Report on Parallel Parenting
With the trend in family court towards recognizing equal parent participation in childrearing, both in this state and in the nation, it has made it more likely that there will be greater conflict in resolving co-parenting issues. It is estimated that nearly 20 percent of family law cases involve high conflict couples. There is a pressing need to resolve or at least reduce these disputes in the best interest of children.
Parental conflict in itself is not a major problem for a child. Rather it is the exposure of the child or children to conflict. In an ideal world, parents work cooperatively to devise parenting plans that are best for their children. Unfortunately this is not an ideal world. In reality, we find three different styles of parenting post-divorce: cooperative parenting, conflictive parenting, or disengaged parenting.
Parents who can cooperate don’t usually seek the courts for interventions, at least on parental matters. It is the high conflict parents that involve the family court in their disputes. As I have previously pointed out, this activity will increase dramatically under the assumption of 50/50 parenting time and joint decision making.
The two empirical findings we are most in agreement as mental health professionals are 1) children require the active participation of both parents in their lives and 2) exposure to parental conflict is one of the most toxic experiences to a child’s psychological development.
How can we assure parental participation without exposing the child to conflict? Obviously we cannot guarantee the total absence of conflict, but we can reduce it by disengaging the parents. We do this by setting up an arrangement known as parallel parenting. We disengage the conflicting parents from each other by setting up a detailed parenting plan which reduces as much possible direct interaction between the parents.
The concept of parallel parenting is borrowed from the child development literature. Children below the age of 3 do not usually have the social skills to play with each other. They can play in the same room but use their own toys and avoid interactions. As an author puts it “they leave each other alone” (Aronsohn, 2008).
According to Bridget Baker, Director of Court Operations of the 8th Judicial Court of Florida, parallel parenting plans are appropriate for parents who do not get along, are highly reactive to each other, feel extremely uncomfortable in each other’s presence, have an order of protection, or cannot cooperate in one or more major areas of parenting.
Parallel parenting arrangements are partially predicted on the assumptions that 1) every child has the right to a meaningful relationship with each parent 2) every child has the right to not be exposed to parental conflict 3) every child has the right to a meaningful relationship with each parent without interference from the other. Once again the key concept in parallel parenting situations in disengagement.
Under parallel parenting arrangements, communication with each parent is minimal and conducted monthly online through such tools as Our Family Wizard. There is even a software for objectively handling changes in scheduling. In parallel parenting, the parent who is with the child makes decisions on all activities with the child except in emergencies. This includes medical visits, extracurricular activities, choice of food, etc. Transitions are conducted without face to face contact as well as participation in school and extracurricular activities.
The immediate rewards for each parent are minimal personal interaction, no interference in each other’s parenting, reduction of stress, and the development of parental autonomy. Most importantly, valuable financial resources expended on wasteful conflict can be more usefully employed for the child’s welfare.