Not Being a Disneyland Dad
By Armin Brott
Author of The
Single Father: A Dads Guide to Parenting without a Partner
Non-custodial fathersespecially those with fairly infrequent
visitationoften feel obligated to make every second of every
visit with their children "count." Sometimes theyre
motivated by guilt, the fear of losing their children's love, trying
to make up for lost time, a desire to compete with the ex, or something
else. But whatever it is, the result is the same: they buy their
kids extravagant gifts, eat out every meal, take them on expensive
trips, give into their every whim, forget about discipline, and
generally treat them like visiting royalty instead of children.
It's no wonder that a lot of people refer to this kind of father
as the "Disneyland Dad."
in to this trap is easy, but you won't be able to keep it up for
very long: sooner or later you'll run out of money or ideas. And
when that happens, your kids will have gotten so spoiled that they'll
do one of two things (maybe even both): Resent you for not giving
them "their due," or think you don't love them any more.
Here are some simple steps you can take to keep yourself from turning
into a Disneyland Dad:
ahead. Don't schedule every minute of every day, but over the
course of the visit, try to allow some time in each of these areas:
fun, food, private time for you with each child, and time for
the kids to be by themselves.
go overboard. You do not have to amuse your children every second.
Don't even try. There's no way you'll be able to keep up the pace.
And if you get them used to non-stop entertainment, treats, and
gifts, they'll resent the hell out of you if you break the pattern.
try to make up for lost time--you can't.
your activities. Yes, as we know, kids love routines. But if you
go the movies and the zoo every weekend, they'll be bored out
of their minds. The weekend newspapers and those free, local parenting
publications are full of great things to do in your area. Groups
such as Parents without Partners often have activities planned
that can help add some variety to your times with your children.
your kids like they live there (they do), not like visiting VIPs.
This means giving them some chores and making sure they practice
the violin and do their homework. It also means havingand
enforcingrules in your house.
them some choice in what to do. Ask them to put together a list
of possibilities or give them some options to choose from. You
certainly don't have to do everything on their list. But the fact
that you've asked for their input will reinforce the idea that
you genuinely care about what's important to them.
plenty of down time. Some of your weekends are going to be packed
to the gills with great activities. But don't make them all that
way. Cramming too much fun into your times together can actually
cause a lot of stress. Kids of all ages need to spend some time
entertaining themselveseven if it means being bored for
a few hours. This can include writing in a journal, doing a crossword
puzzle, drawing, or just hanging out in the living room listening
to a CD.
put too much pressure on yourself. There are times when you'll
have tons of energy to run around doing things all day and other
times when you'll feel like a slugjust like everyone else
in the world. Your kids will understand. You and the kids will
occasionally have fights, too. If you do fight, don't spend a
lot of time worrying about it: they won't stop loving you. Fights
are perfectly normal in intact families, and just as normal in
normal. Of course you'll try not to spend your times with your
kids working on some project from the office. But sometimes something
comes up that you just have to do. Say, for example, this is the
only weekend you can take care of those household repairs. Having
the kids help outeven if it's only holding one end of the
tape measure or handing you nailsis a wonderful way to spend
time together and make them feel a part of your life. It'll also
help them tone down any unrealistic expectations they might have
about you by showing them that you're human and that you have
obligations and responsibilities.
Your goal as a non-custodial fathereven if your time with
your children is limitedis to have as normal a relationship
with them as possible. There's no need to compete with your ex and
you don't need to buy their love. If you genuinely love your children
and are interested in being with them, they'll know it. And they'll
love you and want to be with you too.
nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is also the
author of The
Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be, The
New Father: A Dads Guide to the First Year, The
New Father: A Dads Guide to the Toddler Years, and Throwaway
Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers
They Want to Be. He has written on parenting and fatherhood
for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and
dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts Positive Parenting,
a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family
in Oakland, California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com.