by Scott Moore
What is a Disney Dad?
A “Disney Parent” actually has a legal definition: “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.” It’s usually used in reference to the father, since we are typically the non-custodial parent, but recently it’s becoming more associated with mothers as well.
How Do We Become Disney Dads?
There are two angles on this—one intentional, and one less intentional. The intentional Disney Parent is one who deliberately gives the kids all sorts of treats and privileges with the intent of undermining the custodial parent. The less intentional and more common Disney Parent (and the one I’ll be addressing) is simply trying to have fun with his kids during the limited time he has available. There are several factors behind this:
- “Visitation” is what it’s legally called when we non-custodial parents have our children. For many of us, having our time with our kids referred to as “visitation” changes how we look at that time. After all, when you visit someone, you usually have different rules than when you’re at home—later bed times, some fun excursions, etc. Calling it “visitation” is harmful to the goal of parenting in many other ways, but it can definitely impact how we non-custodial parents look at our time with our children.
- As non-custodial parents, we see our children less frequently than the custodial parents do. It’s a simple fact. Typically, this time is two weekends a month and maybe two weeknights a month. That’s not much time, from our perspective. As a result, when we have our children, we naturally don’t want that time occupied with homework, chores, discipline, rules, schedules, and so on. It’s time we want to maximize with our children.
- In addition to not seeing them often, the other problem has to do with when we see them—weekends and evenings. What do even the most typical “nuclear families” do on weekends and evenings? They typically play. Trips or activities on the weekend, movie or video game time in the evening, and on weekend evenings, the kids probably get to stay up later than if it were a school night. When this is the only time we see them, it’s no surprise that the times are spent with weekend-type activities, later bed times, etc.
There are exceptions to every rule, including those above, but these situations are certainly the most typical encountered in divorce situations. Additionally, these are not intended to be excuses for a parent being a Disney Parent, but only to help explain how we might be characterized as such.
How to Avoid Being a Disney Dad
What can we do so we don’t fall in to this pattern? It requires us to be deliberate and consistent in our job as parents.
First, both parents—custodial and non-custodial—need to understand that we don’t share the same circumstances as parents. I never have my kids when they have school the next day, like their mother often experiences. My kids are usually not with me long enough to get into habits of chores and schedules, like they are with their mother. Still, here are five important things we can do:
- Be consistent. You don’t have to have the same schedules as at their mother’s house (although it’s helpful), but you need to be consistent. When my kids are with me they have a fairly consistent bedtime. We try to stick with that, whether it’s summer weeknights or school year weekends. Consistency is important for children.
- Be involved. Find out if your kids have homework that needs to be done while they’re with you. If their mom won’t tell you, check with their teachers and their school. Many schools have online calendars that can make you aware of these things. Find a way to make sure you’re aware if an assignment is due.
Know what’s going on with your kids so you can continue those things at your place. If a child plays sports, make a point to practice that sport with him or her. If they play an instrument, look into getting one for them to use when they’re with you, if it’s feasible, or have them bring it with them.
- Encourage responsibility. One important duty of a parent is to teach your children responsibility. When they’re with you, that needs to be a focus, even if their mother doesn’t practice it. Make sure they make their beds, clean their rooms, pick up after themselves, or do chores. It doesn’t need to be so much that it consumes valuable time with them, but teaching your children is as important as playing with them, if not more important.
- Teach them. As mentioned above, a key role of a parent is that of teacher. Find life lessons in things. Teach them a sport, a hobby, an instrument, or just encourage them to learn on their own. Play is good, but lasts for only a time. Teaching can last a lifetime.
- Consistently discipline. This is probably the hardest one to do given the limited time we have with them. It’s a horrible feeling when you tell your child that if they disobey, then an activity will be canceled … and then they disobey. As hard as it is, you must be consistent and follow through with what you said. Children need discipline—rules and boundaries, knowing that their actions have consequences. If they have certain rules at their mother’s house, then it’s a good idea to be consistent with those when you can. To say that mom’s rules don’t matter at dad’s house is to essentially tell them that mom’s rules don’t matter, period. And that’s not something you need to be teaching them.
Being a Disney Dad is still being dad, which is better than many children have, but you can be more than that. You can be better.
Be the best dad you can be. Be consistent. Be involved. Encourage responsibility. Teach them. And provide them with consistent discipline. You’ll still have plenty of time to play, be a family and have fun together. But remember that you’re a parent and your job—however difficult you feel the courts and/or your ex may make it—is to raise your children, not just entertain them. And there can still be plenty of time for Disney World!
We have quite a few divorced dads who regularly read this blog, as well as dads whose parents divorced when they were growing up. So, what advice would you add about avoiding the Disney Dad trap? Please share about it on our Facebook page.
Scott Moore is a divorced, non-custodial father of a daughter and a son who lives in South Carolina. Through his blog at Building a Better Dad and his Facebook page, he offers other divorced dads (and married dads) understanding and encouragement to help them be better fathers despite their circumstances.