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Disneyland Dad: Is it Really that Bad?

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I grew up with a Disneyland Dad and lived to tell the tale.

Dad’s weekends were full of Happy Meals, swimming at the pool, and learning how to ride a bike. We played together and enjoyed our time, not worried about rules, bedtime, or balanced nutrition.

Mom’s house, on the other hand, was far stricter. There were chores, rules, bedtime, screen time restrictions, and school expectations.

As you can probably imagine, I lived for those carefree unstructured weekends with my dad and all of the fun I knew was waiting for me.

Stepmoms & Disneyland Dads - Is it really that bad?

What is a Disneyland Dad?

A Disneyland Parent is a noncustodial parent that focuses more on enjoying time with their children and less on structure, rules, and responsibilities.

A Disneyland Parent may spoil with gifts, time, and extravagant experiences (like a trip to their namesake’s Disneyland), and they will often leave most of the less-fun parenting and discipline to the custodial parent.

What causes a divorced parent to become a Disneyland Dad?

When a single parent has restricted access to their children, they often don’t want to spend it enforcing rules and doing homework. They’d rather spend that time doing fun activities and soaking it all up.

When you’re not with your children for an extended period of time, there’s less of an immediate need for structure and discipline.

For example, if the majority of the time your children are with you, it’s not a school night, then there’s less cause for a strict bedtime.

Is being a Disneyland Dad a bad thing?

No, but within reason. I’m thankful that growing up, my dad was relaxed and focused on having fun with me. My dad only had me for a few hours one night per week and every other weekend, and I looked forward to that time together.

Looking back, I’m grateful that time was spent on fun activities and bonding with my dad, instead of doing chores or something else equally mundane. For that reason, I fully recognize the merits of the Disneyland parent.

But, I also see the drawbacks. I was spoiled, and I knew that if Mom didn’t want to get me something or do something with me, I had a good chance of getting my way on Dad’s weekend. I also see the value in structure and nutritious meals—not a diet that consists mostly of donuts and fast food.

What if my partner is a Disneyland Parent?

I’m sending a BIG hug to all of my fellow Type A gals out there. Parenting with a partner who doesn’t prioritize structure when it’s a core need of yours is perhaps one of the quickest ways to set a stepmom on edge.

I hear you. Structure is important! Screen-time should be limited! Rules are necessary! I’m on board, sister.

But I’m not the one you need to convince. Your partner is. And you’ll likely be unable to convince them to see the merits of your thought process when they’re hyper-focused on getting as much quality time out of their custodial allotment as possible.

So, I have 3 big tips for you:

First, pick your battles.

Getting generic cliche one-liner advice is the worst, isn’t it? But I wouldn’t share it with you if it wasn’t truly helpful advice.

When I first became a stepmom, I picked all of the battles. Every single one of them. I relayed every piece of parenting advice and child development knowledge I’d ever learned to my partner. (And bless his heart, he was so patient with me)

But as I’ve grown in my stepmom role, I’ve learned that not every battle is worth picking. Not every parenting style difference needs to be discussed and debated. Some are important to me, and I choose to bring them up to my partner, but some are insignificant in the grand scheme of things (for me, this was the fairly common occurrence of my stepdaughter getting to bed at 8:30-ish instead of the strict 8:30 I preferred).

Second, learn how to compromise.

I bet if you took a step back and looked at your relationship, you’d see that you probably don’t want to be coupled with a pushover, right? From that lens, you can probably be more thankful that you don’t always get your way and that you’re required to compromise with your other half.

If you and your partner each said, “If I had it all my way… [fill in the blank],” then you’d likely describe two very different household structures and norms. How can you find a middle ground to have both of your needs met?

That’s the magic of compromise.

Third, trust your partner.

Your partner kept the kids alive before you came along, and it’s important to trust your partner will continue to parent them in the best way they know how.

Structure and rules are important, without a doubt. But so is quality time with their parent.

Recite that mantra as much as you may need to throughout your time with the kids, set boundaries to protect your peace, and always feel welcome to take a break and do nothing when you’re feeling overwhelmed with the (beautiful) chaos.

You don’t have to go it alone.

Stepparenting can feel so lonely and uniquely frustrating. You don’t have to go it alone. Consider joining our stepmom support group and connect with other stepmoms who understand your struggles.

If you’re looking for more individualized support on your stepmom journey, stepmom support coaching may be what you’re looking for. Apply now to find out if our program is a good fit for you!


P.S. It’s things like Disneyland Dad that prove I really had no idea what I was signing up for when I became a stepmom.

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