To engage or disengage? Parenting coordination and “parallel parenting”

As a PC it is tempting to believe that, if I just try hard enough, I can change the way parents interact when it comes to their children.   I’ve tried it often enough.

First, I explain to parents the negative impact of their behaviour on the kids, and work with them to develop a more cooperative way of interacting.  I would fall into the trap of thinking that, with all my skill, wisdom and experience, I could get the parents to cooperate with each other.

But instead, what I usually got were increasingly intransigent arguments from each parent why he or she right and the other is wrong.  It is at this point that I remember:  sometimes, parent “engagement” is not the best approach.

In fact, disengagement is what makes some these parents function as effective co-parents. For many of these parents, engaging each other results in conflict, so naturally, disengagement would mean less conflict.

This is where the concept of parallel parenting comes in. In a parallel parenting regime, each parent carries out his or her responsibilities and assumes his or her rights without having to consult with, inform or engage in any way with the other parent. No dialogue, no negotiation. It is as if each parent has “sole custody” over specific aspects of the child’s life. Studies have shown that children raised in parallel parenting models appear to adjust just as well as those raised in cooperative parenting models.

The parenting coordinator becomes the interface between the parents.  This is not to say that cooperative parenting is no longer a goal;  rather its a goal that perhaps should be tabled for a while until parties learn to parallel parent effectively first.

As I often remind remind parents, it is not the “divorce” that will hurt the kids, its  how you divorce.

I need to be able to love Mom and Dad

To choose one or the other makes me sad.

When parents fight with all their might,

For the child, it’s just not right.


(What’s My Job? By Mary R. Donahue Ph.D. & Gail Thornburgh Ph.D.)