“Why is this not working for me?”

The Disneyland parent exclaims often in frustration. The answer is: even though your intentions may be good, the execution is flawed. When our families fail to have balance between fun and self-discipline, they fail to thrive. This imbalance ripples through and affects everyone negatively. And once again, the children suffer in the end due to its dysfunction.

“Disneyland parent” describes someone who is more of their child’s friend than a parent. It is a common pattern in the divorced, and couples who share custody. While most sites describe the Disneyland parent to be men, it can just as equally be the mom.

Why Does this occur?

Disneyland parent

Daddy Got Custody states that usually the non-custodial parent is more affected by this. This parent may have custody on the weekends only. Weekends are generally a time of relaxation. Thus the non-custodial parent tends to incorporate more “fun” activities than routine. Some even overcompensate the lack of time for gifts. For some parents, the guilt of divorce and the compensation for lack of time contribute to this phenomenon.

The non-custodial parent moves from full-time custody to only see their children a few days a week. Often, they miss a lot of “firsts”. They are concerned about not being there. Concerns over a lack of connection with their child are the foremost thought in their mind. The result- they overcompensate.

Daddy Got Custody describes three types of Disneyland parenting:

  1. Guilty Disneyland Parent. They overcompensate for a lack of time. As described above, they feel guilty about the divorce. They want to pack in as much time with their kids as possible. Yet it comes without boundaries enforced. It’s all about relationships and likeability. Not about parenting.
  2. Manipulative Disneyland Parent. It’s all about revenge. This type of parent wants to win their child over. Custody was established, but they are very vindictive. Their determination is to win at all costs. They want their children to view them as fun. Thus, the children will fight to be with them thus fulfilling their goal of primary custody. Point-set-match.
  3. Vindictive Disneyland Parent. It’s not about the kids at all. It’s about getting even. This type of parent is very vindictive. They are either angry at not receiving custody or are jealous of their ex-spouse. Their efforts are more to sabotage their spouse. The goal is to break all of the parenting rules leaving their spouse with the mess that ensues.

No matter what the motive, weekends become stuffed with fun activities and bonding time. The action is non-stop and is great… at first.

Where it comes crashing down…

Life becomes frustrating for the Disneyland parent eventually. Disneyland parents will exclaim, “Hey, it’s the weekend! It’s time for fun and relaxation. I don’t get to see my kids. It’s the only time I have for them.” While this is true and understandable, it comes at a cost.

The parent quickly exhibits frustration at enforcing rules. They are so consumed with gaining approval that they boundaries are overlooked. Children quickly learn that their dad/mom is fulfilling the “fun friend” role. Friends are equals, and don’t have authority over them like a parent should.

In scripture, parents have the authority to train and equip their children. Even in the natural, we are to prepare our children for the real world. We need to teach them what is expected of them. They need to be set up for success. A lack of proper discipline and boundaries does not teach children self-control. It teaches them over-indulgence. Ultimately, it creates an insatiable fleshly desire.

So when boundaries are enforced, the kids are shocked. This is the fun parent! Why are they being so strict?

The children are accustomed to getting their own way. Some use manipulation to guilt their parents for their advantage. So when they don’t like something, they make it known. Even if it is with them in mind, and for their own good.

This is where the frustration comes into effect. The child rebels- because they can. The parent either gives in to appease them- after all, why jeopardize the relationship- or is stymied. They can’t understand why their child who is their “friend” would not reciprocate and give them what they want. This is flawed because parent-child relationships are not about mutual reciprocation in this facet. They are about rules, discipline, structure and boundaries. These must be in effect for things to thrive.

The result for the disneyland parent?

Mostly frustration at not being able to please their kids at all times. Someone loses, and it’s usually the parent. The children don’t end up respecting the parent. They just end up walking all over them.

The guilt-ridden parent will feel stifled by the kids. Their life will not be their own. Dating will be hard if not impossible as they seek the approval of their kids. The children show no respect, and walk all over them.

Manipulative and vindictive Disneyland parents won’t win, either. Their bitterness will bind them along with their kids who will quickly realize that they are pawns. Conflicting loyalties will play heavily on these kids minds. This will result in confusion and damages relationships.

If the parent is vindictive, they will lose this relationship all together. Kids are perceptive. They will quickly learn that you didn’t want to spend time with them. Your motive will be exposed as you just wanted to get even. And if they don’t hate you, they will equally use you.

The OVerlooked reality

If you are on the receiving end as the ex, your life feels like a nightmare. You are trying desperately to parent properly, but you feel like you are engaged in a no-win battle. Your spouse doesn’t enforce rules such as proper bedtime, getting homework done, and discipline. So you are forced to. Their fun time behaviour makes you look like the “bad guy” because someone needs to enforce the rules.

You try to create structure and stability but to no avail. Your efforts get thwarted every weekend. You try to discuss the problem with them but to no avail. They just won’t budge on their parenting style because it benefits them (but not really). It becomes exhausting.

The Huffington Post has some suggestions for dealing with this type of behavior. What can you do? Calmly talk to your spouse and outline rationally your feelings. Try to compromise. They may not be aware of their behavior at all. If they won’t move, perhaps things will change if a non-partisan person mediates the situation to a resolution. Sometimes, we need another “witness” to see things clearly. This person may be a pastor or a trusted elder in the church.

Still won’t listen? Stay the course. You will end up further ahead in life than they do. Pray over the situation. Nothing is impossible for God. Pray that God softens their heart. Ask God to reveal their behaviour to them, or that God humbles them.

Who really looses in this case and why Disneyland parenting is destined to fail

Simply put, it serves the self not the child. It is born out of perceived inadequacies in parenting. Disneyland parenting arises from guilt, manipulation, or vindication. None of these attributes are healthy. All of these attributes will destroy your relationship with your children.

Your kids won’t see your ex as the problem. Although they may manipulate the two of you, their relationship with the ex will stand. Children thrive when boundaries and discipline are enforced. That is why in Proverbs it tells us to train a child up in the way in which they must go and they will never depart from it. It also says, “spare the rod and spoil the child”.

Children who are never disciplined lose in life. In order to succeed as an adult you must be taught self-discipline and self-governance. Children who lack self-control end up in debt, have addictions, can’t hold down jobs, and tend to be impulsive. They blame the world for their issues and avoid taking responsibility. Yet, if you take responsibility you are teachable. You learn what you did wrong, and what you could do differently. You grow.

When you don’t take responsibility, you forever blame others. This includes your parent who never taught you the skills for success. You were too busy with your guilt or being manipulative to see who is really affected long-term. These kids can’t afford the lifestyle. They aren’t motivated because they aren’t disciplined to be. They were never taught the necessary skills to survive in life. So, they end up drowning.

Is this what you want? That is why the Disneyland parent is destined to fail. This is also why you may be setting your kids up for failure. In a game of cat-and-mouse the children lose because it is not about their well-being. And when we take our focus off of what is really important- what is the fundamentally right thing to do- every one loses.

Including you. You gave up your life for them, and in return, get no respect. That’s not how it is meant to be.

Turning Things Around

If you are a Disneyland parent, Crosswalk has some great suggestions as to how to get things back on track. The article is well written and encouraging. It comes from a place of understanding, yet also correcting what may not be working. It will help to strengthen your relationship in the long term.

And while it may be tough at first, keep in mind that you truly are doing it for them. And doing what’s right will give you the peace that you need.

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