together and are encouraged to keep their distance from each other.

So, what is involved in a Parallel Parenting Plan?

  • Emotional Detachment – Separate your feelings about your marriage from your parenting. Deal with the other parent as if this were a business arrangement.
  • A Detailed Parenting Plan – One with no room for ambiguity, negotiation or compromise. Everything is well defined. This includes day to day schedules and clearly spells out who will be responsible for haircuts, activities, school events. It includes defined dates for birthday celebration, holidays , vacations, sick days, school vacations. Nothing will be negotiable. The plan can be renewable or revised after a year.
  • Minimal Contact between the adults. Transfers from one house to another can take place at school, day care, a neighbor’s house. The less the adults see each other the less chance for negative interchanges.
  • Strict Adherence to the parenting plan. Absolutely no deviation from the schedule except in emergency.
  • No Interfering with the other parent’s style of parenting. You do your job, let them do theirs.
  • Reliance on Technology — No texting or talking on the phone. Rely on e-mail or family wizard. They allow for mindful responses and create documentation.
  • Verbal Communication — Only for “big” issues of health and education and then preferably with a third party present.
  • A Guardian Ad Litem — Used to mediate and insure adherence to the agreement rather than explore how couples can better cooperate.
  • Acceptance - For right now you cannot change the situation.

The emphasis in this plan shifts from Cooperation with each other to Compliance with the legal contract. These may sound extremely rigid, but, in reality, your situation is out of control and needs some strict rules. Sometimes accepting what is impossible can help you focused on what is possible. This plan may not be forever- hopefully, the relationship will grow and develop, not unlike children themselves who eventually learn to interact and communicate. But for now, it may be simpler, less costly and less emotionally draining to simply accept this fact that Parallel Parenting is a viable alternative to banging your head against that unmovable, inflexible wall. The less stress you feel, the better off your children will be.

Currently, the popular model is Co-operative Parenting, but it may not be the best solution for every family. All of us who care about families in transition need to constantly explore creative ways to support each unique post-divorce struggle. Pushing high conflict couples to adhere to a predetermined template can create more conflict rather than reduce it.

donnabio.jpgDonna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. Click here to purchase. This article was reposted by permission from her March 3, 2012, blog article, “Parallel Parenting: When You and Your Ex Can’t Play Nice.”

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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADCAbout The Author: Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for 28 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.


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