It's not just single or divorced mothers who have to deal with the "Disneyland Dad" syndrome. If you google the term, you'll find that there are a number of married parents who have similar issues. "Disneyland Dad" is more interested in fun than responsibility. He's all about fun for fun's sake. He thinks he's creating happy memories so that the children will bond more closely with him. In effect, he's bribing the children to like him more.
Disneyland Dads take their children out for every meal, to their favourite restaurants. No vegetables, just fast food and sugar. Trips to the fair. The toy store. Dad's time is fun time.
Homework? Who cares. It can wait. You don't have to worry about that here. Chores? No way. Those dishes will magically disappear. Allowance? Why do you need an allowance? Here's $20. Bed time? Forget that nonsense. Let's have a James Bond movie marathon! Showers and personal hygiene? Why do we need to brush our teeth? Just rinse with soda. The bubbles will clean off the nasty bits. Put your hair in a pony tail. There you go. Perfect.
I'm not quite sure how a Disneyland Dad works in a married relationship. I've seen some sitcoms where the whole thing balances out. They have the "fun" parent and the responsible parent who complete each other like yin and yang. Of course it turns out that the responsible parent is fun sometimes. And the fun parent is responsible sometimes. Not often, but sometimes.
It never works that way in real life. In a marriage, both parents need to take some responsibility for raising the children. Properly. Or it will lead to resentment. Fighting. Tension. Which ends up being not that fun. For either parent or for the kids.
I can tell you that being the "responsible" parent while co-parenting after divorce is not fun. Sometimes it feels like I've got the kids on a roller coaster - they have the upswings while they're at the father with all the fun and excitement, and then they have the downswings with me - with all the responsibilities and homework and chores.
And you know what? I get it. I'd love to be the "fun" parent. I'd love to be the one who stacks piles and piles of dishes and lets dust bunnies collect in favour of spending more time with my kids. Because I only have them 50% of the time. And really less than that, because they have school, and soccer, and swimming lessons. I'd love to just throw my hands up and have fun all the time.
But I can't. Instead, I worry. A lot.
I've seen the effects of no sleep on my children. They can't concentrate. They get nasty. Their school work suffers. I worry that bad sleeping habits starting at a tender age will lead to problems for them later in life. I worry that not getting into the habit of doing homework when they get home will lead them to fluff off their responsibilities later in life. I worry that they're learning bad eating habits, that they're not getting enough exercise.
I worry that I'm saddling them with too much responsibility. Their father doesn't take any. So I have to encourage them to be smart. You need to do your homework. Even when at your father's house. You know when you're tired. You need to get yourself to bed. Ask for vegetables. You like them here. You'll like them there.
Sometimes I'm certain that when they're at my house it feels like prison. All homework and chores and getting to bed on time. No fun. It's only the very rare occasion that they get to stay up late. Because we're always playing catch up. They always need more sleep. We need to catch up on the homework they haven't been doing. They have dark circles under their eyes.
I don't want them to grow up feeling a sense of "entitlement." They're not guaranteed anything in life. To get somewhere you have to work. You have to take responsibility for your actions. Life does not get handed to you on a platter. There are consequences for not getting enough sleep - you don't have the energy to work hard in school, you can't concentrate. There are consequences for not getting your homework done. Bad grades. There are consequences for not doing your chores. You have to live in a filthy house.
I want them to understand these concepts.
Here, they have chores and a chore chart and an allowance. I encourage them to take responsibility and pride in what they do. If you don't do it right the first time, then you have to do it again. If you take a toy out and put it away when you're done, it means less work later. You don't get to pick out a toy just because we're at a store. Don't ask. Homework comes out when they come home and it gets done before anything else.
Yes, sometimes chores and homework are not fun. But it can be rewarding to save up your allowance for that special toy. You can feel pride. You've earned something.
We live in a clean house. We can find our toys when we look for them - because they're always in their place. And if we share the load, then we have more time to spend together when we're done.
I'm not saying that there's never any fun in my house. We have fun. All the time. But it's balanced. Some of the time we have fun and some of the time we have to be responsible. Sometimes responsibilities can be fun too - if you make them that way. Put on music when you do the vacuuming. Dance while you're dusting. Have a race to see who can get their toys put away first. Play games to learn school concepts. Use laundry to learn about sorting. Write out a grocery list to learn spelling. Use a trip to the store to learn about math and saving. Get out of the house - go for a bike ride - exercise. Even eating broccoli can be fun if you add enough cheese.
I'm not the Disneyland Mom. But I am fun. Childhood is supposed to be fun. But it's also when you learn how to be an adult. And being an adult can be fun sometimes - but it also comes with responsibilities and consequences. I want them to find their own balance.
I'm not jealous of my ex and his time with the kids. He's welcome to it. And although I worry, I have to put that aside and work on the things I can control. My house isn't Disneyland - but I think, in the end, they'll realize that the important concepts I'm teaching them will help them later in life. And as much fun as they're having with their father, all he's giving them is memories. And you can't take them to the bank.