If you are not familiar with what parallel parenting is, our previous post explained more about what it is and why it can be helpful to high conflict parents. Here is a link to that post, “What is Parallel Parenting”, in case you’d like to read through that before continuing on with the rest of this post.
For high conflict parents, parallel parenting can be a way to move forward when they have difficulty with co-parenting after divorce. Regardless of their best laid plans or the detailed parenting plan they put in place, there are times when parents are not prepared for what is to come and did not realize how poorly they understood their situation enough to see the consequences of the decisions they made about child sharing after divorce. Parents desperately want closure and finality, but many do not get anything that resembles that, even though the legal process is over. For some, the battle keeps going and the conflict continues to escalate, often for years. When that happens, professionals label those parents as “high conflict”, but hold them to the same standard they would for low conflict cases. That is just not right.
The best way for high conflict parents to move away from conflict is to try parallel parenting. As a divorced parent going through Family Court, you may find that many professionals are opposed to the idea of parallel parenting and will constantly harp on the term co-parenting. Some professionals, even judges, have never heard of parallel parenting and that is astonishing. Why? Because for the last few decades, professionals were trained to help you co-parent and they were told that when parents co-parent, it is good for children. Post decree, the court is there for only one reason. The court’s concern is for the best interests of children. They are not necessarily concerned with the best interests of the parents. Parents had their chance to make decisions for how they wanted the details to work and then either put those decisions into written agreements that the court signed off on, or the judge decided the case for you. Once everything has been signed by the judge, the expectation is that you will follow the orders.
Many parents were only given one option for how they would parent after divorce and signed either an agreement or a court motion stating they would do it. That style is called co-parenting. Unfortunately, there are some misunderstandings in the world of family court about co-parenting. This post is to help parents and professionals alike understand that there are other options available to parents who cannot make co-parenting work for them. These options often are ignored, kept as a trade secret, or become a dirty word when the reality is, it should be okay for some families to do things a little differently when they do not fit the mold of the ideal that professionals envision for parents. What people need to understand is that many families are already parallel parenting, but the professionals continue to call it co-parenting or frown on those who fail to co-parent. Parents should have the freedom to utilize the parallel parenting style of parenting after divorce when it can be used as a tool to improve their situation and make things better for their children.
What is co-parenting and why are professionals so adamant that you have to do it? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some parents and professionals think of a co-parent in the same way you’d think of being a co-pilot. Just as co-pilots fly together, co-parents are parenting together. That is all it means to them, but if that is all it means, why are these parents co-parenting for the first time after they no longer live together? Weren’t they parenting together when they were together, in the same house? The analogy of co-parents and co-pilots seems terribly misplaced. When have you ever heard of co-pilots flying in two different planes? They don’t. So to say that co-parenting means to parent together would make more sense when talking about parents who live in the same house together. Still, most parents never hear the term co-parent until they are in the divorce process and have been living separately for a while. You never hear married parents refer to the way they are raising the children together as co-parenting, but they might be. Although it is possible that they may not be. As parents go through the legal processes of divorce, it is unlikely anyone ever explores what kind of shared parenting style the parents used there, but just because they lived together, it did not mean they were co-parenting. In some families, parenting styles are very different and each one does their own thing, even when they disapprove of the way the other parent manages their parenting. So really, what is the big deal about co-parenting? Some divorce professionals just see it as a word that means doing so together, but forget to tell you how difficult it is going to be to do it while living in two separate homes. Co-parenting is a really strange term when you think about it. How can two people co-anything when they are not there together, doing it at the same time? Maybe something like team-based parenting would make more sense? How about collaboratively parenting? I think we are doing a disservice to families by making all sizes fit in a one size fits all box. One of the best movie lines is from Forest Gump:
Momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”Forrest Gump
Well, families are like a box of chocolates, too. Some may be full of nuts, some may look good on the outside while they contain some really icky stuff on the inside and some may be very different when looked at individually or may be best when taken in small doses. This is why we should think about what might be the ingredients of the family and what might fit the best before boxing them a box when their family prefers a plastic wrapper.
Even when working with professionals, parents never know what they are gonna get. Family court professionals can be quite different individually, too. Some professionals believe that the term co-parenting is meant to be a shortened version of two words, cooperative and parenting. Cooperative parenting is a style of parenting after divorce that is the most beneficial way for parents to ensure their children’s healthy development and help them adjust to their parents’ divorce. When parents can put their relationship behind them and transform that relationship into a cooperative model of communicating and resolving conflict, children will come through divorce without the psychological, relational, and behavioral harm children who are caught in the middle of high conflict experience. Cooperative parenting helps children cope and more power to the parents who can instantly do it! Cooperative parenting is the best way to function after a divorce and it will happen when it is the shared goal for both parents. However, cooperation is not a solo endeavor and so the key to success is having both parents on board with doing everything in their power to make it happen. If one parent is not prepared for it or has very different ideas about how to parent children from that of the other, it can be place an unfair burden on parents who want to do the best for their children, but are not getting the level of cooperation from the other parent that is required to make it work. It works when both parents approach the situation from a good place and are making a good faith effort to build a better, but different relationship than what they had before.
Divorced people are looking to end their relationship, not to put a great deal of work into a new and improved relationship, but or those parents who understand from the get go that their relationship is going to continue in a different capacity because they have kids together, that change will come easier than for those who feel blindsided by the idea that the relationship is not over. It is frequently more difficult for one person than the other, especially if they were not the one who wanted the relationship to end. They need time to come to terms with the change and deal with their feelings. It won’t be possible to make someone do something that they do not have the skills for. Sometimes, neither parent is ready. If they haven’t healed enough, they just won’t be ready to be in the same room with the other parent or talk to the other parent, at least not yet. If that is where parents are at, it will take some work to ever move them into a cooperative style of parenting. This is why family court professionals are doing more harm than good when they offer cooperative parenting as the only way of sharing children after divorce and force the issue too soon.
It would be nice if all family court professionals could define co-parenting so everyone can be on the same page about what exactly it means. Look up the definition on different websites, including legal websites, and it is hard to understand what it means and how to do it. To say that it just means together sounds rather odd. Can parents parent “together” if they are not cooperative? Can anything be done jointly or together when it is done uncooperatively?
Most people can relate to trying to work with a co-worker who held difficult feelings about them. Try working on a project with the guy who doesn’t like you, is competitive with you or jealous of you. It is going to make the completion of the project all the more difficult and it may mean that the boss will need to intervene and remind you about the deadlines and all of the collateral people who will be impacted when things are not done in a timely fashion.
Whether or not you understand the reasons why you co-worker doesn’t like you doesn’t make any difference. Maybe the coworker prefers to work alone. Maybe they want all the credit for a job well done. Maybe they feel slighted because the boss (or the kids) seems to like you better than they like them. Regardless of what the issue is, the negative feelings belong to the other person. You cannot change the way they feel. All you can do is do your best to get the job done and not let the other guy affect your work.
Just like in the work place, the goal may have been put on you by other people. It may have been something you were told you had to do rather than something of your own choosing. When you “have to” instead of “want to” or “get to” work together, it changes things like motivation and the level of commitment you have to the idea. Those things are going to impact how great the level of cooperation there is going to be. It doesn’t have to, but it often does. Maybe negative feelings are getting in the way, but maybe each person simply has very different styles for getting things done.
Family court could take lessons from the workplace. Companies tend to do a great deal of training and team building exercises. Managers know that people are all different and need to be prepared for certain tasks well in advance of having to perform them. Good managers can recognize when two people will make a good team and when they won’t. In a case where the two people cannot work well together, it may be possible and even desirable to allow them to complete their parts of the project separately. The company may want to offer some training or coaching to help them work as part of a team, but in the mean time, it may be the best way to allow each to use the skills they have. Most successful managers realize that you have to meet people where they are and give them the tools to develop the skills that will get them where you want them to be. It would be nice if family court professionals did a better job of looking at the relationship dynamics before locking you into one that won’t work for you, and hopefully, they can consider all of the options available that might get your family going in the right direction. Currently, though, parents need to take responsibility for their own knowledge and if something doesn’t sound like it will work for you, look for other ideas yourself if you can. You are very much at the mercy of the professionals you come in contact with. Some are extremely knowledgeable and helpful while some dictate what you need to do and push it through because time is money!
Because of the way Family Court and Family law operates, it can be challenging to find the right kind of help. Neutrals can only do so much. In most cases, they cannot spend one-on-one time with you because it could make them looked biased. Still others cannot give you the kind of help or education you need because of the role they perform on your case and the ethical considerations of their area of practice. Others, do work for you and only for you, but their hourly rates make it unrealistic to spend a lot of time talking to them, and then of course, there are the different factions. The legal folks aren’t very concerned about your feelings on anything and the psychological folks aren’t in the business of knowing any more than they have to about the law. Each can only help you on their end of the spectrum of knowledge when the reality for you is that you are dealing with a blend of different fields. Professionals from different fields have teamed up to try to help, but really cannot mix and mingle enough to be all that helpful.
The truth is, what you need most is support. You need a friend or mentor to walk your journey with you, someone who understands the blender you are caught in. At High Conflict Central, we do know. We have walked in your shoes and can share our experience with you to help you avoid the pitfalls that come with high conflict and we will tell you about things like parallel parenting because we know that you may not hear about it from anyone else. We are dedicated to education and want to teach you all you need to know about co-parenting, child development issues, conflict, communication and much more. We provide coaching and consultation, offer resources, classes, webinars and a place to air your frustrations with all things high conflict or family dysfunction. We also know who some of the most knowledgeable professionals are and we can refer you to the right place. Not all professionals are well versed in high conflict. It can mean disaster for you and your children when they don’t.
If you need a friendly ear or want to hear about the many conflicts that arise when trying to co-parent or parallel parent, especially with a difficult or hostile co-parent, give us a call. We always offer a free phone consult so you can know what to expect from working with us. Call us at 1-800-516-2446 or email us via firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with us today!