Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting: Which Approach Is Best for Your Family?

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting: Which Approach Is Best for Your Family? By Susan Ingram

{3:02 minutes to read}

In my last blog, I talked about some of the challenges that separating and divorcing couples face when they are putting together a parenting plan for their children. Now, I would like to explore the two basic approaches that parents can take when creating their parenting plans. One is referred to as Cooperative Parenting and the other as Parallel Parenting.

Just from their names, it sounds like there’s a significant difference between the two approaches. And there is—although either approach can work satisfactorily, given the specific personalities and circumstances of each family. So, as a basic guideline, the first thing that needs to be determined is how well the parents are able to get along and communicate with each other.

Cooperative Parenting (also referred to as co-parenting)

This approach is best for parents who basically are able to get along with each other and have a consistent view of how they want to raise their children. Often these parents will have similar parenting styles and routines. This doesn’t mean they have to be on the same page with everything. It just means that, overall, they cooperate with each other.

The communication between these parents generally flows well. They’re able to have conversations about their children and not become overly heated about them. They can also be flexible and accommodate a change to the schedule that might be requested by the other parent. They “work together” for the benefit of their children.

Parallel Parenting

This approach is best for high-conflict parents. These parents find it difficult to speak with each other without becoming engulfed in antagonistic and non-productive conversations. Yet they both want to have an on-going relationship with their children.

Because of the continuing high level of conflict between them, these parents need to have less direct contact with each other. Their parenting plans need to be structured so as to be even more specific and detail-oriented than the plans for co-parenting couples.

Thus, the goal of parallel parenting is to support the disengagement of the parents so that there is less opportunity for conflict (and ultimately less harm to the children). Rules may need to be established as to permissible modes of communication between the parents—for example, email communications will be allowed, but no in-person or phone contact will be permitted.

In Summary

As I said earlier, both types of parenting plans can work for couples. In an ideal world, all couples would take the approach of cooperative parenting, but in the real world, things don’t always work out ideally. Parallel parenting provides a mechanism whereby both parents remain involved with their children while the level of confrontation between them is (hopefully) lessened.

Stay tuned! In a follow-up blog, I’ll share examples of how couples addressed their parenting issues, depending upon whether they were creating co-parenting or parallel parenting plans.

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