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Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting – Which Is Best?
I am really big on the idea of co-parenting and I use that word a lot as I’m sure other family law attorneys do.
But recently, a Friend Of The Court referee told me that not everyone can co-parent and it is fine to “parallel” parent. This got me thinking about my word choice and what it means to me.
When I use the word “co-parenting,” my intention is that parents can get along for the purpose of their children – not that they do everything the same.
There should be a level of cooperation between parents, whether that means flexibility so children can attend special events with the other parent on one parent’s parenting time, or agreeing on extracurricular activities.
Those are some examples of quality co-parenting. Others might include striving to have some of the same house rules – the same bedtime or the same ideas about food and snacks. Of course, it’s unlikely that divorced parents are going to do things together or even necessarily in the same way.
But similar overall structure for your kids is important because it sends a message of consistency. I know this is hard. In a divorce, obviously, you ended your marriage because it no longer worked. You did not want to be together. Perhaps you could not get along.
So how can anyone expect divorced parents to be in agreement on how to raise their children?
The thing is, all of this is a choice. We choose to divorce, and we chose to become parents. We do not stop being parents when the marriage ends, and it is wholly unfair to the children – and sometimes even damaging – to throw innocent children into the chaos of emotional decisions and acting out by adults who are trying to start over. I really don’t think it’s asking too much to have some meeting of the minds of what children need.
Now I am going to contradict everything written above to acknowledge that there is also a school of thought that parents are never going to get along, even when they are married. They will always do different things with their children, even when they stay together and remain in a loving relationship.
They might teach their kids different things – one might do homework with them in the morning while one leans toward evening. Over the past year, I’ve seen parents who have different perspectives on COVID-related questions – one parent thinks it’s ok to have a pod of friends over or that the child plays with outside, but the other parent does not believe that’s wise.
Frankly, in neither situation might the children be harmed, but the risk may go beyond the children to the other parent, grandparents or other caregivers who also spend time with the children. It becomes complicated during these interesting times.
Generally, even when parents don’t agree, when they engage in what is called parallel parenting, they still do what they believe is in their children’s best interests. It is more difficult to look beyond their own inner circle.
I just believe the ideal to strive for is co-parenting. Then that “inner circle,” is more inclusive and encompassing, and does consider the effect their decision may have on the other parent and his ability to parent their children.
In the end, we must remember that even if you stayed married to the other parent, you would not have been in complete unison. We have different styles. A relationship is comprised of two individual people who bring different perspectives and inclinations to the partnership.
It can be as simple as how you give a child a bath. One parent lets the child wash his hair himself while the other parent sees it as great bonding time and massages the shampoo into the child’s hair. Either way, the child still gets clean; and each parent has their own individual experience building their own relationship with the child.