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Disneyland Parent Syndrome Defined by Fred Campos

The Disneyland Parent Syndrome Defined

The Disneyland Parent Syndrome Defined by Fred Campos, @FullCustodyDad bloggerAccording to, a site that defines legal terms, the “Disneyland Parent” refers to 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. The noncustodial parent provides luxuries that the custodial parent cannot afford but performs no disciplinary duties, in an effort to gain or retain the child’s affection.”

This is an interesting and common trap some non-custodial, and occasionally custodial parents fall into after their divorce or separation. To some degree it is a natural reaction for a parent to feel the need to make up for time missed with their child now that they are in a co-parenting situation. Nevertheless this practice needs to be identified and corrected because the long term effects can be destructive to your relationship with your kids or their relationship with their other parent.

I believe there are three underlying root causes that create the “Disneyland Parent Syndrome.” In future posts, I’ll dig deeper into the damage this can cause if it should continue.

The Guilty Disneyland Parent, Disneyland Parent Syndrome https://www.daddygotcustody.comThe Guilty Disneyland Parent:

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” is a common axiom that rings true with noncustodial parents too. Only getting to see your kids every other weekend when you were used to seeing your kids daily, changes how you view time with your children. Furthermore, you feel guilty that you are not involved in their day to day activities. You reason correctly that the lack of time together in the daily routine is not their fault. But you conclude incorrectly, perhaps due to guilt, that you need to make up time with them by making every moment of your time together fun, and entertaining. Through this process you shun some of your normal parenting responsibilities you would otherwise exercise as their parent, and lavish them with freedoms.

The Manipulative Disneyland Parent, Disneyland Parent Syndrome https://www.daddygotcustody.comThe Manipulative Disneyland Parent:

So the judge didn’t name you as the primary custodial parent. In your mind, it’s not over yet and you falsely believe that someday you’ll be chosen as the custodial parent. Perhaps this future change will be possible with the help of your kids. You now have a long term hidden agenda to do what’s possible to convince your kids that YOU are the more fun, cool, anything goes parent that they want to live with. Instead of focusing on being a good parent you are focused on become good friends with your kids.

The Vindictive Disneyland Parent, Disneyland Parent Syndrome https://www.daddygotcustody.comThe Vindictive Disneyland Parent:

It’s over and final. You lost custody and have become very bitter by the entire legal process. As a result, you now hate your Ex and can only think of ways to make her pay for the separation you now have with your kids. You may feel jealous of your Ex’s new spouse, new life or her ability to move on without you. With nowhere else to express your vengeance, parenting is now a fight with the desired outcome of “getting back at your Ex” becoming the primary focus in all you do. You now feel the need to break all the parenting rules.

The Damage of the Disneyland Parent:

It is easy to find a little of yourself in any or all of the above “Disneyland Parenting” situations. However, long term parenting on these terms is not healthy and doesn’t work. Kids like to have fun for a little while, but what they really need is a parent who will be a parent. Counselors, judges, mediators, teachers and principals all favor the parent who is dedicated to being a parent, not a friend.

Well, that opens a humongous can of worms don’t you think? Long green slimy ones! If you let them slither around in your thoughts, they’ll confuse your ability to make rational decisions in this emotionally packed time of your life. So take a few moments to reflect on where you are on this continuum and evaluate the motives behind your actions as you move forward with these very important relationships.

How have you or your Ex acted like a Disneyland Parent? How has this conduct hurt your kids?

Fred Campos is father to three and primary custodian to his daughter Caitlyn from a previous relationship. Manipulative Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, Vindictive Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic both at

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Fred Campos, Top Geek, blogs about everything from House of Cards to Subway. In addition to blogging, he is a public speaker and humorist in child custody, social media, web development and parenting. He is married to one @SuperParentMom, and raising three world changers. For more details on his custody course visit, Like this post? Make sure you subscribe to this blog.

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  • Sue July 30, 2013, 8:27 am

    Please put me on your email list.


  • Josh December 13, 2015, 6:57 am

    It’s Sunday morning 7:37am and I Googled “Disneyland Parent”… and commenting on the article. Who would ever think it would come to this?

    Anyhow, The ex is quick to make things “fair” between us by splitting the tax credits for our two children… however…

    I pay for afterschool care, all school functions, clothes and swimming lessons (which she requested I sign up for our son, said she would pay half, did once, and that was it. SMH)

    The kids are with me 7 days a week, while she doesn’t see them for 3 of those 7 days.

    How is this possible?

    They used to stay with her from Friday night @p7m, until Sunday night @7pm, but after a year or so the ex wanted a change.

    Her reason, “I want to be more involved in their school”

    So now, I drop them off to her on Wed, Thurs, and Fri night @8pm (after she’s done with her gym class, and I already fed them, bathed them and followed up on their school work).

    She brings them to her place (her parents house), tucks them in for the night and drops them off to school the next morning. We meet again Saturday night @7pm, where she drops the kids off with me.

    Oh and not to mention she has a one year old with another guy now… and they don’t live together.

    So in summary, she has 3 kids and somehow manages to have 2-3 days per week all to herself with no children, collect tax credits, and hang out on Saturday night and relax all Sunday, while still technically claiming the kids are with her 4 nights a week.


    • FullCustodyDad December 13, 2015, 3:01 pm


      thanks for writing and glad you found us via “Googling.” :) I wrote a blog post about this very issues. See Who Get’s to Claim Johnny for more details.

      See if that article linked above helps. If it is not spelled out in your court order, and you are not the one receiving child support, I have seem courts and the IRS pull the records of the school and see whom they state is the primary residence or seen the IRS count the number of overnights each parent has and determine it that way.

      So for example, let’s say dad picks up Johnny from mom’s house each morning, provides after school care, buys Johnny all the clothes, pays and takes Johnny to all the doctor visits, but returns Johnny to mom’s house before he goes to bed. Lets say even though dad is majorly involved at the end of the year Johnny spent 200 nights at mom’s house but only 165 at dads…the credit technically should go to mom. Is it fair, absolutely not. If your Ex is willing to split the credit, you may be better off just accepting it. Otherwise talk to an attorney and have it modified (or better yet), spelled out in your order. – Good luck.

      PS. Re-reading your comment, if however, even under this new arrangement you have more nights than she does, you need to write a letter to the IRS, you may be entitled to both credits.

  • Cody Brooks March 29, 2016, 1:13 pm

    Hello, I have been scouring the internet DESPERATE to find out why my son does not want to stay with me anymore. My son is just about to turn 9 years old. I have been divorced since he was 3 months old and remarried when he was 2. I have always been there for my son ( I live a mile away, taught him sports, archery, music, fishing, hiking, camping, riding motorcycles. I have enforced rules at my house and have generally raised a very smart and amazing son. Lately though, every time it is time to stay the night with me he begs to go back to his moms. This has become constant and I cannot for the life of me figure it out. His mom has had many live in boyfriends and in fact this started after a new guy just moved into his moms house 2 weeks after the previous guy moved out. He has a very stable family environment at my house with 2 sisters and a loving step mom. His mom is pretty well off and seems to buy him everything and from what he says he stays up late and eats whatever he wants at her house. From my research she appears to be a Disneyland parent. The question is how to I handle my son begging to go back to his moms after I have not even seen him in a week and miss him dearly.

    • FullCustodyDad March 29, 2016, 2:47 pm

      Cody, first and foremost I totally feel your pain and this is very common. Especially among kids 8-12 years of age. Let me start by saying, what if your son always wanted a candy during checkout during the grocery store? Well whining would be in proportion to the number of times the kid got away with it and a parent gave in. So if I was strict but my wife always gave in I would still deal with the whining.

      Odds are very high, your Ex is starting to say things like… “I am so sorry honey bunny you have to visit your dad. If you were here we would do X, Y, and Z.” This of course is a degree of the Disneyland Syndrome.

      What I did with Caitlyn as this started showing up was say, “Caitlyn, these are the rules, like going to school or driving on the right side of the road.” We emphasized it was the rules. The rules are non-negotiable.

      If you have any open conversation with your Ex, tell her to convey to your son it’s the rules instead of gearing up your son like he has a choice.

      Kids don’t have a choice visiting other parents. It is the rules and should be treated and communicated as such.

      • Cody Brooks March 29, 2016, 3:15 pm

        Thank you so much for your response. I have never sought any parental advice before but this situation has been tearing me apart and I cannot figure why my son does not want to be with me as I could not possibly do more as a dad. he does ask for candy frequently and I do say yes at times but many I say no as he has had many cavities from his mom letting him eat whatever whenever. He definitely knows what he can and cant get away with at my house and I am starting to believe that the only reason that he wants to go to his moms is so he can stay up late playing video games and eating candy as he pleases. He is a smart boy and really doesnt have any abnormal behavior issues other than just asking to not stay at my house when the night comes. So I gather that I should let him know that I am his dad and that he stays with me on his nights and that things may be different than at his moms but I am his parent too and he has a loving home at my house as well. Am I on the right track? Is there anything else you might suggest?

  • Jess November 21, 2016, 9:52 am

    What about the custodial parent being the Disney land parent?

    • FullCustodyDad November 21, 2016, 11:03 am

      Good point, it does happen, but I don’t see it as often as I do with the non-custodial. And I want to add, it is environmentally driven. Like grandparents who may not see their grandchildren as often. They tend to be more Disneyland centric. The goal is to not let it become the norm. :)

  • Walter Singleton December 2, 2016, 12:27 pm

    A “Disneyland Dad” is just a parent who is forced to try and create the most positive experience they can in what miserably little and completely insufficient time they have been given. These non-custodial parents are often forced to compensate for negative input that the custodial parent has heaped upon the child during the overwhelmingly larger amount of time that they spend with the custodial parent. Frankly I feel it’s disgusting that we’ve created a term of derision to label a parent who sacrifices so much in the midst of their own victimization. If your child’s other parent is a “Disneyland Dad”, then you should look at what YOU are doing to encourage or discourage your shared child’s healthy relationship with them.

    • FullCustodyDad December 2, 2016, 2:33 pm

      I agree, sometimes I have found that the custodial parent does cause this relationship. By the way, I refer to the term as “Disneyland Parent” as I know just as many moms that do this.

      However my point is I ask non-custodial parents to still be the parent. Not all of life is Disneyland, ice cream and staying up late. :p

  • Non Cust Mom :( June 3, 2018, 7:14 pm

    Very interesting blog. I do appreciate that you used the term parent rather than dad all those years ago – because father’s rights have been so huge, I know MANY non-custodial mothers like myself.

    It has been a rough road and I want to thank you because, before I lost custody I was the normal responsible parent, but I have realized that I became my children’s friend over these years, and now having teenagers, I’m not sure how easy it will be to become their parent again ;)

    Thank you for the insight. You are correct that I saw a little bit of myself in each of the three descriptions above. ~NCM

    • FullCustodyDad June 3, 2018, 7:47 pm


      I feel ya. It’s an easy trap to get into for any parent. In fact, my daughter is grown and 19 (at the time of this comment). I find it hard when she asks not to slip into bailing her out of different situations. I do think there will come a point, perhaps after marriage or age 25 when you do start to transition from parent to friend. The goal is not to get there too early. Thanks for the comment and hang in there.

  • IOM December 28, 2019, 11:50 am

    My 11 year old daughter has been fully spoiled by her dad on the every-other-weekend and a couple weeks during school holidays. She wants to be with him more which is understandable. Is love to live in an all-inclusive resort too! The thing is, her dad could have her half the time, but chooses not to. He only wants her on weekends and school holidays. He lives 10 minutes away, so 50/50 custody could be an option. I tell my daughter the truth, that it’s her dad’s choice to not be with her during school days. I can tell she doesn’t believe me. She has become a very unhappy child because in her mind it’s just unfair that she has to do chores at my house and actually is expected to behave like a normal, capable 11 year old young lady. And she’s unhappy most of the time which is really exhausting for all of us. Constant whining and trying to get out of chores, complaining about everything. I’m at a point where I wish she was with her dad half the time to ease our everyday lives. But that’s unlikely to happen.

    • FullCustodyDad December 30, 2019, 9:13 am

      I feel your pain, hang in there and keep at it. For the past 5 years, I have volunteered as a school board trustee in my community. Our district has roughly 24k students. When I talk with parents on what are the hardest years of raising kids, they all surprise me and say the same thing. Ages 11-14. Blended or not, these are the formative and hardest years of parenting regardless of your blended situation. The goal of parenting is to raise kids that are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Notice “happy” is not part of that equation. The Disneyland Parenting Syndrome amongst non-custodial parents is real. The system tends to create that. My advice is to stick to the good parenting you’re doing and realize most 11 YO push back on it blended or not. You are doing great work, don’t stop!