Dad playing with sonWhat happens when a parent feels guilt about a divorce and not getting to see their children 100 percent of the time? In some cases, a parent (either a mother or a father, let’s be clear to add) could respond by becoming what’s been known as a “Disneyland Dad.”

What is a Disneyland Dad? Divorce experts say that one possible reaction of a divorced parent with part-time custody is to spoil the children, ignore family rules, and “become the fun” parent in an effort to assuage guilt, win the children over, or make the other parent look bad. A Disneyland Dad (or Mom) may only see their kids on holidays or weekends, but when they do, they may take their kids on extravagant trips, ignore bedtimes, eat cake for breakfast, or skip from one adventure to the next. When they are away from their children, they may send expensive gifts or gifts that were not agreed upon by both parents. Very simply, these parents are focused on what their kids want – and not so much on what they need.

What should you do if you believe your ex is displaying the marks of a Disneyland Parent? First and foremost, understand that your former spouse is most probably displaying feelings of deep guilt about the divorce as well as not being able to be with their kids full time. Have an open and honest conversation with them regarding the issue – and reassure them that they don’t have to bribe their kids for love. In addition, try giving your ex more responsibility during your children’s visits – such as getting the kids haircuts or taking them to get school clothes. Absolutely do not complain about your ex-spouse’s issues with your children or make your children take sides.

What should you do if you think you might be showing signs of Disneyland Dad syndrome? Be sure that you understand that your divorce was likely necessary and that your kids will be happier if you and your ex are happier apart. Don’t focus on material goods or having every weekend being an exciting vacation. Instead, listen to your kids, understand their needs, and focus on spending quality time with them – perhaps away from roller coasters and cotton candy. Also, be sure that you and your co-parent discuss a list of family rules that are enforced at both houses.
Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington