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Exhausted and co-parenting? Give up already

When a peaceful co-parenting arrangement is simply impossible, it’s time to give up already.

Young teens watching parents argue |

Photo credit: Tetra Images/Getty Images

Vicki Hoefle is a parenting educator and teacher who is passionate about equipping parents with actionable tips for success with their kids. We recently caught up with Hoefle, author of Duct Tape Parenting, to hear her thoughts on what to do when co-parenting with an ex is doing more harm than good.

When is it time to just give up on co-parenting?

By definition, co-parenting is the practice of working closely with the father of your children — whether you’re married or single — to abide by a mutual parenting plan for the benefit of your kids. It’s a noble endeavor if parents have a good working relationship, but sometimes it’s just not feasible.

“It’s hard to know exactly when to ‘throw in the towel,’ but there are certain situations that warrant discontinuing attempts at co-parenting,” said Hoefle. Without reservation, Hoefle stated that co-parenting needs to be abandoned if your ex engages in any form of physical or emotional abuse. She also added, “Co-parenting is less than effective when parents have two very different approaches and either parent is unwilling to compromise or cooperate.”

Essentially, you have the green light to give up on co-parenting if your ex is emotionally abusive or entirely unreasonable. Continuing your efforts to co-parent with a hostile or uncooperative ex is an exercise in futility that will not yield good outcomes.

Parallel parenting: An actionable alternative

When co-parenting just won’t work, Hoefle suggested that you try parallel parenting instead. In a parallel parenting arrangement, she explained, two high-conflict parents are able to completely disengage from one another while remaining completely engaged with their kids.

The decision to try parallel parenting is sometimes challenging. You and your ex will have to agree to disengage from conversations about household rules, preferences, logistics and schedules. In fact, you’ll have to disengage from each other entirely. If you’re able to remove yourself from ongoing conflict with your ex, you can expect the following benefits.

  • You’ll no longer have to manage hostility and harm
  • Both you and your ex will be able to deepen your relationships with your children because you’ll no longer be consumed by conflict
  • Your children won’t live in fear that they will lose contact with one of their parents as a result of the conflict
  • Your children won’t feel the need to pick sides in an ongoing conflict
  • Your children will see that people with serious differences can still create a plan for cooperation and de-escalation

Parallel parenting plans

A parallel parenting plan divides decision-making authority between parents so that the decisions are never up for discussion. For instance, you may be responsible for educational decisions about your child while your ex is responsible for medical ones. Responsibility for each area of your child’s life is written into your parallel parenting plan, and the decisions are not up for discussion.

“Many children have grown into happy, fulfilled and well-adjusted adults when raised with two very different parenting styles,” Hoefle concluded. “Exposing children to ongoing hostility or emotional abuse is more damaging.” If you’re still uncertain if parallel parenting is for you, remember that rescinding your decision-making authority in some areas of your child’s life is far less harmful than subjecting them to constant conflict between you and your ex.

If you think it’s time to give up on co-parenting, talk to your ex about working with a marriage and family therapist or mediator who specializes in developing parallel parenting plans. Thankfully, the conflict will soon be over.

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