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Go Ask Mom

Solo Mom: Dealing with Disney Dad

Posted February 26, 2013

Stacy Lamb, organizer of Single Parents of the Triangle

I often get asked by fellow single moms, “How do I compete with Disney Dad?”

You know Disney Dad: He’s the absent or partially there divorced father who thinks that being a dad means only spending money on lavish gifts and expensive fun on his every-other-weekend with the kids. He’s not raising children, he’s impressing them with “stuff.”

I’ve definitely seen this happen in the other direction as well – where mom is the one who cares nothing of parenting and dad does all the work – but for clarity of this piece I’m sticking with “Disney Dad.”

So, when you’re the mom who does all the homework, enforces bedtime while the kids never seem to sleep at dad's house, struggles to pay the bills while the kids go on endless vacations with and are flooded with gifts from dad – how do you compete? You don’t.

You are a parent to your children, not a friend. It’s great when you get to be both, but parenting is the priority. I once heard a family law judge say “I can make him obey the law, but I can’t make him a good father.”

In an ideal world, both parents can put aside their differences and work together to put the children first. (OK, in an ideal world, marriages last and none of this is an issue, but even in marriage, parents do not always have equal roles).

In reality, it’s a rare treat to see effective co-parenting. It seems one parent always at least feels they do all the work, while the other tries to win the children’s affection with money and fun.

You can’t compete, and it isn’t healthy for your children if you try to do so. It takes some amount of confidence to understand and really believe that you are the strong parent, and that you really are doing what is best for your children.

It may be hard now but, in the end, the children will appreciate what you are doing far more than the material things that dad provides. Remember, the kids will outgrow toys, but they will ALWAYS know who takes care of them.

Stacy Lamb of Apex is the divorced mom of two. She is a former organizer and an active member of Single Parents of the Triangle. Find her here monthly on Wednesday.


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  • 1happymom Mar 1, 2013

    As a mom in a 50/50 custody situation, I have a deep appreciation for this post. I too have felt frustrated when I'm trying to be consistent about things the two of us have agreed upon when it comes to raising our child, and the other parent is not being consistent (but is instead being more "fun" even though our child is with him half the time). Our child is still very young, and then gets upset with me for not buying a particular toy when daddy randomly decided to buy one just the other day. (Vent over, I don't want to encourage bad feelings in myself or anyone else)
    I like the last line: "Remember, the kids will outgrow toys, but they will ALWAYS know who takes care of them." And ideally, I want our child to think of us BOTH this way - that both of his parents cared about his well-being and took good care of him, even if he wasn't always happy about the decisions they made a the time.

  • angelienna Feb 27, 2013

    As a step mom, I hate this term. I married a man whose ex used to refer to him as a Disneyland Dad.. she did this out of pure jealousy and it hurt him. He wanted more time with his child but she wouldn't allow it. It took a huge custody battle and lots of lawyers fees to get joint custody so that he could do the day to day stuff she always tried to use against him. In the end its funny because we weren't doing anything special, just cookouts with friends and spending time with people. She in the end has been the one to BUY him more materialistic stuff.

  • jfrankejr Feb 27, 2013

    Sorry guys, I think you are missing the point. It's not about not having fun with your kids or loosening the rules on weekends. Hell, I am the fun one with my kid. However, I do spend the time with her during the week too and do homework, stay home when she is sick, etc. I do both, cause I choose too. It's not about Child Support either, I do that as well. It's about the Dad's who don't, choose not too or in some cases can't spend that time with their kids. They just come in cause they feel they are supposed too and throw gifts/surprises/trips or something at the kids to consume the time and feel like they have a relationship. The quality of the relationship with your kid can be easier with more time obviously, but it's about how you spend the time you do spend with your kid.

  • pmck Feb 27, 2013

    Kids aren't stupid. They understand this whole issue even better than the parents. When Mom clearly says, "These are the rules at our house..." and sticks with it, the kids appreciate it. Mom can't control what Dad does or doesn't do. Kids will appreciate a mom who lets go of bitterness and stops comparing her parenting style to the dad's. It's an age-old problem. I was a child of such a situation. I knew from an early age the game that Dad was playing. I ended up loving both my parents despite my mom's bitterness and jealousy.

  • -Enter Screen Name- Feb 27, 2013

    I'm sorry, but I would have to agree with 'SaveEnergyMan' here. Also, the weekends are the time to loosen the rules a bit (like bedtime) and have fun. So, if that's all Dad gets to see the kids, are they just supposed to sit at the table all weekend staring at each other?

    If you don't like it, do something about it. Switch roles. He gets them most of the time, he gets the child support payments, and you get them just on the weekends - when they want to have fun. Let's see you be the bigger person and tell them that since Daddy takes care of them during the week with no time for fun, you can't have fun with them either.

  • SaveEnergyMan Feb 27, 2013

    I can see these dads trying to cope with the guilt of not being able to be there all the time by buying the kids gifts and doing fun things - you know, making the kids feel good, so the dad can feel good. I am sorry, but you moms don't have the market on feelings. Men just express them differently - through actions rather than words.

    The answer is to let dad have more time with the kids, including some quality time solving problems in everyday life. I know that's not always practical, but remember you and dad created this problem and the kids are the real victims. Dads are already powerless in the courts, don't bully him out the lives of his children too.

  • 321oohaw Feb 26, 2013

    how sad...

  • bhenderson Feb 26, 2013

    As a single mom of two sons from ages 11 mos. and 2 yrs. we had to deal w/a Disney dad. He was a good dad, but every other weekend was spent doing the fun things (and buying things) that I felt I couldn't afford. After all I had two children to raise and educate. One night when putting the oldest to bed when he was about 5 he asked who I loved the most, him or his little brother. I told him I loved them both the same. I said it would be like if someone asked you who you loved the most, dad or me and he said " I think I love dad the most because he buys me toys". This did not fase me. I told him I understood and I also knew that he would understand one day when he was older that mom was the one providing for every need as well as college for the two of them. Once grown when the oldest was engaged and planning a wedding, their father got engaged for the 4th time. I told my son that I understood that dad had given him some advice on marriage. He said, "don't worry mom, you raise