Co-Parenting Versus Parallel Parenting: What’s the Difference?

Healthy parenting while separated is possible in both situations, it just depends on whether both parents can co-parent or parallel parent.

With a divorce rate of 50% in Canada and the United States, many children grow up having separated parents. In the best case scenario, the split is amicable and both parents foster positive communication in order to provide their children with a stress-free and happy childhood.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Too many marital breakdowns occur out of anger, hate and spite – and the children feel the impact as well. In a lot of these cases, communication between parents is just not possible because of the negative emotions that get in the way.

Healthy parenting while separated is possible in both situations, it just depends on whether both parents can co-parent or parallel parent.


Co-parenting is the ideal situation for children with separated parents. Co-parenting involves regular communication with the parents working together to raise the child. There is flexibility for both the parents and the child when it comes to visitation and access but there is consistency between the two homes.

You don’t have to have a great relationship with your ex-partner in order to co-parent. You simply need to have respect that he or she is also the parent of your child and that working together will guarantee and happy and healthy upbringing for your child.

Tips for Co-Parenting:

  • Pass a journal back and forth and jot down important information such as appointments or illness. Also write in some awesome things your child has been doing. This way, if face-to-face communication is difficult due to schedules, you can both keep up with your child’s life.
  • Try asking your ex for their opinion on an issue you don’t feel particularly strongly about. Doing so opens the door for positive communication and mutual trust.

Parallel Parenting

However, sometimes the rift between parents is so toxic and bitter that working as a team is simply not possible. This may be the fault of one or both parents and often is the result of high conflict situations.

Parallel parenting is basically parenting side-by-side without interfering in the lives and parenting styles of the other parent. It involves minimal communication – contacting the other parent only when absolutely necessary and doing so in a direct and emotionless manner.

Parallel parenting is not ideal since it creates little to no consistency between homes and no flexibility for the parents or the child. Access and visitation must adhere to an agreed upon (or court ordered) schedule in order to avoid any conflict.

Even though parallel parenting is not ideal it may just be the only way to parent apart while alleviating as much stress from the child as possible. While the inconsistency may create confusion for your little one, avoiding situations that could result in conflict may be the healthier path for your child. You may have to give in a little to the other parent, but, your child does not get entangled in the acerbic relationship.

Tip for Parallel Parenting:

  • Try to communicate in written form, either through e-mail or text. This ensures that emotions don’t flair and tempers burst. Keep the messages short and sweet, using polite greetings and a statement of facts or a clear question.
  • Be the best parent you can be. Treat your children fairly, teach them right and wrong and provide them a safe environment in which to grow and develop. Children are smart and will eventually be able to decipher for themselves what a happy and healthy environment looks like – in case the other parent is unable or unwilling to provide that.
  • Put all agreements in writing, either between the two of you or in courts if possible. Many conflicts begin with miscommunication and misunderstanding, so proactively avoiding this is the best way to prevent negative situations from occurring.
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