According to USLegal.com, 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.
“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.
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.
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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net