The Need for Parallel Parenting
By Brook Olsen Founder/Director: High Conflict Diversion Program™
In the early stages of divorce, it is normal for tensions and emotions to be high. In fact, it’s more common than not. People need time and space in order to process their emotions and to find proper ways to both contain and appropriately express their anger over the shock, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and to get their head around how life is going to look in the future. This is something I think most everyone will agree on.
It is not helpful under these circumstances to stay engaged with the other parent. In fact, in most cases, it is important to not engage. This is where some of us will disagree. For the sake of the children, it is important to keep tensions between the parents low. This will allow the children to adapt quicker and easier.
Parents may argue about how the children are to be attended to because they feel the other parent “just has no clue on how to do it.” Each parent will find their way and it is important for them to go through that process. If one of the parents is engaged constantly in trying to control how the other runs their house, there will be constant fighting and this harms the children more than anything or anyone.
Often during the marriage, the parents had differing concepts on how to raise the children. When the divorce occurs, that split often shows up. By using the basic principles of Parallel Parenting, a non-combative structure begins to form.
Each parent feels the autonomy to raise the children in their own competent fashion. The parent that wasn’t so involved, if there was one, comes to understand the need for more skills. Given the lack of controlling and involvement from the other parent, they may begin to ask questions and there is an opening for more cooperative roles by both parents. This is a natural progression that will happen or not and cannot be dictated by anyone. In high conflict cases, forcing parents to “co-parent” has shown not to work and can actually make matters worse.
In the cases that this progression doesn’t take place, the non-combative, disengaged structure of the Parallel Parenting is already established and the damages of a high conflict parenting pattern are greatly mitigated.
Human nature is such that during a divorce, a split happens that causes parents to become polarized and prone to outbursts of anger causing them to lose sight of the children’s needs. By using Parallel Parenting, each parent gets the chance to focus on the needs of the children in a way that is best suited to their new circumstances.
Things change when parents divorce. The family structure changes as well. It is also inevitable that the rules and culture in the new families will also change, especially when a new partner is introduced. It is a good idea to allow this to occur early on in the process rather than force something that isn’t likely to happen if forced and that won’t happen until it is ready – if it ever is ready.
Parallel Parenting has the connotation of not being cooperative. That is a misconception that requires a closer look. There is a wide range in which Parallel Parenting works. It sets healthy boundaries for the initial conditions of the divorce and keeps the parents from engaging when emotions are at their highest and most volatile state.
If things get better, parents naturally begin to work more closely together. If things don’t progress, the children are kept from being in the middle of the parent’s disagreements because the conditions for disengagement have already been established.
For more information on Parallel Parenting, the creation of strong parenting plans and healthy ways to work through divorce please visit our website at highconflict.net or contact Brook Olsen directly at 760-751-4398
© Brook Olsen 2009