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What is the Difference Between Parallel Parenting and Co-parenting?

How does parallel parenting differ from co-parenting? Learn the major differences between the two parenting styles and which style best fits your situation.
(2 minutes 28 seconds read)

What is the Difference Between Parallel Parenting and coParenting?

Many people believe co-parenting and parallel parenting are the same and in many ways, they’re right. There are, however, distinct differences in the two.

For starters, let’s look at the prefixes. The “co” in “co-parenting” implies cooperation. While coParents are not living together or involved in a romantic relationship, they have agreed to work together to ensure that their children have a strong connection to both parents. That entails communicating regularly and working together to make decisions and provide support for their children. Frequently, that cooperation extends to a child’s young adulthood. It’s a difficult balance that requires civility, tact, and flexibility.

For some parents, that level of cooperation is simply not feasible. This is where parallel parenting comes in. Again, think about the word parallel. Two parallel lines travel the same course but never intersect. Just like those lines, there will be curves as well as ups-and-downs, however, they are both traveling along the same path towards a common goal. When you look at the lines from a distance, it looks like they intersect, but they don’t, they are just traveling along the same path for as far as the eye can see. That’s a fitting analogy for parents who share a common goal of raising their children in a stable, supportive atmosphere but don’t want to interact with each other more than necessary. Whether that’s because of differing philosophies, strong negative reactions to one other, general dislike, or any other reason. The fact is that some parents are just better off interacting with each other as little as possible. 

The distinctions in parallel parenting versus coParenting may be slight, however, they’re hugely significant. Parallel parenting requires a great deal of structure and ground rules. Some might even call it a businesslike approach to parenting. It’s a situation where two parents cannot interact without conflict and require a level of disengagement. This usually involves drawing up a formal parenting plan that lays out clearly defined, mutually agreed-upon responsibilities. It’s a written schedule that both parents adhere to as strictly as possible, and a communication plan that minimizes face-to-face interaction in situations like medical issues, school events, or house-to-house transitions.  

A successful parallel parenting arrangement takes a lot of work — just the idea of maintaining a calendar is enough to send a shiver down many people’s spines. But experts say that for parents who cannot otherwise cooperate with each other, parallel parenting is the best option.  Providing parallel experiences that offer equal access to both parents with minimum conflict can help children feel more secure, build self-esteem, and develop complex communication skills. It’s not the right solution for everyone, but for committed parents who need to stay disengaged from each other, it can be a very rewarding approach.