High Conflict Central hears the most from parents when it comes to finding or working with a parenting consultant or parent coordinator. These people are so hard to understand, even lawyers and judges can have trouble with the role. We will admit that we struggled to understand their decisions and behaviors until our fearless leader, Susan Carpenter, made things more clear.
We have never met anyone who understands Parenting Consultants as much as Susan Carpenter does. Never. Of course many highly experienced PCs understand their role, but some of the newbies may not. Either way, they don’t share what is going on with you. Why? They figure your lawyer will. Unfortunately, on the flip side, lawyers think your PC will. Well, this leads to where nobody will. Lucky for you, we will. Susan will, too.
Minnesota passed small tweaks to the best interest factors back in 2015. Since that time, an ad hoc group met to write a new parenting time guide. The new guide replaces the 1999 guide which basically assumed that one parent would be the custodial parent and the other parent have visitation. Times have changed and now both parents are encouraged to be involved in the life of their child.
To read the new parenting time guidelines in Minnesota, visit this link on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
Just so you know, our own lead coach, Susan Carpenter, was involved in the ad hoc group writing the guide. She was instrumental in getting parallel parenting time included as an option for high conflict parents!
Co-parenting, AKA cooperative parenting is an obsession with Family Court professionals. It may even meet the level of addiction with some of them. System-wide group think reigns over common sense and good judgment, especially when they don’t know there are other options available to parents.
Even the term co-parenting is not understood across the board. Some Family Court professionals consider co-parenting to mean a shortened version of cooperative parenting, while others use the term meaning, “jointly or “together”. Still, no matter how one looks at it, I wonder how anyone can do anything “together” or “jointly” if they are not doing so cooperatively. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
For example, if I want to paint the living room blue, but my spouse wants to paint the room red, we might have to find a compromise. We might say, “Fine. Let’s paint two walls blue and two walls red. If we could agree to do that and agree on which two walls each of us could paint as we desired, it might get done and we might both be able to live with it, but we’d have to be able to communicate rationally about that and see each other’s point of view and then come to an agreement about the particulars of how it is going to work. There would also have to be a basic level of trust that both people would follow through and not sabotage the other’s plan or destroy what the other person has been working on.
If two people could not decide between the colors red and blue or were unable to decide which two walls each person could paint (maybe there is some inequality to the open wall space available), they might decide to blend the colors. The problem with that is neither person would be achieving anything close to their original goal and they would both have to really like purple because that is what the result would be. It would take flexibility on the part of both people. It would also take respect for each other’s needs or wants and the same basic level of trust as in the first scenario. Even then, blending has different meanings to different people. Blending red and blue could mean making the room purple or it could mean one color with polka dots of the other, painting stripes of both colors equally (and again, what is equal to one may not be equal in the eyes of the other). No matter how the compromises happen, they still have to involve good communication, flexibility, trust, respect, understanding, balance, a sense of fairness, etc., etc. It is still going to involve some level of agreement to resolve the situation. Otherwise, you will end up in the same old room, with the same old paint and nothing will change.
That is the same problem with co-parenting. People can either do it or not do it. It may mean different things to different parents and it may even mean different things to different professionals. When parents cannot do it, they are accused of being “rigid” thinkers. It can be true that neither parent wants to change or wants to change their perspective, but it is often really a matter of differing perspectives. My perspective on it is this, we have alternatives to co-parenting. When professionals will not allow those different ideas to come into play, they are the ones with “rigid” thinking. What difference should it make to them as long as it decreases the conflict for the children? That is really why the professionals are in place anyway, to decrease the conflict.
High conflict Central accepts a simple fact and that is many people cannot co-parent. Even in happily married households, parents are doing things other than co-parenting. We don’t rule out the possibility that people have the ability to get there if they are both willing to accept the situation and are willing to change and make a better life for their children, but we don’t start at co-parenting unless it is already happening. We actually start at where you are. What has happened to you? How has it affected you? How has it impacted your children? What is the history between the parents? What is the level of trust? What is the level of respect? Where is each parent at in their healing process? Where are you at with your parenting skills as a single, divorced parent? How much do you know about what is happening to you in Family Court and why it is happening? That is where we start because all of those things need resolution before you can be ready, willing and able to co-parent. We also know that even if you get there, co-parenting only works when both parents are ready, willing and able, and can approach the situation with good faith. If one or both parents has a strong desire to keep hurting the other, co-parenting will not happen because trust can never be built under those conditions.
Parents who can co-parent, do co-parent. They do so without a court order or any of the watchdog professionals that get appointed to make parents play nice in the sandbox. High conflict parents should not be asked to start with co-parenting. There are other ways to help the children.
Because these are the types of relationships present in high conflict divorce situations, it is my opinion that family court needs to get out of the business of forced co-parenting. When you have parents who only know conflicted parenting, the bar is set too high to expect them to get to co-parenting. It is too high a leap for their skill set! High conflict parents could be allowed to use the parallel parenting style, unless and until they are healed enough to raise the bar to co-parenting.
We know that conflicted parenting is the worst situation for children in the middle. We also know that co-parenting is the best style for children of divorce, but there seems to be an unwarranted reluctance on the part of court authorities to consider the benefits that parallel parenting can offer in high conflict cases. I really don’t understand the reluctance at all. Court professionals expect parents to jump from worst to best all in one shot:
CONFLICTED PARENTING >>>>CO-PARENTING
That is quite a stretch for anyone, let alone, parents who may not have the communication and relationship skills necessary to make co-parenting work. If the professionals would give up some of their own rigid thinking, we could help parents go from here to here:
CONFLICTED PARENTING >>>> PARALLEL PARENTING
At least that would be a step in the right direction and give parents a chance to settle into their own lives with the children, learning to parent separately, and if they are so motivated, gain some important skills before they move into co-parenting. Some parents may have to stick with parallel parenting to keep the peace, but at least a parallel parenting style would move them away from conflicted parenting and offer something better for their children. If parents did well moving from conflicted parenting to parallel parenting, they may gain the confidence to take it another step:
PARALLEL PARENTING >>>>CO-PARENTING
(BETTER THAN CONFLICTED) (BEST)
That is my hope for change in the system. I’d like to see professionals have the ability to accept change for the better even when it is not the ideal. They should seek improvement in steps, rather than demand big changes that parents aren’t always able to understand. In my opinion, at least we would get parents out of the conflicted style of parenting and everyone benefits from doing that!
For now, we have a system of professionals who don’t realize that their rigid thinking about co-parenting is just as bad as parents who refuse to change. They continue to push co-parenting against all common sense and good judgement.
If you find family court, the professionals rigid thinking and co-parenting to be a mind numbing endeavor, give us a call. We love to talk to high conflict parents and help them put a stop to the nonsense. We feel so much joy when we see you and your children experience a little peace after trauma. It isn’t as hard as you think, and we don’t care if your ex participates or not, as a matter of fact, we prefer to work with parents one on one. It is always a free consult, and we offer some free e-courses, as well. Contact us to learn more!
High Conflict Central was created by Susan Carpenter. She is a relationship coach, Author and Instructor with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Her focus is on communication, relationships, family conflict and dynamics, and gender differences in communication, stress management, parenting and conflict. She is an expert on relationships involving high conflict divorce, domestic violence, adult children of alcoholics/dysfunction, adults who experienced trauma as a child. Susan is also the owner of Life’s Doors Mediation in Golden Valley, Minnesota, where she is a qualified rule 114 mediator, parenting consultant, parenting time expediter and parent coach. She wrote the book, “The Parenting Coordinator and Consultant Survival Guide” to help parents understand that process to utilize their PC more effectively. You can contact Susan at email@example.com or by calling (800) 516-2446.
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.”
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!
Even the most skeptical of parents think that once the legal paperwork is all signed sealed and delivered, everything will be fine and they will move beyond the relationship they had before the divorce. During the divorce process, professionals likely assured them that they would be able to co-parent and share in parenting responsibilities and continue the relationship they’ve had with their child or perhaps even build a better relationship. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way.
Co-parenting requires parents to communicate regularly and frequently. Given that life can change on a dime and schedules can sometimes get interrupted by things that are beyond our control, the best of divorced parents are able to be flexible with their schedules and adapt to changes without much difficulty or make adjustments to their plans and the distribution of parenting responsibilities as they need to, but few families can really achieve that level of commitment or cooperation when the divorce is over. For a high number of parents, the fighting they experienced during the divorce process does not end with a decree and sometimes, it ramps up. Even though they previously drafted carefully worded agreements on how they would manage parenting responsibilities and different conflicts and scenarios, the agreements do not work when the parents try to put them into practice. Either one of the parents will not follow the agreement or each parent has a different interpretation of what the words on the paper actually mean. On top of that, some parents find their co-parent uses information against them or tries to manipulate the parenting time schedule by scheduling appointments, activities and play dates on the other parent’s time without permission. It is beyond frustrating to live that way. So what can be done to change it?
Parents who struggle with co-parenting can try a style called parallel parenting. For those whose interactions are moderately or highly conflicted, parallel parenting can be a way to move forward when co-parenting proves to be too difficult for them to manage successfully. Unfortunately, court professionals rarely suggest parallel parenting as an option. Some professionals want to push you to co-parent no matter what because it offers your child the best chance for success in the future, while others naively think that the contention will die down once parents put the legal system behind them. It is naive to think that relationship problems or significant communication problems will magically disappear and foster cooperation if they have never been addressed. It is also fairly common to find professionals out there who have never heard of parallel parenting. If the professionals you encounter have no concept of what parallel parenting is, how can they explain that it is an option to you? They can’t, and that is very unfortunate because parallel parenting can help parents move away from conflict to keep their child out of the middle of it.
So what is parallel parenting anyway? Parallel parenting is a style of parenting that allows parents to disengage and reduce the frequency of interactions they have with each other. It allows each parent to operate independently of the other and manage their own day to day parenting responsibilities. Parents will still need to communicate about important issues that are related to their child, and make major decisions together, but they will only communicate when necessary. Typically all communication will take place in written form, such as via email.
Parallel parenting is not ideal and it tends to put a higher burden on the the child to adjust to two different sets of households, routines and rules so that the parents do not have to make adjustments that they are not ready or willing to make, but it does not have to be a permanent arrangement. Sometimes, parallel parenting is used only until both parents have come to terms with the situation or while they take measures to work through hurt feelings following contentious legal battle. However, some parents will continue parallel parenting until the children are grown and there is nothing wrong with that. While it is best when parents can co-parent and work together to parent their children after divorce, if they cannot, parallel parenting is better than always being in a state of conflict, arguing over who is right, being disrespected or having to rely on someone you learned long ago was unreliable and it protects children from being caught in the middle of the battle.
Parents are humans. Humans have different ways of coping and managing disappointments and hurts. It’s just the nature of the beast that some humans have the skill set to be resilient while others need significant time to heal, deal or feel. You cannot put a time limit on grieving the loss of a relationship, nor can you decree it be done. You also cannot make someone cooperate with you or communicate well if they do not want to. Co-parenting requires a good faith effort on the part of both parents and an ability to separate their own feelings from the feelings of their child. It also helps when parents have good communication skills and maintain healthy boundaries. Still, the odds that a couple held all those qualities and ended up divorced seems illogical. Most relationships break up for a reason and that reason has be set aside or forgiven in order to form a successful co-parenting relationship. When not set aside or forgiven, parents need to find other ways of sharing their children peacefully.
What are some of the reasons to try parallel parenting?
One or both parents still holds highly negative feelings about the other.
One or both parents have boundaries issues.
Communication between parents is ineffective, hostile, or disrespectful, or the parents are unable to stay child focused when they interact with each other.
One or both parents is unable or unwilling to work together to meet the child’s day to day needs or make decisions together.
There is a moderate or high level of conflict.
Each parent has a vastly different parenting style from that of the other and they fight over which one is right.
How does parallel parenting work?
Parents disengage from each other and do not interact during child exchanges or school events. They may alternate attending school events or not sit together when in attendance at the same time and they will schedule separate parent-teacher conferences if the school will accommodate such a request (most schools will).
Parents communicate only in written form (except for emergent or time sensitive matters) and do not communicate about routine, day to day issues. Communication is kept to a minimum and is typically done via email or an online communication tool, such as Our Family Wizard.
Each parent is responsible for the day to day care and parenting during their parenting time and basically mind their own business when the children are at the other parent’s home
Routines and discipline decisions may vary from house to house
Parents do not attend medical, dental or counseling appointments together, but divide up who has responsibility and when.
Parents are responsible for accessing information from school, doctors, dentists or other professionals in the child’s life without relying on the other parent to provide routine information.
Parents do not share personal information and may use a neutral location for child exchanges or have a neutral person do the pick ups and drop offs.
Parenting time schedules are rigidly adhered to and are very detailed as to times and exchange locations. A third party may be in place to address parent disputes or situations that are unclear or were not covered when the schedule was created.
Parallel parenting can offer families some much needed breathing room that opens to door to co-parenting in the future, but if it doesn’t, it provides something better than the conflicted situations that cause tremendous amounts of stress to families and it gets children out of the middle of hostile situations that put their healthy development and well-being at risk.