The Term 'Disneyland Parent' is Trending, and We All Know a Mom or Dad Who is Guilty of This

A Disneyland parent—aka a non-custodial parent who indulges their kid with gifts—can be difficult to deal with and may also have negative effects on your child. Here's how to handle this co-parenting issue like a pro.  

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It's every divorcing parent's biggest fear—that all of the hard work, responsibility, and effort it takes to be a parent will be left to them and them alone, while the other parent gets to have all the fun. The term for it is "Disney dad," or what legal resources are now referring to as "Disneyland parenting," and it's a form of detached parenting that stems from guilt.

What is a Disneyland Parent?

By definition, a Disneyland parent is a non-custodial parent who indulges their child with gifts and good times during visitation, and leaves most of all disciplinary responsibilities to the other parent. This no work, all play approach to parenting not only does a lot to irritate the other parent, but research shows it can have some pretty negative effects on the kids as well.

An article by DadsDivorce, a service of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. reported that Disneyland parents "miss opportunities to help their children grow in virtue; they also miss chance to get to know their children in their ordinary lives…[They] need to help their children with homework, to have them do chores around their home, and to tuck them into bed on a school night."

The Cons of a Disneyland Parent

Recently, I was chatting with a single mom friend of mine who mentioned that her ex happens to be a definite Disney dad, but she was happy that despite his infrequent and inconsistent visits, her girls had an opportunity to engage in activities that she herself couldn't afford. I respected this philosophy, because I was once a child whose father was more "disappearing dad" than "Disney dad," and I would have loved it if he'd pop in once in a while for random shopping sprees and theme park visits. A few weeks later, however, when my friend told me that her children suddenly didn't want to see their dad, my perspective on this situation began to shift.

"But don't you have fun with him?" she asked.

"Yes, mom, but we feel better with you."

So I dug a little deeper. If children love nothing more than to throw caution to the wind while shoving sugar down their throats and exploring fun new activities, why would children who have been so indulged by this Disneyland parent suddenly want nothing to do with them?

It comes down to the basics—the things that children crave more than all of the sugar, adventure, and bedtime-less fun in the world—safety, stability, and security. Despite what you may think, kids inherently seek boundaries and limits in order to feel securely attached to their caregivers, so when one parent constantly indulges them materialistically instead of emotionally, they become less and less thrilling or "safe" in their children's eyes. While most Disneyland parents' hearts are in a good place, their focus on showing the kids a good time above all else strays far from what each parent should be using their co-parenting time for.

How to Co-Parent With a Disneyland Parent

The bad news? You can't simply snap your fingers and get your ex-partner to change their parenting ways. If that were the case, you'd likely still be in a relationship with them, or at the very least, not reading this article.

The good news? You can minimize the effects on your children from this kind of irresponsible parenting pattern all on your own, with not much more work than you're doing now.

Don't be afraid of being the strict parent

That fear you have of your children wanting to spend more time with your ex because they've shunned rules, limits, and teeth-brushing? Well, you now know that this does more harm than good. Do not be afraid to be the parent with rules, boundaries, and routine. It's these limits and boundaries that will be the foundation for your children's emotional security, and they need that much more than they need a fancy new gaming device.

Pick your battles

Like I said, you can't change your ex. But you can change how you respond to your children's time with that person, and what you feel is worth a fight. In many instances, the Disneyland parent doesn't get as much time with the kids as you might, so they may just be trying to fit in all of the good stuff. Unless you feel your children are in harm's way, best to just keep doing what you're doing and go about your business in peace without fighting with your ex to try and get them to see things your way. Your children will be more affected by your fighting with the other parent than they will with another night of Twizzlers for dinner.

Don't make this a competition

Being so intimidated or incensed with your ex-partner's choices to do nothing but indulge the kids can often lead to an unhealthy competition of "who can have more fun?" Well, when you focus your energy on trying to one-up your ex, you're dropping the ball on giving your kids the structure they need, which doesn't serve anyone very well.

Have confidence in your parenting

You are enough. Whether or not your ex is over-indulging the kids, taking Disneyland parenting to a whole new level, and making you feel like your daily trips to the local park are a waste of time—you are enough. Your consistency, structure, and routine are the port in the storm for your children, and there's no Disneyland visit more important than that.

For more divorce and co-parenting advice, preorder Michelle's new book, Moms Moving On: Real-Life Advice on Conquering Divorce, Co-Parenting Through Conflict, and Becoming Your Best Self, or check out her podcast.

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