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Parallel Parenting, Nurture Despite Challenge

Co-parenting can be a complex and emotional journey, especially when effective communication with your children’s other parent seems impossible. In such situations, parallel parenting can provide a viable solution to ensure your children's well-being remains the top priority. Despite best efforts on your part, you can’t force the other party to meet you where you are and be civil despite past difficulties. Sometimes a communicative co-parenting relationship is not the right route post divorce, especially if post separation abuse is at play.


Parallel parenting is a co-parenting style that allows parents to disengage from each other while still actively participating in their children's lives. It is particularly useful when communication is strained or conflict is high. Parallel parenting focuses on minimising direct contact between parents and creating clear boundaries to reduce tension and promote a more peaceful parenting dynamic. Imagine that you and your ex partner are each one rail of a train track, they never meet but stay parallel along their route. Your children are the trains that travel on this track, straddling both sides.


Clear boundaries are a crucial element of parallel parenting and it’s important to establish them early on in the relationship. Acceptance and letting go are also important. You can’t control what happens when your children aren’t with you and it's really important to work on accepting this no matter how hard it is. If there are no safeguarding issues then your children need and deserve a relationship with their other parent. Here are some pointers to get you started on your parallel parenting journey.


1. Communication Channels: If you are choosing parallel parenting it likely means that relations aren't brilliant between you and your ex partner. You need to determine a method of communication that minimises direct contact and potential conflict. Everyone’s circumstances are different but in my experience immediate communication channels (text message, Whatsapp etc) are to be avoided. This type of communication can escalate quickly out of control. Instead consider email, possibly set up a totally separate email solely for communicating with your ex partner or use a co-parenting app (Our Family Wizard, 2Houses etc). Stick to this chosen channel for all non-emergency communication.


2. Parenting Plan: When communication is difficult it can pay huge dividends to have an agreed parenting plan. The more detailed you can be the better. It needs to cover the contact schedule for both term time and holidays, who pays for what, how to request changes to the plan, what happens if someone can’t care for the children on their allocated time and emergency protocols. Other useful areas to cover are education, health, medical appointments, birthdays, travelling abroad, introducing new partners and how/when the children communicate with their other parent. The more specific the plan is, the less problems there will be. Even if something isn’t an issue at the point of creating the plan, think ahead, what is coming down the line that might be useful to agree now?


3. Shared Calendar: Consider using a shared online calendar to keep track of important dates, such as school events, extracurricular activities and medical appointments. This allows both parents to stay informed without the need for direct communication. Many of the co-parenting apps have a shared calendar built in to their platform.


4. Necessary Communication: Even with the best parenting plan there are going to be times when it's necessary to communicate with your ex partner. Perhaps there is a problem at school or your child is struggling/unhappy with something. It could be decisions around next schools or a medical concern. When communicating about your children, keep the focus on their well-being. Stick to essential information and avoid personal or contentious topics. Be concise, respectful, and avoid engaging in unnecessary conflict. Ensure that received messages which do actually need a response are responded to.


5. Neutral Drop-Off/Pick-Up Locations: If exchanges are difficult then it might be useful to pick a neutral location for these to happen. School is a great option. One parent drops off in the morning, a natural moment to leave your child and to send them off happy about the day ahead and the other parent picks up. During the school holidays a public space might be more comfortable for all as it reduces potential conflict and stress. Of course it is all age dependent, if you children are old enough to get themselves out of the car and up to the front door, doing exchanges at each other’s homes might work.


6. Consistency at home: The core of parallel parenting lies in the belief that each parent wants the same thing for their children, a safe, loving childhood where they are looked after and cared for. This requires you to let go of the fact that bed times, mealtimes, food choices, screen time etc might be different in each home. It’s ok, the children will thrive knowing what is expected of them in each home. They do not need everything to be the same. They are capable of adapting to different routines and adjusting their behaviour at school and friends’ houses, they can adapt to their other parents set up as well.


7. Talk to your children: This point very much depends on the age of your children but even from a young age it's important to talk to them about the home they have with their Dad. You want them to be comfortable talking about it with you, chatting easily about their time spent there and what they have been up to. Don’t drill them, let them share what they want to share. You can also explain to them about the differences in each home, help them realise that it isn’t that one home is right and the other wrong, just that it’s different and that is absolutely fine.


8. Cooperation with School: Maintain open communication with your children's school and teachers. Share relevant information about your co-parenting arrangement. The school need to understand that relations are strained so they take responsibility for communicating directly with both of you and not assuming that you will pass everything on. Trust me, this won’t be the first time a school has faced this parenting dynamic and it's important that both parents receive updates and progress reports. One parent feeing left out of information from school is a classic conflict point, so if you can set this up from the start then it’s another thing you don’t need to worry about. Most schools can only accommodate one parents evening per family. If you aren’t comfortable attending together then consider alternating and when you aren’t there in person, speaking to the teacher on the phone after school one day over email just to catch up and cover off how they are doing, concerns etc.


9. Support Network: The stronger your support network the better. You can rely on them to help you out if you are running late to pick your children up from school, need help with childcare at some point, share lifts and in more general terms to share the emotional load. If you don’t want to rely on the other parent or can’t, then having friends who’s children are at school with yours can be a godsend. When you have built up a relationship be open and honest about your situation so they understand what is going on. That vulnerability will likely mean they are there to support you when you need it.


10. Self care: Parallel parenting can be emotionally challenging and draining. It's crucial to prioritise self care and maintaining your emotional wellbeing. It's easy to tell yourself you’ve somehow failed if you are on this path but this isn’t the case. By choosing to use this method you are prioritising your children and protecting yourself. Working with a coach can help sense check some of these limiting beliefs and help you reframe thoughts. We can also help with providing a safe space to process your emotions and consider what you need to more forward with confidence. Incorporating stress relief techniques into your daily routine is recommended. You could try exercise, meditation, journaling or engaging in hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation.


11. Focus on Your Children: Redirect your energy towards nurturing your children and creating a positive environment for them. Emphasise quality time, active listening and providing emotional support. It’s ok to find this hard but with time your children will thrive and will also grow in resilience too. Focus on what happens on your time with them, make that as stable and loving as you can. If your children always know where they stand with you then you are doing a great job.


If you need further guidance or support, don't hesitate to reach out. I'm here to help you every step of the way.

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