We are not the “perfectly” blended family.
We aren’t the blended family that sits together at school activities, throws co-birthday parties, and wears matching tee-shirts for our child. As a stepmother, I’ve had to navigate uncharted waters in the relationship with my stepdaughter’s mother – and so has my husband. Like so many other families, we tried to co-parent, and it was unsuccessful.
Coparenting isn’t for everyone, not everyone can even mumble a simple “hello” and actually mean it. That’s okay. Learning to recognize that is your first step! You can’t force things, and understanding as well as accepting that is one of the most important pieces of advice I could share.
So what happens when you divorce with kids and are forced to have a parenting relationship with your ex, or your significant other’s ex, knowing that you’ll never be the perfect blended family or coparenting example?
You’re probably expecting me to say that co-parenting is the solution. “Co-parenting is a parenting partnership that should occur when the parents are no longer married or were never married” (Benyacko, T., 2015). It’s the type of partnership where both parents work together on things regarding the child, consulting each other along the way. No one parent makes decisions without first discussing it with the other parent. In other words, both parents look past who is “right/wrong” and make the children their only concern. They work together to raise their kids.
I knew of a divorced couple with kids. They both remarried. The man’s wife became pregnant and the ex-wife came to the baby shower. Gift and daughter in tote!
Do not expect this, these circumstances are extraordinary and amazing, but not always achievable.
We are not these people, and I’m fine with that. It’s taken years to be fine with that. During those years I discovered Parallel Parenting and all the benefits to our complex, high-conflict situation. I firmly believe that every family and situation is different, and that there is no one-size-fits-all. You have to decide what works best for your family.
Parallel parenting is “an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited direct contact, in situations where they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner” (Kruk, E., 2013).
For us, it made us feel like we needed to put a mask on in front of the ex. We were afraid to voice our opinions for fear of being seen as incapable, we “played nice.” But why do we feel like we have to play? Why couldn’t we just be ourselves? Some relationships and parenting partnerships move past that and into treturous waters. It’s not always possible. They’re our ex for a reason, things ceased to work.
Once we accepted that we could and needed to be ourselves, we no longer desired for the ex to see us as “right.” It no longer mattered. In order to do this, you have to let go of trying to have control over every situation. The ultimate goal of parallel parenting is to reduce conflict and move forward with parenting the child.
Although there was no physical violence, we were no longer able to communicate effectively and efficiently. This led us to parallel parenting, and here are five reasons why:
- It allows minimal interaction.
In the beginning we would invite our daughter’s mom to birthday parties, only to have an awkward stand-off when her guests arrived. We tried to go bowling as an entire family, and we’ve also invited them and their family into our house for dinners. We have tried. Regardless, if we were ever all in the same space, the tension would be so thick. All along we felt these were things we had to do, we wanted our daughter to have parents who got along.
After many “keyboard confidence” emails received, we realized that the anxiety of forcefully interacting with each other was not reaping our daughter good benefits.
Ideally, when you adapt parallel parenting, your able to agree on a visitation meeting location. Make it a public place, like a grocery store parking lot in equal distance – meet half way. If your child has events to attend, provide the information to your ex. The decision to attend is then on them. Any interaction between visitations should be based on their decision to do so.
2. Communication via email only.
When face to face and over the phone communication consists of snotty attitudes, passive aggressiveness and gaslighting and yelling, it’s time to find a better way of communicating. Communicating through email takes away the personal nature of communicating through text, phone call, and face to face interactions. It’s easy to keep documented, immediately available, and it removes emotion from communications.
“Facts without emotion allow you to eliminate emotions that will prompt the other person to respond with more emotion, Somehow all the facts get tossed out the window and you’re left with a room full of emotions” (Benyacko, T., 2015).
3. No interference.
Often the reason for disagreements were due to differences in parenting styles. This made communicating and agreeing to the simplest things difficult. Everyone does things differently. From household chore expectations to the age-appropriate supervision of other children in the house or bed times, everyone’s routine looks different. “No interference” eliminates phone calls of “why did you allow …”.
Try to trust that your child’s other parents have your child’s best interest at heart, and make sure that you show them they can trust the same of you. As the custodial parent, make sure you keep all parents updated on the child’s latest activities and grades at school, all via email. If there’s an urgent issue, make a phone call or have a discussion after drop off. Again, use email in high-conflict situations.
No interference also means letting go of trying to control how the ex parents the child. If they allow the child to stay up all night, not your house, not your rules. Your ex is an adult, and whatever happens to the children while they are in their care is on them. Letting go is key to making parallel parenting work. Relinquish the need to control every situation and allow the other parent to parent during their time with your child.
4. It’s more of a business arrangement.
“High-performing employees show up at work and perform without spreading gossip, slacking off, or discussing their latest wild escapades. When they interact with their co-workers, it is on a business level not an after-work, happy-hour friendship” (Benyacko, 2015). Parallel parenting allows for parents not to get involved in each other’s lives, worrying about how parenting or rules are carried out over at the other parent’s house or them not liking any decisions you make. Your child is your business.
5. It reduces stress.
This one is important to lots of parents, and was a big one for me as well. Before parallel parenting we always had anxiety whenever the ex’s name showed up on the phone or email. Answering those calls or opening those emails meant stress. Adopting parallel parenting allows correspondence without stress. State the facts, share information and keep it on track. Straightforward communication regarding what is actually needing to be discussed seems easier when emotions are removed. When done correctly, this means less stress!
Although these reasons for choosing parallel parenting over co-parenting may seem harsh, and may not work for everyone, they are five reasons that parallel parenting works for high-conflict parenting situations. Parenting with an ex is difficult, and this method helps remove emotions from the equation, which allows for love and support of the child first and foremost.
Have you been in a situation that makes it difficult to parent with your ex? Share in the comments below! Let’s keep the conversation going! If you enjoyed this article, Like, Comment and Share!
Kruk, E., (September 1, 2013), Psychology Today: Parallel Parenting After Divorce https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201309/parallel-parenting-after-divorce#:~:text=Parallel%20parenting%20is%20an%20arrangement,other%20in%20a%20respectful%20manner.
Benyacko, T., (November 30, 2015), HuffPost https://www.huffpost.com/entry/5-reasons-why-parallel-parenting-is-better-than-co-parenting_b_8679076?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000038