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.