Before I became a stepmom, I had a very clear image of what life would be like.
I imagined group texts with me, my husband, and his ex wife sharing cute pictures of my stepdaughter and chatting about important topics like homework and acceptable punishments. I fantasized about joint activities where we’d all cheer her on from the sidelines. Maybe I’d have some of those cute matching “mom of” and “stepmom of” shirts made.
And when we disagreed, because of course we would, we’d all state our cases logically and diplomatically and then decide on the best course of action together. I assumed that was the only way to raise a child with so much shared parenting time between two homes.
Everything must be as consistent as possible so my stepdaughter could develop into a secure, confident woman. There was only one problem with my imaginary world—it was imaginary.
My husband and his ex don’t agree on anything about raising their child. That was one of the main reasons for their divorce. And the agreement my husband and I have on how to raise children is one of the main strengths in our marriage. See the conflict here?
But then came doubt.
Over the years, we tried.
We tried to see things from a different perspective. We offered olive branches and waved our white flag countless times. We tried to co-parent amicably, we tried to tiptoe around our opinions.
But inevitably, the same thing always happened. Doubt reared its ugly head.
Doubt that my stepdaughter was being raised well the other 50% of the time. For half of her life, one of her parents has no control. That’s scary and unsettling and so they fought. They constantly argued and made accusations and snapped back trying to defend their lifestyle over the other’s and why they’re right and the other was wrong.
Of course, nothing positive ever came out of these fights. Neither one of them woke up the next morning and thought, “He’s right” or “She has a point”. The fights would turn personal and bitter and just end up fueling their contempt for one another even more.
So, after four long years of trying to co-parent and failing and trying again and failing again, we’ve all finally decided to parallel parent.
The irony is that the best co-parenting decision we’ve ever made, is to not co-parent.
I firmly believe my stepdaughter is going to be a better adjusted kid because of this choice. Parallel parenting has given us some control back in an extremely uncontrollable world.
What is Parallel Parenting?
So, what is parallel parenting and how do you know if it’s right for you? Parallel parenting is a strong boundary driven, counter-co-parenting concept where each household has their own rules and style with limited contact between the parents.
Contact can be business-like messages or can be further restricted to emergency only situations or specific orders from the court.
Parallel parenting is recommended for divorced couples who cannot communicate respectfully and collaboratively. Or for those who have completely different lifestyles or ideologies, even as big as religion.
The idea of parallel parenting is to minimize conversations between parents so the children are not exposed to unnecessary conflict. With parallel parenting, decisions like extracurricular activities, bedtimes, and screen-time limits are no longer a joint conversation to find a happy medium between households. Instead, your household will have a set of rules, and the ex’s house will have a set of rules.
It’s important to clearly set these expectations with your stepchildren and hold firm to your house rules. And also allow some room for grace since your stepchild might be constantly flipping back and forth between two very different lifestyles.
It also means conversations like a last-minute schedule change so your stepchild can attend a classmate’s party or family function probably won’t happen anymore. And if soccer falls on the ex’s weekend and your stepchild doesn’t make it to the game, that’s out of your control.
Limiting conversations to a strictly need-to-know basis and accepting that your stepchild might miss out on things while with the other parent can be difficult to accept.
Parallel parenting requires each party to admit they’re powerless when their child is with the other parent. Outside of physical or emotional safety concerns, you have to be willing to let everything else go.
When is Parallel Parenting NOT the Right Decision?
This parenting style is not recommended in a situation where one parent has sole legal custody or more decision-making power than the other. If one parent’s “vote” on a particular topic outweighs the other according to your court order, this method won’t work.
For example, if your court order states that your stepchildren’s other parent has final say in all educational decisions, your household cannot unilaterally decide that you’re going to start homeschooling.
However, in most cases, both parents have the autonomy to make certain decisions about the care of their children during their parenting time. It’s important to read your court order to determine where you have control to make decisions without informing the other parent.
What if your Co-Parent Disagrees with Parallel Parenting?
Parallel parenting isn’t something that is always agreed upon by both parties, like in our case.
Often, it’s one household that has had enough of the fighting and puts this parenting style into action without notifying the other.
If your co-parent is constantly demeaning, combative or non-responsive and if this decision is going to cause another unnecessary fight, you can use the grey rock method for communication. Stop contact about anything other than what you’re explicitly ordered to do and answer questions with as little information as possible. Remain factual and neutral and do not engage in attack-style messages.
An example of this might be an upcoming doctor’s appointment. Perhaps the conversation typically went on for days arguing over what time and date both parents could attend your stepchild’s next well visit. When parallel parenting, simply text the other, “The appointment is scheduled for 10am on Tuesday”.
You’ve provided the information per your court order, and that’s all you’re required to do. Personal attack messages like, “G looked terrible for school picture day! His hair wasn’t brushed and his clothes didn’t match!” do not need a response. You can know pictures were after recess and that he insisted on wearing that shirt with those pants without having to convey that reasoning to an ex who is simply looking for a fight.
If you think parallel parenting is right for you, I encourage you to give it a go. Maybe it will only be temporary until tempers subside and your partner and their ex can cooperate again.
Or maybe it will be permanent and you’ll always have limited communication with your stepchild’s other parent. But if the conversations cannot be productive and respectful, parallel parenting is a strong boundary that keeps you in compliance with court orders and still in complete control of your own home.
If you want to learn more about how to begin parallel parenting as a stepmom, apply to learn more about our stepmom coaching services below.
This post was submitted by an anonymous reader.
P.S. Having anxiety about custody exchanges? Check out Custody Exchange Do’s and Don’ts.