Is A "Fun Time Parent" Taking All The Fun Out Of Your Parenting?

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January 09, 2017

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Differences between parent’s homes are inevitable after divorce. Parents involved in custody arrangements often complain about the fact that parenting methods and home environments are vastly different from one another. Obviously differences in lifestyle and opinions about all aspects of life contribute to why couples divorce in the first place, so divorce just opens the door for each party to live life and parent as they see fit.

One common trend is that one home is more structured (scheduled routines, chores, specific expectations, and so on) while the other may be more loose (no or few rules and little structure).

Kids hate being told what to do, being made to do chores, and facing consequences. Who does like those things? The fact is that kids secretly (often unknowingly) thrive on routine and at least some structure. It’s healthy for them to learn cause and effect from their actions, responsibility, and how to care for themselves.

So, no surprise that parents who run a tighter ship get ticked off when everything they work so hard to instill in their children goes right out the window when they go to their other parent’s home, then they have to struggle to reintegrate into the structured environment when they return.

I’ll admit it, I have uttered the words “fun time dad (or mom, referring to my husband’s ex).” It’s like a big rock in my shoe that I can’t shake loose when I work so hard with my kids to do their homework, brush their hair, and help out around the house only to visit “playtime parent” and everything seems to go to hell!

This brings me to a favorite insult of many co-parents- often custodial parents or the ones who have more time with the kids: “Disneyland Dad (or mom- they exist too!).”

I hear the “Disneyland” label thrown around quite a bit to describe a parent who is about nothing but a good time for the duration of their time with the kids. This could refer to a major slip in manners, hygiene, and structure, or it may simply refer to the fact that when the kids are with that parent it’s nothing but waterparks, candy, and non-stop good times.

There’s nothing wrong with fun. Who doesn’t like vacations, tasty food, and entertaining activities? Sign me up!

The line between having an enjoyable time with one parent versus “Disneyland parenting” is when fun tends to surpass reason, good judgment, and even in some ways the best interest of the kids.

As previously stated, I have scoffed at my “fun time ex” on more than one occasion because it seemed incredible that every time he had the kids they could go out to eat, see every movie released, and come away riding a tidal wave of “daddy’s great euphoria”, meanwhile I had to be the mean parent by enforcing school requirements and sometimes sitting around for a boring weekend because I didn’t have money to do fun things because my ex was way overdue in paying me his share of the kid’s expenses (we have no child support orders, we are each ordered to pay half of everything)!

It’s easy to paint the town red and have a great time when not paying one’s fair share, and the fact that major gold stars are earned from the kids for being so fun and not cracking down on yucky stuff like taking a bath or going to bed at 8 is even more frustrating!

So, before we gather a mob to hunt down all the “fun time moms” and “playtime dads”, let’s examine why a parent engages in Disneyland parenting.

As said before, it is often, though not always the case, that the parent who does so may have less time with the children. So, if you have a minimum of time to connect, make an impact, and make your time really special, what are you going to do? Are you going to make the kids spend the weekend at “Camp Cinderella” and clean toilets, weed all the flower beds, and scrub the floors? Probably not! Now, if the kids lived with you the majority of the time, there’s no escaping the clutches of occasional boredom, responsibility, getting in trouble now and then, and many of the other really stinky things about life.

I guarantee you that if I only had my kids one weekend of the month or in tiny spurts throughout the school year and two weeks of the summer, I would want to make every moment of our time together feel like 100 moments, and I could want to fill every second with love, fun, excitement, and incredible memories! I would want them to smile every time they thought of me and look forward to seeing me next. I would want to give them the world in a weekend if that’s all I had!

As it is, I have my children 50% of the time, one week at-a-time, and I still try to pack in as many happy times as I can, knowing that I miss so much of their lives! No, I am not the “fun time mom.” I am often the meanie mom. My kids know that when they’re at my house they will be expected to make their bed, tidy up their room, complete chores, act with respect, use manners, and so on. But, they also know that after all the “have to’s” are completed, I do my best to provide them with fun.

I admit that when I shop for Christmas and birthdays I do so with their happiness and satisfaction in mind. It warmed my heart when my daughter squealed with delight when she got a bike for Christmas- something that I bought for her to play and have fun with at my house! I want them to associate my house with fun, love, and plenty of good memories.

Does it make me a Disneyland mom if I construct my and my children’s lives so that they have fun and enjoy being at mom’s house? If it does, call me guilty! And, if this is what makes any parent a Disneyland parent, I can’t blame them one bit!

The key here is to strike a balance. Kids need fun, but they also need stability and parents who are parents, not buddies.

No one wants to spend their precious moments with their children grounding them, making them do boring chores, and certainly not looking forward to coming back. I miss my kids when they’re away with their dad, and I have them 50% of the time. I can only imagine how torn up I would be if I only saw them a few times per month-or year!

I won’t criticize another parent for simply wanting their visitation time with their kids to be as meaningful as possible, but there’s also a difference between being a mom or dad versus the entertainment director on a cruise ship. Surely we don’t get mad at “fun time” parents because they deliver fun…so ask yourself, is it because “normal” goes on vacation for a bit, or could it even be jealousy because they get by without the “mean” that comes with responsibility?

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