Parallel Parenting Part Pooh. Oops, I Mean, Part Two: Crossing the Line

These boots were made for walking...all over your parallel lines. Because some lines are meant to be crossed...

So let’s recap, shall we? In Part 1 of Parallel Parenting, we learned the following:

  1. Coraline’s “Other Mother” looks eerily like Marilyn Manson, and some have said Marilyn Manson looks eerily like the “Other Mother” of my children. Therefore, by the transitive property, Coraline’s “Other Mother” may just be my children’s “Other Mother.” I’m awaiting buttons for proof.
  2. Mediator Man, who just may be a tool of a mediator, gave my tool of an ex a tool in the form of a parenting style called parallel parenting. Confetti exploded, balloons fell from the rafters and blog posts were penned by Marilyn celebrating their shiny new term.
  3. Buttons didn’t appear. Instead, feathers did. Affixed to my daughter’s hair. Without nary a word of consultation with me, mom of the now-feathered, non-avian 8-year-old.

Ahhh, parallel parenting: a sexy new sociological theory giving parents who don’t get along their very own excuse for living selfishly instead of considering the best interests of the children. This trendy parenting paradigm suggests that parents live in a vacuum and can do whatever the hell they want in one house, regardless of the rules in the other — suggesting the kids are better off living in said vacuum. Consistency between the two homes? Who needs it…

But before we get all caught up in judgment, let’s see what the experts say. Here’s the definition according to Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D., who shall henceforth be known as the Proud Papa of Parallel Parenting:

“Parallel parenting is a process of parenting next to one another because you are unable to parent together…The first step of parallel parenting is disengagement. This means that you will not communicate about minor things regarding your child…You will give the other parent important information about your child, but you will not get into debates about the parenting plan or about each other’s parenting style.

‘Important information means the health, welfare, and interests of your child.”

OK, good enough. The wacky thing is: According to Papa Stahl’s definition, parallel parenting is the term that most precisely describes exactly what we’ve been doing for the last three years. We only communicate in writing about important information pertaining to the health, welfare and interests of the child.

But guess what: It’s not working! And ‘scuse me Mr. Mediator Man, but you’d know all this if you — oh, I don’t know — read the case! (If you’ll recall, Mediator Man glibly admitted in TWO sessions that he hadn’t had time to read a single word of our cases. Not-a-one…)

Parallel parenting looks great and totally doable on paper. But here’s how it looks when employed in real life. These, my friends, are snapshots of actual situations in my bat-shit crazy parallel parenting reality:

A holier-than-thou parent’s justifications in the guise of parallel parenting: A sane parent’s concerns regarding the holier-than-thou parent’s alleged parallel parenting:
Of course the children can play for long expanses of time in our Creepy Neighbor’s garage, unsupervised. So what if he has a toy box so the neighborhood children come play with him, alone? Sure he doesn’t have small kids of his own to justify the toy box or the desire to play with young children — he’s just young at heart. And a really cool guy. And super-duper trustworthy. Trust me Um. Yeah. I have a wee bit (read: HUGE) problem with my daughter relating that she spent 45 minutes of unsupervised time with aforementioned Creepy Neighbor. How many red flags do we need here? Older man, unrelated to my kids, no small kids of his own, toy box, garage, long periods of time with small children, unsupervised. I’m counting like — a gazillion! So you’d better be prepared for the email expressing safety concerns.
The “doctor” who stitched our son’s chin together was clearly being “dramatic” and “overly cautious” when ordering that we as the parents ensure the area not get wet. What does “wet” mean, anyhow? You can totally tell by the “air quotes” that I do not believe what this “doctor” said. Thus I can choose to ignore his “recommendation.” I stood at the door of your home. I explained the doctor’s orders to Marilyn. She nodded her head. I sent you a text, which you acknowledged So you can imagine my surprise a week later, when my son returned to my care describing the not once, but FOUR TIMES he went swimming. Three times in an un-chlorinated SWIMMING HOLE. Plus, last time I checked, the letters “MD” (in air quotes or actual quotes) do not follow your name. Not cool. Email sent.
I have every right to irreversibly change my children’s appearance however I see fit during my time in my home. If I want my daughter’s hair to look just like my new wife’s hair, if I want to adhere feathers to every inch of their bodies — hell, if I want to tattoo “Marilyn+John Forever” on both children’s biceps, it’s my right. After all, it happened on my time, and you cannot speak to what happens on my time in my home. If you’re planning to alter the physical appearance of a child I pushed out of my nether-regions, or if there’s anything that says “permanent” or “semi-permanent” in the description of a service you’re seeking for our children, I must be consulted. No email sent, because there’s no health or safety concerns. But it’s clearly crossing a line, nonetheless…
…but our daughter likes to sleep in the same bed with her step-brother. Good for her. But parents determine boundaries, and last I checked, encouraging children who are not related by blood to sleep in the same bed may not be the best idea. Hackles appropriately raised, email appropriately sent.

Of course, these are just a few examples among a laundry list. And while individually each may not inspire concern, taken together, perhaps you can see my distaste for the concept? They justify it as parallel parenting; I call it brazen, self-righteous and egregious ignorance of the health, safety and well being of my children. And it does not fit the definition of “parallel parenting” that the experts purport to support.

I am not expressing concerns over silly daily items, like the kids not eating enough green leafy veggies, not wearing gloves to school or taking enough showers. And I am not attempting to exert control over parental judgment, but rather questioning those judgments when I fear my children are at risk.

What is in the best interest of the children? Certainly, for us, disengagement is part of it, and trust me when I say that I’d rather have someone individually pluck my eyelashes with tweezers than to interact with my ex. But that pain is an unintended but necessary consequence of my reality. I endure so my children can have some semblance of normalcy. My children need parents who can interact, when it’s important — and only when it’s important.

And guess what? I even found evidence to support that parallel parenting as a paradigm doesn’t work for everyone. According to Lewis R. Bigler, this guy who has a shitload of letters following his name and calls himself a Family and Marriage Counselor/Mediator:

“Parallel parenting is contra-indicated in those cases where parents continue to undermine each other’s authority, cannot resist conflict or engage in behavior that may be harmful to the children.”

BOOYAH, baby. Cutting my daughter’s hair to exactly match the then-new girlfriend? Adding feathers to my daughter’s hair? An “other mother” who calls my children “her children” at every turn? Parallel parenting is clearly contra-indicated in this situation. Even Papa Stahl would concede.

But I’m all for a label — some happy little box that we can put our parenting style in for all the world to see. And since I’m clearly skilled at understanding the nuance of why parallel parenting may not always work, let’s try something that does.

With all of my collective and advanced sociological knowledge (primarily gleaned through observations in restaurants, public restrooms, personal online dating experiences and watching copious episodes of Ally McBeal), my master’s coursework in conflict resolution and my whole hour-point-five of reading about parallel parenting, I’m now unveiling my own new trendy term.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Parallel(ogram) parenting! It’s all the rage…or at least it should be.

And here’s why:

1. Let’s think of geometry. You take the quadrangle below, and while parallel lines KF and CU are all happy on their own parallel paths, there are times when something must interrupt their singular trajectory. We’ll call it, serious concerns about the health, safety and well being of the children. This creates a new line that must cross the line of the other line, which geometrically is called Line FU. And I like that.

 

See points F, U, C and K. See line FU. Any questions?

2. When written like “parallel-o-gram,” it might just be a parenting technique that combines parallel parenting with a happy little telegram cheerily warning of potential harms to the health, safety and well being of my children.

Remember when you were in high school and sent “Candy grams” to your secret crush? Or “Friendship grams” to your BFF? Parallel-o-grams are the exact same…but totally different.

An example of a parallel-o-gram I might send in my specific instance:

“Dear Ex and Marilyn: You totally rock. Except I’m not crazy about the buttons you’ve chosen to replace my daughter’s eyes. Please send her back next week with her beautiful blue eyes, k? Thanks so much.

XOXO, Mikalee”

3. The imagery of the parallelogram totally rocks. Graphically, it’s almost akin to a boxing ring, inside of which I can knock the shit out of you for making stupid decisions on behalf of my kids. Just sayin’…

Well there you have it. The bottom line is, I’ve been picking my battles for years now, but I’m growing tired of taking that lonely high road. Yes, feathers in her hair don’t impact her health, safety or well being, so this is a battle I won’t be picking. Instead, I’ve decided to go this route with the feathers:

My feather philosophy? Go big or go home.

OK, dear friends: Your turn. Any experiences out there with parallel parenting? With crazy exes who put your children in harm’s way then ignore your concerns? How would you handle the ex and Marilyn in these situations? Thoughts on parallel(ogram) parenting? What do you think of my pretty plumage?

You won’t ruffle my feathers — unless you don’t leave a comment.

😉