The term Disney Dad (also known as Disneyland Dad) was something I was unfamiliar with until recently. However, after reading the legal definition, it hit home. It goes something like this:
“A noncustodial parent who indulges his or her child with gifts and good times during visitation and leaves most or all disciplinary responsibilities to the other parent”.
So, what does this mean for you as a single mother?
If your ex is a Disney Dad, you probably already see where this is going. When you send your little ones off to the party house, it can feel like they are staying with your teenage son rather than their biological father.
You nag, plead, and beg for them to eat just one piece of broccoli, and that meal times are planned to incorporate something healthy. But, when it’s Disney Dad’s turn, it’s pancakes for breakfast, pizza for lunch and nuggets and chips for dinner. With chocolate and ice cream at regular intervals.
If you look deeper, it is easier to understand the logic behind the Disney Dad’s actions.
When he sees his children infrequently he may struggle to understand what their real needs are. To hide this colossal lack of insight, he uses the distraction of entertainment and the ‘go go go’.
The Disney Dad wants to be a friend, not a parent. He wants to leave your children with happy experiences and albums full of photos. He may even ‘spoil’ them to compensate for his guilt for not spending more time with them. In his mind, disciplining is not fun for them or him … so why bother?
Routine. What routine?
While as the primary custodial parent it is often a daily battle for baths, bedtimes and brushing – this is not something the Disney Dad needs to concern himself with. Free-range parenting is more his style.
My children will come home with their eyes hanging out of their heads, with my strict 7.30pm bedtime turning into whenever they pass out.
There have even been occasions where he has picked them up from school early on his weekend. Because, after all, it’s about ‘quality time with Dad’.
Then, there is possibly the most challenging part to accept.
It’s when you’re left struggling financially with school fees, swimming lessons and day-to-day expenses such as keeping the fridge filled. While the Disney Dad swans in for short doses, throwing cash around on outings and frivolities.
My kids have done it all, and it often amazes me how much can be jam-packed into one night a fortnight. Movies, random trips interstate, theme parks, ghost tours, the show, bowling, water slides, rock climbing, aquariums, AFL, ice skating … the Disney Dad does it all.
But, if your child needs new socks, a haircut or shoes, poor old Disney Dad’s wallet is suddenly empty. To him, there is no fun in the practicalities of life.
Raise your hand if you’ve experienced the “Mum vs. Dad” parenting saga.
To resolve this, talk to your children about why you parent differently to their dad.
First, be honest and straightforward. I mean, I remember having this heart-to-heart with my little ones about why bedtime at Dad’s place is more of a suggestion than a rule. I told them about the time I let them stay up late for a movie night, and we were all zombies the next day.
Use relatable examples to help them understand your perspective. For instance, I explained how we prioritise veggies here, while Dad’s place is like a candy store. But, hey, we’re building strong teeth!
Keep the conversation open and encourage them to ask questions. Let them suggest ways on how to make your time together more fun. Ask them what things they don’t like and explain why those need to be done. Tell them that it’s for their well-being.
As a parent with the majority of custody, how are we supposed to compete with the entertainment they provide?
The answer is, unless your ex is willing to work with you to maintain consistency … you don’t.
As long as there is no danger to your child, picking your battles and biting your tongue will save you a lot of unnecessary stress.
Your children will learn that there are different rules in different houses, and so will the Disney Dad.
My number one rule is ‘no items are to come home’. This rule was formed after two years of Royal Show trips where they brought home the giant gorilla teddies you win in the sideshows. I have four giant gorillas in my shed, which won’t fit in their rooms (and won’t fit in the bin). From now on, he can line his walls with as many gorillas as he likes … they are not welcome here. Nerf guns are confiscated at the door and so are bad habits.
Explained in this article from NCSC:
“Parental alienation is a strategy whereby one parent intentionally displays to the child unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent.”
As a single mum, I know it can be a concern. The last thing you want is for your kids to feel like they have to choose sides in the Mum vs. Dad showdown. I’ve learned that healthy competition between parents can be entertaining, but it should never cross into superhero vs. supervillain territory.
Look out for signs that your ex might be trying to turn your kids against you. It can begin with little comments or gestures that hint at Dad being the “fun parent” or making Mum the “bad cop.”
If this starts happening to you, talk to your kids and tell them how you feel. Remind them that even if your temper gets the best of you sometimes, it doesn’t change how much you love them.
Never say bad things about your ex, this might backfire. Tell your kids that you want them to have a great relationship with their dad, and how it hurt when they felt they had to pick one side over the other.
If you’re up for it, you can talk to your ex. Tell him that you can still team up on special occasions like birthdays or holidays to create wonderful memories for your kids. If he’s not up for it, what’s new? At least you tried.
You’re not going to be able to change the actions of your kid’s father. Well, you can try but it will be like banging your head repeatedly on the tiled kitchen floor. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Instead, there is a sneaky way you can benefit from his behaviour.
If your children want a big item that you are unable to afford or they want to go somewhere that is out of your budget … get them to ask their dad. Be sure when they ask their dad, they mention that mum said ‘no’. The Disney Dad will leap at the chance of buying them a Nintendo Switch or taking them to the local theme park if it means he gets one up on Mum.
Doing this means your kids get what they want without you paying. My kids knew from a young age how to play their dad like this. And I never discouraged it.
Getting one over your ex like this is a win for the kids and, believe me, it will make you feel good too.
If you have to deal with a Disney Dad, understand that, at the end of the day, your children are just like you. A holiday is lovely, but there is nothing better than the feeling of being home.
There is no need to compete. Instead, create boundaries so they understand the behaviour you expect when they return. Stick to the parenting style that works for you. They will learn the value of money and what you do for them every day.
And, really … most kids are just as happy with a free trip to the beach or the park or spending time with mum. There is no need to empty your bank account on them in one afternoon. Save that one for Disney Dad.
Suggestions to stay calm and sane while sharing care with a Disneyland Dad.
As a single mum, I’ve learned that this role isn’t always a walk in the park (especially while co-parenting with a Disney Dad), but it comes with its own set of adventures.
The truth is, we don’t need pixie dust and magic castles to be amazing parents. We’re the ones making sure homework is done, veggies are eaten, and bedtime is adhered to (most of the time, at least). We may not have the “fun parent” title, but we’ve got our unique way of making memories.
So, embrace your role, quirks, and all. Savour the funny mishaps along the way. Remind your kids that real adventures happen at home, where love, laughter, and life lessons are served daily.
You might not have a wand, but you’ve got something better – your heart and your unique parenting style. So, keep being your awesome, “No-Candy Yoda” self, and keep guiding your kids through life’s ups and downs your way.
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