02/16/2011 01:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Parallel Parenting

What is the "good divorce?" For each couple, indeed for each person, it may mean something different. But a generalization about divorcing parents in mediation: they want to remain, if not friends, at least communicative and civil as co-parents. One way of achieving this is to set down a detailed child-rearing plan. Moms and Dads want to remain "on the same page" even as the children shift from one home to the other. But is this really in the best interest of the kids?

It goes without saying that if one parent lets the kids spend hours on the Wii before getting around to learning the Pythagorean theorem, munch on M&Ms and skip the veggies, then the other stands a good chance of being cast as the bad guy, unfair task-master. But that's the easy case. Most homes are much more nuanced. Bedtimes, curfew and sugar intake may vary between mom's home and dad's. We would argue that this may not be all bad.

Even with the best intentions, divorcing parents have a difficult time keeping kids out of the conflict. They do it unwittingly with even the most innocent questions. In turn, kids feel put in the middle when curious parents ask about the other's home or worse, denigrate one another in front of the kids.

Research shows that children of divorce fare best when they are kept as far away from the conflict as possible (when conflict is "encapsulated") and/or when the level of conflict is low (often a goal in mediation as opposed to in litigation). Research also demonstrates that "parallel parenting" can help to keep the conflict low, thus ultimately benefitting the children more than the stress of parents constantly communicating (and, one assumes, arguing) about the details of what goes on in each home. Parallel parenting is about disassociating. It is also about teaching children to adapt to different rules depending on the context. Mom's a vegetarian but Dad loves fillet. If, later in life, a child of divorce finds herself in a meeting, attuned to the dynamics in the room, this sensitivity may be thanks to heightened contextual understanding. Children become both resilient and adaptable.

So....back to the videogames and the candy: when one parent uses these tactics as leverage over the other, parallel parenting is undermined. They're simply vying for top spot. At its core, parallel parenting demands a detached respect for the other's ability to parent, even if it is not exactly the way YOU would do things. Letting go is part of divorce and it's part of being a good mom and dad.

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