The Difference Between Parallel Parenting and Co-parenting Explained

Parallel Parenting vs Co-parenting

parallel parenting
Parallel parenting vs co-parenting

My understanding is that parallel parenting is a form of co-parenting but co-parenting is more than just parallel parenting. For example, co-parenting could mean just joint custody and sharing both legal and physical responsibility for minor children – whether 50/50 or in any other ratio – after a divorce has occurred, and where parents are able to communicate in traditional ways (including face to face) without conflict.

I disagree fundamentally with this notion that parallel parenting and co-parenting are two ideas that are separate and apart, especially as expressed in this Huff Post article, 5 Reasons Why Parallel Parenting is Better Than Co-parenting. The author of that Huffpost piece seems to distinguish the two concepts rather than acknowledge that one is a form of the other. I disagree with this viewpoint. I maintain that it is not a question of which is “better” because that suggests a comparison that is nonsensical in the same way that comparing “custody” and “joint custody” would not make sense. Joint custody is a type of custody just as parallel parenting is a type of co-parenting.

With parallel parenting, as I see it, while the parents may very well “share” both legal and physical responsibility for the children (in other words they are “co-parents”) they do so in “parallel lanes.” What that means is that they rarely have a physical meeting although they could clearly have a meeting of the minds with respect to the rearing of their child. That means they don’t have much to do with each other in a physical sense. They limit the amount of contact they have with each other, rarely interact face to face and only communicate in indirect but specific ways about the minor children, whether electronically or through a medium or third party, or some other means. There are even online software designed to assist parents who need to use this type of communicative strategy.

It’s a type of shadow co-parenting. They co-parent from the shadows.

Parties to a divorce can agree on their own to be “parallel” parents or the court can order this arrangement. Usually, the court may order this arrangement where the parents have clearly demonstrated that they cannot communicate without coming close to killing each other. Maybe not literally. But you get the picture. They have such a high conflict relationship that they or the court determine that active “disengagement” is the best approach to their interactions. The court would then encourage as little contact as possible between the parents, in the best interest of the child, but at the same time, neither is ipso facto “unfit” to be a custodial parent, and both continue to have a fully engaged relationship with their child.

According to,  these are five guidelines to help with parallel parenting:

  1. All communication must be non-personal and business-like in nature and relate to information relevant to your children’s well-being.
  2. Parents never use their children as messengers to communicate back and forth.
  3. No changes to the schedule are made without written agreement.
  4. No personal information is shared with the other parent in any form.
  5. To minimize conflict, schedules are shared via a calendar or in writing. 

In other words, parallel parenting allows parents to remain disengaged with one another while they remain close to their children. For instance, they remain committed to making responsible decisions (medical, education, etc) but decide on the logistics of day-to-day parenting separately. Parallel parenting allows the dust to settle in high conflict situations and may lay the groundwork for co-parenting if parents can put aside their hostilities and grievances. Ultimately, both parallel parenting and co-parenting can benefit kids if parents consider what’s in their children’s best interests.

Using this type of approach is not an impediment to parents being able to organize and arrange everything from the child’s babysitter choices, bedtime, summer camp, play dates and more serious issues such as medical decisions, private school vs public school attendance, and even legal matters. On the contrary, when it works as it should and is properly organized and executed, parallel parenting can be a great solution for high conflict couples who want to remain engaged with their children.

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