Understanding the Disneyland Dad

father son divorce

By Katie Davis

“You’re such a Disneyland Dad.”

The term is thrown around quite a bit. Now, we even hear the term “Disneyland Mom” as well.

But what does it really mean? Is it only used with feelings of resentment, or does it represent something bigger?

Actually, this term has now become so recognized that definitions are listed at many legal sites. According to USLegal, a Disneyland Parent is “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.”

Father and successful blogger Fred Campos, at Daddy Got Custody, writes about the different types of Disneyland Parent. Campos believes there is a guilty one, a manipulative version and even the more vindictive type.

But whether this parent splashes attention and big gifts toward his or her children due to guilt, anger at the ex or a plan to win over children’s affections, the results are nearly always the same. That particular parent becomes less of one in their child’s eyes.

Cordell & Cordell understands the concerns men face during divorce.

“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,” says Campos.

Sociologists and psychologists have studied this term and what it implies in recent years. In fact, the National Parents Organization reports that sociologist Susan Stewart looked into the “Disneyland Dad” concept and why it occurs. 

It was her opinion that unfair or largely uneven shared parenting time can often produce the Disneyland effect, while longer periods of parenting time by the non-custodial parent did not seem to lead to this.

“Fathering time, especially time that is not limited mainly to weekends, or to other small parcels of time, is closely associated with the quality and the endurance of the father-children relationship,” reports Stewart. “This kind of fathering time is highly correlated with positive outcomes for children of divorce.”

So, what can a parent with limited parenting time do to prevent against coming across this way or earning the “Disneyland” definition?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at childwelfare.gov, lists some tips regarding this idea, particularly with how it relates to non-custodial parents.

“‘Disneyland Dads’ 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.”

At the end of the day, what your children need from you is much more than gifts and huge displays. They even need more than a friend. Your kids need a parent who will be an educator, leader, motivator, counselor, fair disciplinarian and someone who is consistently in their lives.

Don’t beat yourself up if you identify with a few of the definitions listed above. If they’re honest, most divorced parents would probably fit into one or two of these categories as well.

Just remind yourself of the importance you play in your kids’ lives and how vital reliability and routine are to them. In the parenting world, structure often translates to love.

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23 comments on “Understanding the Disneyland Dad

    Seth and Aiden,
    I hope one day you stumble upon this and read it, and realize that what you are going through is not your fault. You were always both good kids, and you are both growing into strong and intelligent young men with good hearts,and I am very proud of you. Your sister Haley misses you both very much, and she hopes very much that she can be reunited with you one day.

    As for me, I am broken. I can’t fight anymore. Every day my heart and mind is consumed by my grief and longing for our relationship to be restored, but after five years, I can’t go on like this. I have to put it away and focus on other things. Should you ever decide to look me up, I will be in Orlando, like always, and not hard to find. My door and my heart will always be open to both of you. Please believe that I don’t blame you for any of this, and I’m so sorry for what you’ve had to go through. I am also sorry for the mistakes I have made along the way, and I hope that you can find peace and healing from the hurts I have caused by failing you.

    Remember to be kind and forgiving to each other. The turmoil and strife between you two is not because of who you are, but because you have been played against each other. Don’t let the fact that you were treated differently drive a wedge between you. You are brothers, no matter what.

    I love you both, yesterday, today, and always.
    Walter Singleton, Dad

    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.

    This may be true in many cases. However… men have and always been leaders in who actually leave their children to be cared for by mothers by themselves.

    My own sons father left the city we live in as soon as he met a rich overweight girl whom I’m assuming had no self esteem (father is millionaire etc takes them all to Turks and cacous every year, sent them to Africa for honeymoon and another trip six months into their marriage just for the heck of it.. I guess working six months straight in a business he bought for them he felt was stressful enough that they needed a “break” midway through the year).

    He automatically in Canada gets basically every visitation right a dad who stays in the same city does even though he chose to leave and didn’t even inform me or my son a month u til he had already moved.

    So we get all work, and he gets all the holidays.

    So believe me. There are many “Disneyland dads” out there, who purposefully put themselves in that potion to hoist all the responsibility onto the shoulders of the other parent. Thy don’t even bat an eye that it damages their own kids. Basically the system is made to supposedly protect the child. But also protect the parent who decides to “leave first”. Disgusting. My own belief is there should b ba fine if you leave the city and it isn’t for a good reason (no meeting a new woman or man isn’t counted as good enough reason. If a woman met a man and left the city and did they same she would be painted as a terrible person and chastised). The fine money should be put into trust accounts for the kids if courts need to make it “abou the kids”.

    I understand that there are moms as well, and I know it’s growing in numbers. Part of living in this “selfie” world full of arrogance and narcissism.

    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.

    The biggest thing a non-custodial parent needs to do is not undermine the custodial parent. My stepson’s non-custodial father was terrible about this. He was the poster boy for the Disneyland Dad. My wife and I would take away stepson’s video games because of not doing homework, not doing chores, Disneyland Dad just let him have all that stuff when he was over with him every other weekend. Disneyland Dad actually told us we had put the boy on “lockdown” because we had taken away all his electronics because of chronic school underperformance and refusing to do chores. Disneyland Dad said that was between us and the boy, he didn’t want to be involved in it, and he didn’t want to enforce our punishments because he wasn’t there and didn’t know if they were fair, and just wanted to have fun with him when it was their time together (he lived half a mile away, they saw each other all the time). He said numerous times “I He convinced himself that he was doing the right thing by “just trying to understand” when my stepson complained about our discipline and the chores we required of him. Of course even when he admitted to us his son’s behavior had been bad and our punishment reasonable, he never went back and told the boy that, because he never wanted to be “the bad guy”. He never understood that when the boy saw us mad at him but his father never mad, never siding with us, and even going to us to share the boy’s complaints, the boy saw the father as on “his side.”

    Disneyland Dads – if you are only “having fun” with your kid, you aren’t a real parent. You need to consistently send your kid the message that his stepfather and mother have every right to set their own rules in their own house and the child must obey them. Don’t soften that by saying some crap about “they may have some rules I don’t agree with, but…” NO. Agree with all their rules. After all, they have to deal with the kid’s behavior day in, day out, and you don’t, so you don’t have the proper perspective to disagree with their rules. If his mom says she’s grounded him from TV and video games, don’t him play them when he’s over with you. If you can’t figure out a way to have a good time with your child without electronics, you’re not a very good father. Oh, and when you pick him up on Friday afternoon, and his mom gives you homework or the project that is due on Monday that he still has to finish, don’t ignore it and return him an hour before his bedtime on Sunday with the homework or project completely untouched (can’t tell you how many times we were up past midnight on Sunday because Disneyland Dad did this.)

    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.

    I’m in the exact same situation. I agree with you 100%. He says he only sees him every couple months so he doesn’t want to have to discipline him. I usually let my wife deal with it because it’s their child, but I think I might need to have a man to man with him. As a child of divorce, my dad was more strict than my mom, and now that I have my own family, I understand and appreciate it.

    My son is 19 months old, and his father has been a Disneyland Dad since before he was born. He left me when I was 4 months pregnant – because I wasn’t fun and wasn’t “nice” to him (ie. I didn’t do everything he wanted me to do). He took me to court when I was 8 months pregnant trying to get full custody (I am a college-educated, non-drug using, “normal” woman with a stable, government job). Since before our son was born, I encouraged his dad to be part of his life, and during mediation, I agreed to very generous terms because I strongly believe that a child should have a father. Also, I have never sought child support although I am thankful that his dad helps with childcare costs (he’s a lawyer and makes 4x what I make). From the very beginning, his dad has acted like a Disneyland Dad – not allowing naps because it takes away from play time, feeding junk food, cutting time short or refusing time when our son is sick, etc. Most recently he has started forgetting to pick up our son from daycare and then throws a tantrum when I don’t allow make up time – “Our son knows that his dad has a demanding job and is grateful for any amount of time he can spend with his dad.” The court system cannot be blamed for his poor behavior or poor parenting. He’s a selfish, narcissistic person and would be regardless of how much time he spent with his son. The court system did not create this problem.

    Too Late for Discussion
    I only wish I had been given the chance to be a Disneyland Dad; it beats what I ended up with. My ex filed a motion to terminate my visitation, and the court never informed me that a hearing was going to take place, so I did not know to show up. I never received a copy of the court’s decision, either. I was shut out of my children’s lives until they turned 18. One child ran away from his mother; the mother threw the other child out with no prior notice. Who did the most damage?

    Disney Dads
    Everything currently in “the system” encourages this and discourages fathers from being fathers.

    First off – it shouldn’t be “visitation.” By calling it visitation, you’re encouraging this behavior because that’s what you do when people visit – you go do something fun. You don’t do homework, you don’t enforce bedtimes, you don’t discipline much. It’s a visit. It’s not a visit. It’s your time as a parent. As hard as it is, you have to almost live in two different worlds – that where you’re a parent when you have the kids, and the other when you’re not. When you have the kids, you are a dad, and the children should know that. Rules are rules, misbehavior has consequences, and your focus is on raising and teaching them, not just entertaining them.

    Second, the time we’re given is inequitable, by far. In a sense, we’re punished because of the divorce – and our children are, too – by basically having our children removed from us. Less time for all the required elements of parenting – teaching, disciplining, enforcing rules, etc – simply don’t have the time to be undertaken. So we do what we can do – have fun. Our kids see us so infrequently, we don’t want that time to be dreaded as “more of the same” with homework, chores, etc.

    Third, when do we often get them – weekends or a weeknight. When does even a nuclear family do fun things? Weekends and maybe a weeknight. So we do what everyone else does, but we’re maligned as Disney dads. We’re held to a double-standard, and one in which we feel we can’t win. But we have to dissuade ourselves of the notion that we have to “win” and realize that we have to be a parent – a father. Not just fun-time daddy.

    Until the system ever catches up and does what’s right, we just have to bite the bullet and be parents/fathers, whether it’s fun or not, whether our kids enjoy it or not. They will appreciate it one day, and it will pay off.

    disney dad
    I agree that equal time is best. I recently won custody of my children as my ex spouse masterminded her move to another state which completely failed thus she lost custody of our children BUT seeing how I truly believe that kids need BOTH their parents I decided that despite her losing complete custody that it would be best that we share custody equaly(which was my initial intent all along). She still maintains that the children are suffering with equal time and she maintains that the only solution is that the old schedule be reinstated. She has been fruitless in her pursuit to prove that such move is in the best interest of the children. Let’s be honest here, why does person want majority custody other than for financial gain? While I was not a Disney dad with my limited time prior to my win, I did see that they were being showered with gifts with their mother only to come to dads and get “disciplined” or being “bored”..I stuck to my guns and decided I was going to be a parent and not a source of entertainment.

    Good for you to use your limited time to be a real parent. I would say it is not always the case that one parent “wants” majority custody for financial reasons. A lot of times, as was the case of my wife’s ex, even though they were granted joint custody, it was his preference that his son be with my wife the majority of the time, so that he could be single and footloose and fancy free. Even when she had used up all her sick days staying home with my stepson (before she and I were married), he would not help her out, taking care of their sick son was “[her] responsibility, that’s why [he] pays her child support.” And when he was doing weekend bike rides to train for the MS 150 charity bike ride, he chose not to see his son for a month or more at a time because he was too tired.

    A person can want majority custody because oh I don’t know they want to actually be a big part of their kids lives.

    We can see you’re motivated by money.

    Current alternating weekend parenting time schedules do not provide the time or opportunities to engage in activities that foster a meaningful relationship between parent and child — activities such as helping with homework, preparing for school, etc. Dr. Warshak and 110 of his eminent colleagues wrote in a recent consensus report that schedules that consist of less than 35% parenting time will not achieve the desired objectives of contact.

    Why has the feminist movement or perspective not acknowledge their own faults and inabilities
    Unfortunatly fathers are still mistreated and dicriminated against in child custody and divorce. I wish their was a good study on who is filling for divorce and the true reasons. While I agree some fathers face the issue of having so few moments with their children that they do want to make them intersting and fun. The reality is that these same men probably would have done the same in their marriages if they were not held back by a spouce who overscheduled the family or did not make true fun activities a priority.

    Basic difference between Men and Women…. Men like to be active and place a higher priority on these type of entertaining items if given the chance.

    Again I can not speak for every situation or generalize everything. However from this article you can see that a feminist perspective does that very well. In reality following a divorce situation (Even with a very unfair economic disadvantage placed on men) the reality is that men find they have more resources once the female partner in their life is removed. Having more resources allowes them to engage in more activities that they would have been doing if not held back.

    Again I run the fear of over generalizing things. But the name “Disney Dad” appears to come from Jelous women (Who in most cases filed for divorce because of selfish reasons and who did not want to understand or stay with the spiritual committment they said they would). These women know find themselves spending a large amount of money on them selves, not on the children in the gym, engaging in making perceived life changes. Only to recapture the same type of man or even worse than what they threw away.

    So their is a reality Gap! That occures divorced women are engaging after divorce in making themselves feel good and placing most economic resources on that while at the same time the Divorced Dad is spending time and energy on engaging with their children because of the realization that time is precious.

    I agree Make equal split of time ” The Standard ” and you would have more men having time to engage in every life activity and you would have less women designing phrases that again continue to create a false characterization of men.

    Outside of hard Fact proven abuse. I say everyone deserves equal time and each party should be personally responsible for their own economic responsibility of their lives and their time with the children.

    No, Stockdale, you’re way offbase, it’s you who are making women the scapegoats. I am a custodial stepfather, I see the damage a Disneyland Dad does, and it has nothing to do with feminism. My stepson’s father’s Disneyland Dad behavior is all about meeting his own needs, wanting to be perceived as the favorite “parent” (in quotations because he never was a true parent) and having fun for himself. Meanwhile, my stepson’s mother and I were the ones who had to deal with the fallout of a disrespectful, narcissistic child who thought the world should revolve around him and no one should make him do anything he didn’t want to do – “Dad doesn’t make me mow the lawn”, “Dad doesn’t make me do homework when I’m with him”, “Dad says you’re being unfair to take me off the basketball team” (he was on the edge of failing because he refused to study or do homework). When he was 14 he actually flew into a rage because we were going out to lunch on a Saturday that happened to be my birthday, and we went to my favorite restaurant instead of his, and he called his father and complained, and his father said “why couldn’t you just go to a place he liked?” His mother and I suffered, a lot of conflict in the family, but ultimately now that my stepson is about to graduate high school, he is the one suffering, realizing that all his friends are going off to good colleges and he won’t be able to get into a good one, because he listened to his dad’s message that we were expecting too much of him in school (he’s plenty smart enough, just didn’t want to do the work).

    Every other weekend is not enough
    When a man has a vitriolic ex, who has won the battle over time with the kids, and undermines the father’s authority, what else is he to do. If he is just trying to provide the structure they need, then they are more easily swayed to not want to come over at all. You would have fewer disneyland parents if equal parenting time were the gold standard when abuse is not an issue. Most of the me I know who fit this description are not for any of the reasons above. It is simply they want to maintain a memorable relationship with very little time to do so, so that they will have the opportunity to do with their children in adulthood, what they weren’t allowed to do during their childhood. Whether this is the right way to do it or not, if I had lost yesterday, I would be busy making memories. When the courts treat the fathers as second class parents, so do the moms.

    My husband had more than 50/50 custody time with his children and still fell into the trap of Disney dad. No rules, no bedtimes, no homework, no consequences for bad behavior. Heck, not even any baths or teeth brushing. My DH was afraid that if we put parental controls on the TV or computer that the kids would be upset that they couldn’t watch porn anymore.

    I tried to help with the kids and give DH advice, thinking maybe he just didn’t know what he was doing, and was rewarded with the scapegoat role.

    His children are now adults living below federal poverty levels. One is a meth head.

    Bottom line is DH was doing what felt good for *him* and getting his needs met at the expense of his children’s well-being and the expense of his marriage.

    Please examine closely your motives for coddling your children before it’s too late. My DH is in anguish now, wishing he’d done things differently.

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