Parenting after divorce can range from very smooth to completely and utterly difficult. In general after divorce, most parents "coparent" together—sharing duties, working together to be on the same page discipline wise, acting together to plan hobbies, as well as making decisions together on medical and educational matters. It's not always smooth and pretty, but some parents of divorce can coparent like champs, and even spend time together.
Yeah. That happens sometimes.
But for parents who are in high-conflict divorces or are in the middle of negotiating a divorce, coparenting can be very difficult and sometimes, completely impossible. In that case, these parents "parallel parent," in which they make daily choices for the kids on their own, without consulting the other parent. In general, they'll still make the major decisions together—albeit mostly through email—such as health care and education. Because the strife is so ripe and the relationship is so toxic or disengaged, former spouses who parallel parent may not breathe even one word to each other; instead, they rely on the technology of email and text to get the decisions resolved.
Here are the daily differences between coparenting and parallel parenting:
Awareness of the households:
Coparenting— Coparents are very aware of what is going on in the former spouse's household. They're both aware of the routines and respect each other's household differences.
However in this situation, there tends to not be huge glaring differences between the homes as both parents seem to see eye-to-eye on how the daily grind should go. No household of course, will ever be identical to another coparent's household—not even with the peachiest of divorces, but in general parents respect the routines each have and will try to keep things similar.
Parallel parenting— People who parallel parent really are clueless or are sheltered/uninformed due to parental hostility or disengagement from understanding what the other household routine is like. For parallel parents, they tend to simply follow their own flow and not worry or ask about what the other is doing.
Assisting with care:
Coparenting— Coparents may help each other out with daily child-care, despite the custody schedule. So if mom is sick, dad may take over for the night. If dad has to work late, mom might keep the kids at her place until dad can come get them. The two coparents see child care as a group effort and even despite some sore feelings between the two adult parties, they generally try to make things as comfortable as possible for everyone.
Parallel parenting— Parallel parents are on their own. If someone gets sick, he or she will ask a babysitter or family member for help. In fact, when it's a parallel parent's custody day—it doesn't matter if it rains brimstone on his or her home…he or she better find a way to care for the kids. Parallel parents are either so at war with each other or so disengaged that when it comes to just about everything, they're on their own.
Working through homework and school issues:
Coparenting— Coparents will back each other up if junior is—
- Screwing up at school
- Struggling with math
- Dealing with bullying or other social problems
Coparents use each other's strengths and weaknesses (generally) to assist the kids. So for example, if mom is an accountant and it's dad's day and junior can't get his fractions together, mom might hop on Facetime to help junior out. If a child is being bullied and there was a bad incident that day, the coparents are on the phone hashing out next steps to take, even if they don't like each other.
Parallel parenting— Parallel parents will only sit down face-to- face to handle a school issue if it involves teachers and administration, typically. Parallel parents are often the parents requesting separate conferences, even if the other coparent is willing to come together for the sake of the kids. Otherwise, daily school matters are handled separately. If the parallel parent chooses and really he or she should, any major issue is emailed to the other parent's attention to keep him or her informed.
Communicating between the parents:
Coparenting— Coparents can talk on the phone or communicate with email or text. They can also meet and even on occasion, go to recitals, soccer games and celebrate holidays together.
Parallel parenting— Parallel parents communicate solely through email or text and sometimes, solely through (gulp), a lawyer.
Every tradition is held separately although many parallel parents attend recitals and soccer games, etc. at the same time, but not together.
What decisions do Parallel parents make together?
Not too many, which is why parallel parenting can be hard—but can also severely reduce conflict between two coparents who cannot handle each other.
Parallel parents typically:
- Choose health insurance together
- Choose schools together
- Discuss where each coparent is living
- Work together if the child has an emergency situation
The bottom line is conflict is terrible for children so if parallel parenting is what a parent has to do, he or she should not feel ashamed or bad.
Does it suck? Yes. I have coparented and parallel parented and I can say coparenting is easier, however avoiding conflict is the utmost priority for the kids' sake and if you have a difficult ex and must parallel parent, don't be ashamed! You are doing the right thing. At the end of the day no matter what your situation is with your ex—horrific or friendly—as long as the kids are well taken care of, that's all that matters.
Laura Lifshitz is a pint-sized, battery-operated, writer, comedienne, and single mother. Laura will work for chocolate. The former MTV personality and Columbia University graduate is currently writing about divorce, sex, women's issues, fitness, parenting, marriage and more for the New York Times, DivorceForce, Women's Health, Redbook, Working Mother, Pop Sugar, Your Tango and numerous other sites. Her own website is frommtvtomommy.com .