Vicki is the single mother of Alex (12), Ryan (8), and Jessica (6). To make ends meet, she works two jobs: she works as a receptionist during the week and a part-time caterer on weekends. She has been divorced from Mike, a supervisor for a building contractor, for two years. Her relationship with Mike is strained at best, hostile at worst.

Vicki’s Ex-Husband: ‘The Disneyland Dad’

Mike gets the kids every other weekend and every Wednesday. The kids love going to Dad’s because there are no rules. They get to do pretty much whatever they want.

Weekends are filled with video games, trips to the mall, pizza, and movie outings. And candy. Lots and lots of candy.

Wednesday nights are TV nights. The kids never do their homework on Wednesday nights because, after a long day, Mike wants to kick back. He doesn’t want to have to deal with questions about homework.

Vicki resents Mike’s free-for-all parenting and calls him ‘The Disneyland Dad.’

When Mike drops off the kids at Vicki’s apartment on Sunday night, they are wound up, bubbling about all the things they did with Dad over the weekend and not wanting the fun to end.

Within minutes, excitement turns to disrespect when Vicki asks them to help with chores and get to their homework. They talk back, act out, and tune their mother out. Sunday nights with mom turn into screaming matches and tears.

The anxiety always spills over into Monday morning, when she has to get the kids out of bed and get to work on time.

Vicki’s Life as a Parent: ‘A Wreck’

In her own words, Vicki’s life is ‘a wreck.’ Her priority is to get the bills paid and provide for her kids. In doing so, she feels she is losing control of them at light speed. How can Vicki get back in control, when her parenting efforts are undone weekly by Mike?

Mike doesn’t have effective parenting skills and tries to make up for it with deep pockets. He’s also perfectly happy that the kids go back to their mother’s and act out because it’s gratifying for him—it’s a way to act out his bad feelings toward his ex-wife.

Vicki feels cheated, betrayed, and resentful about her income disparity with Mike and for having to carry the whole workload of raising the children.

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What they both need to understand is that in divorce situations, kids develop a sort of extrasensory perception about statements that reflect resentment, anxiety, or jealousy. They already feel caught in the middle between their parents, and this heightened sensitivity to their parents’ words makes it even more so.

Can Vicki stop the disrespect and chaos in her home? And can Mike learn to be a responsible, effective parent? Yes. But here’s what has to happen:

1. Manage Your Feelings

The hard pill for parents to swallow, especially mothers, is that they have to manage their feelings of resentment and anxiety. Kids do sense when dad returns them that mom is resentful. Mom’s anxiety raises their anxiety and contributes to the acting out.

I recommend that mom sits down and talks with the kids when things are going well. Make a plan that when they return home, there should be a half-hour transition time where they go directly to their rooms and unwind, unpack, and have a snack. They don’t talk about the visit with dad, and they don’t talk about the chores. They don’t do anything—they just unwind.

After that half-hour of transition time, that’s when she meets with the kids and sets up the structure for the night (homework, chores, and TV time before bed) and the week (getting up, getting to school on time).

2. Create Structure and Set Expectations for the Kids

This mom needs to have a structure in the home with rules and clear expectations. She needs to establish a culture in the home. Mom needs to say this:

“You’re accountable to me. What happens at Dad’s house is irrelevant.”

“You’re not at your father’s anymore. These are the rules here.”

Then turn around and walk away. Mom can establish a structure by saying:

“It’s eight o’clock. You need to start getting ready for bed.”

The clearer that structure is, and the more it’s backed up by expectations, responsibilities, and accountability, the better the chances the kids will respond to it.

The simple fact is this: when the kids come back from Dad’s, they need a structure to come home to.

3. Use a Reward System With the Kids

At the same time, mom can set up a reward system. The kids who do their homework on Wednesday nights when they’re at Dad’s get something extra. It doesn’t have to be something that costs a lot of money. It can be extra computer time, extra phone time, or staying up half an hour later the night they get back.

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There’s also a much easier way to get the kids to do their chores. Give them a certain amount of time to complete a task. If they get it done, they get a reward. For example, if Ryan does the dishes within 15 minutes after supper, he gets an extra half hour on the computer that evening.

Vicki should set the limits and make it the kids’ responsibility to meet them. Why? Because they can do it. Kids show us this every day. Why do you think they go home and act out, then go to school the next day and behave? It’s because they can manage different environments effectively.

4. Try To Work Out a Fair Arrangement With the Other Parent

In this case, I think ‘Disneyland Dad’ needs to be challenged to become a more responsible parent. If these parents are involved in family therapy or counseling, increasing Mike’s responsibility needs to be part of the structure.

I’ve known families who have worked out an arrangement in therapy that if the child is acting out after being at Dad’s house, the father has to come over and help calm him. It puts some responsibility back on the father and discourages him from creating the problem.

This can only happen if parents are empowered through the divorce decree and custody arrangement or through regular or court-ordered family therapy. But it’s important for parents in these situations to have that empowerment so that the family has a structure for the co-parenting task.

Related content:
5 Do’s and Don’ts of Shared Custody
Divorce and Kids: Managing Your Child’s Behavior When the Family Breaks Up


James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.

Comments (32)
  • Unrealistic Reality

    The suggestions from this article dump the responsibility on the already overworked mothers to manage their feelings,and "this mom needs to...", and ,"mom can set up...", and furthermore, take on the job of parenting the father.

    What the wha?!?!?!?

  • MamaCloris
    Oh my god, if the dad had been responsible to begin with, the judge would not have granted sole legal and physical custody to the mother. The parent doing all of the work and paying for everything has to make the majority of decisions and keep their child safe, fed,More in school, etc. It's called being an adult. The dad chose not be in his children's lives full-time.
  • MamaCloris
    When I tried the reverse psychology of giving dad the entire week and entire summer break, he complained that it was too much work and a huge invonvenience, interrupting his sex life. He's a retired millionaire at 50 - so even with no job to worry about, being aMore parent was too bothersome.
  • MamaCloris
    While these suggestions sound fine and dandy, the reality for me and most working single mothers, is that dad does not ALLOW the kids to do school work when with him. The notion that the kids care about "rewards" is another fantasy. My son wanted to do his homework, wantedMore to go to sleep early, wanted to eat healthy, wanted to shower at dad's, but dad kept him out all night, driving round town, visiting the sex partner of the month...if he returned my son to school on time, he'd be hungry, tired, no homework done, and usually sick. An excellent student, my son did not care about candy or extra computer time - he begged for the structure and quiet time to get his homework done. Disneyland daddy caused my son to miss school, miss afterschool events, forced him to drop out of violin and tae kwon do that son loved (dad refused to honor scheduled lessons or provide practice time). Family court judges ignored court orders to put child first; the court-appointed psychologist reported dad's neglect but couldn't enforce anything - and when son complained that dad preferred porn movies and overnight friends to spending time with the children, dad was rewarded with more vacation time in the summer. The judge's comment was that dad was entitled to "date" - no matter the negative consequences of ignoring his parenting responsibilities.
  • Jd32up
    Jodalyn Ok, you're apparently not reading my words or maybe I'm not writing them correctly..  Due to my ex's work schedule, he is not able to have the children (teens) any more than he already does unless I gave up my only weekend or two a month. I've offered timeMore during my weekends but he is never able to do it. I DON'T care what he did to me. I've moved on & am very happy.  I would absolutely still love to have that break but at my kids ages neither one wants to go anymore & the judge ruled that my daughter could make that choice, when my ex wouldn't agree to send her to the next steps of treatment for bulimia & depression. I try to talk her into going every time her brother goes but after she's found & seen things go on over there she says that she doesn't want to be somewhere where ppl are snorting drugs in the next room. I can't really blame her but it's a much more of a complicated situation than the ppl on here that are judging, seem to think. Does it make me upset with him for spending so much $ on that crap that my kids needs aren't being met, yes, it sure does. If he had any other time the kids would be with his girlfriend, which my daughter says she's always babysitting & that she is not liked there. Social Services was called over there a few mos. ago but nobody would tell me why bc it apparently "wasn't involving my kids" but they did go to schl & interview them.  If u call me not wanting my 10 yr old driving the highway trying to control his parenting style, then call it what you'd like. I'm not going to start listing the incidents that have given me every reason to be worried. I just want him to be a (safe) dad. My kids deserve to have their father be there for them when they need or hug them & say something nice once in a while, but I cannot control his habits which I found out many yrs ago bc it brought an end to the marriage. It just saddens me that he can't get his sh** together for the sake of his 4 (now) children.  So u can say your "disgusted" with these "type of moms" & label us all in general, as a whole but that's just ignorant. If I did that then I would be a man hater thinking that all men are dead beat, drug using dads but I know that is not the case. Lots of GOOD fathers out there!
    • Jodalyn25
      I wasn't referring to your comments. I was referring to the article. If the father is unfit, of course they shouldn't be in his care but that's not the context of this piece.
  • Jd32up
    lilliycake been there.. Reach out to her, u may be able to create a healthy relationship between u two which would benefit the situation. I did try but it didn't work for me.. It's crazy how the comments on here place blame on the other sex in general. U mayMore have had an awful experience (I did) but It'd be ignorant to think all men (or women) are the same. My ex is the same, always complaining about his time but never seems to want it when it comes down to it. He has time for his new kids but honestly with his mood swings (drugs) I'm not comfortable with them going anyway.
  • bluedolphin14

    Jodalyn These are my thoughts exactly.  I have 50-50 custody of my kids.  They are with me a week then him for a week.  I do not understand this every other weekend custody thing.  

    If you want your ex to stop being a Disney Parent, then allow them more time with the kids.  If I only saw my kids every other weekend, you bet that I would be trying to be as entertaining with them as possible, and to have fun all day since I only get 2 precious days to be with them.  It is not reasonable to expect that parent to set up routines when they only have 48 ours with the kiddos.  There simply is not enough time for that.  My ex is very good at setting up expectations and routines because he is just as responsible for school, homework and activities on his weeks as I am on mine.  I may not like everything about how he parents, but  it is absolutely none of my business how he does it on his time.  

    If you want to change your ex from being a Disney Parent, them make them a real parent by allowing them 1/2 time with their children as it should be!!!

    • MamaCloris
      Haha- noone can "make" someone a "real" parent. And limited time does not "make" a parent irresponsible. I saw my grandparent once a year while growing up. I knew I was loved - it had nothing to do with the amount of time spent.
    • Jodalyn25

      Right??? I don't understand these mothers who restrict the child's time with dad but then expects dad to manage everything like he would if they were in his care!

      Four days a month dies not a parent make.

      And more often than not the moms who ARE doing this sure as heck don't want dad interfering with how things run in mom's home...But yet she wants him to impart discipline upon the kids when he has no say in how they're being brought up. That's not how any of this works

      • MamaCloris
        You don't appear to have a clue. Most mothers beg the fathers to spend more time; the dads don't want it.
  • JoeAlbowicz
    guest798 In many cases the way children speak and react to the other parent depends on how you yourself speak and react to the other parent.  Kids emulate the behavior of their parents.
  • JoeAlbowicz
    If Vicki is so overwhelmed and the kids are having such a great time at Dad's house, there is a very simple solution.  Have the kids be with Dad more!   Nothing is gained when a separated parent, in this case Mom, is overwhelmed and then encouraged to blame theMore other parent.   BTW, the kid's homework is THEIR homework.  They need to be encouraged to be responsible for it themselves.  This article is infuriating since it embodies the sexist stereo-types that pervades the Family Court system and the "professionals" that operate therein.
    • MamaCloris
      Kids can't maintain their school responsibilities when a Disneyland parent refuses to let them. I think that's the point of the article.
    • Stace83
      Umm just no!
    • Krista623
      yes it's the kids homework but it's the parents responsibility to make sure they get it done and not give them a free pass to have a night off of homework.  Young kids need to be told to do homework, they aren't going to do it unless they are toldMore to do so.  I deal with this every other weekend, my kids come home with no homework done, no tests have been studied for, it's unacceptable and a constant fight.
    • JohnLord1
      Well said.
  • TheresaY

    We deal with this problem except it isn't a weekend issue - our son's mother has him every other week yet her house is like the Disney house - no rules, no expectations, total freedom and complete catering to whatever he wants. She gives in rather than discipline. She will not admit to seeing anything wrong with his behaviours and her usual response to his mis-behaviours is that they "cute" or that he can't control his behaviours. I have a lot of experience working with children myself and from everything I've seen and learned about in this child's life, there was no discipline even from a young age - he has been catered to from the beginning to the point of despite there being 2 other children in the house when he was young, his favourites were the only food cooked, whatever he wanted to watch on TV was what the others had to watch, etc. When he attended school, the behaviours problems began and he was sent to a pediatrician. No discussion of home life, lack of discipline or the way the home revolved around him was discusses and he was diagnosed with ADD. Instead of creating stability, discipline and rules, he was put on medication and both his mother and him think the medication does all the work, and that he doesn't have to learn anything he doesn't want to. He is the only child at his mother's and she will even cook different meals if she even thinks he won't like what she is making.

    We have done rewards, explicit rules and reminding him that he is at our house and have seen that he CAN control IF he wants to. However, at her house, he doesn't have to, so I get it - why would he learn when he doesn't have to. Unfortunately, this means that at our house, where we have rules for everyone, we are in constant crisis when he is there because he comes to our house expecting the same things. Because he has just had a whole week of "freedom", we have a extremely difficult time trying to utilize your suggestions. Every week, it feels like we are having to start completely from scratch and we are exhausted. He consistently sabotages rewards, refuses to be accountable, is defiant and is not interested in learning coping or strategies. We can not trust what he says because he is already an expert at manipulation (he has been learning this over the last 5 years - he has been very successful at convincing others that he can't do what he just doesn't want to do even in the school system) and will say whatever he thinks will get him what he wants.  It makes it so difficult and I haven't found any suggestions on how to handle behaviours when the child's other household functions so differently.  Any suggestions? 

    We have a family with 2 other children, one who is 3 who is now starting to do the same negative behaviours she sees her older brother do, and we are concerned about her now.

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      It can be really frustrating when you have a situation like

      you describe, where one household runs very differently from another. 

      While it would be great if there were consistent rules and structures across

      the board at your house as well as his mother’s house, it doesn’t sound like

      that is the current situation.  Unfortunately, you cannot control what happens

      at his mother’s house, or how she chooses to parent.  Therefore, it’s

      going to be most effective if you focus on where you have control, such as your

      house rules, rewards, and consequences.  It sounds like you are doing

      that, and I encourage you to continue.  As James mentions above, I also

      recommend allowing him to have some transition time when he arrives at your

      house, in order to help him make the mental adjustment to being there. 

      You can find some additional tips and information in our articles http://www.empoweringparents.com/parenting-after-divorce-9-ways-to-parent-on-your-own-terms.php and http://www.empoweringparents.com/no-such-thing-as-a-bad-apple-fix-the-behavior-not-the-kid.php. 

      I appreciate your writing in for support.  Please let us know if you have

      any additional questions.  Take care.

  • Natesdad
    This makes sense because the writer of this post knows what it's like to be an every other weekend dad. Yea that's right you do not know and you have no right to judge how a dad is to behave with his kids on his time. Seriously growing tiredMore of the moms of my generation it's amazing how they are never wrong and they are victims and the dads are so horrible. You most likely chose this life so you all own it.
    • JohnLord1
      With ya on that. One that really grinds my gears is how I have rules. I have structure...... I tell him no. But he doesn't argue with me. Doesn't throw tantrums. But she's hurt that she's not number one.... So she finds ways to sandbag me. Pretty childish to doMore that and very likely to backfire. I'm seeing signs it already is
  • Natesdad
    Finally a mom who is open minded and not a man hater I wish my ex wife and I could swap roles for a month see how she likes them every other weekends and then have the nerve to tell you how you should go about being a dad onMore the weekends. Disgusted with these type of moms.
    • Natesdad
      There should be a like 1000x option for this post.

    I completely understand what this mom is going through. I call my ex for years "Disney dad". My kids are 17 & 12. The 17 yo is the one who is completely disrespectful to me but his father is king. If I say to my son jump he'll say FU but his father he'll say how high. My ex doesn't get involved in discipline, instead he tells my children and me that I need help, I should be on medication. My son has now been spouting his fathers same words to me. My ex enables my son to be the way he is, his "punishment" is not taking him to a fun activity, or so he says but he'll still take him anyway.

    My ex takes my kids every weekend and one day during the week, whichever seems to work. He has a specific day but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. I understand how the article says Vicki can be resentful, I sometimes feel that way too. I feel like I'm in charge of the everyday well being for my kids, to be clean, fed, up and dressed. I get no time with my kids on the weekends and if I do get a time periodically, I don't have money to buy them and take them. I get very little child support, I can't even claim them on my taxes. There are so many things that yes, I am resentful about. I wish I could go back in time and change my stipulation, my attorney screwed me and I got the short end of the stick.

    I don't know if Vicki can work out a plan with her ex, I have tried but my ex is narcissistic and he is never wrong. His behavior is being carried over to my son who like I said treats me terribly. I have tried going back to court for child support in the past and I can't figure out why I seem to get nothing I ask for and he gets it all. I have tried therapy like suggested for Vicki but my ex isn't involved because he doesn't see a problem in our sons behavior, he only sees me as a problem. I refuse to have a conversation with him and only text. Today I blocked his texts because of his nasty response to a situation going on the last 2 days, but don't worry, my son won't be in trouble from his dad, even though the school is involved, instead my son is going to an event tonight.

  • momislove

    Jd32up Jodalyn It sounds like your children are suffering from safety lapses. That is a very serious matter and I hope you have been documenting this and bringing the matter up to the courts. If he doesn't want his visits, he doesn't have to have them. It isn't best for theMore children to force them into his lives. They can figure it out. They may struggle with the issue of it being about them, but they will eventually understand, if they don't already, that his lack of involvement is about him not them. There are some situations where the father should not be involved or should be very minimally involved.

    • MamaCloris
      Courts don't care, and yes, in our case, dad was forced to have visitation time he did not want...it's part of what the court deems is necesssary for the non-custodial parent...regardless of dad's history of abuse and neglect. Dad preferred to party and take random women on trips; heMore seldom paid attention to the kids, and regularly dumped them off with a babysitter.
    • Jd32up

      momislove  I did bring up several concerns when in mediation a while back & they turned and asked him my every accusation & he admitted to everything.. They basically told him that it was "not appropriate" and nothing came of it. He'll tell our kids deliberately not to tell momMore about things, & they do. I try to pick & choose the times to try & communicate with him about it, I find out he reprimanded our kids for it! This has happened several times so I have given up trying to talk to him about much of anything. I have been documenting everything but I'm not sure if anything will ever come of it, I don't know what I can do. Now that they're getting older (11 & 13) they have figured a lot of it out, it breaks my heart but the only thing I can do is be there for them. My daughter is beautiful & loving the boys attention, scary! 
      momislove- Thank you for your input. I've not heard of the term safety lapses and encourage any other advice :)

  • Surviving Limbo
    @Guest I can tell you, as a mother who wishes my ex spent more time with his kids, that from my own son's mouth, he feels that his dad is a "good friend but not a good dad." And that is not just about the amount of time he makesMore to spend with his kids, it is the quality of the time. My kids' dad is a ton of fun and very interesting but kids want to feel like dad is a parent too, that he can do parenting things, like cook, help with homework or projects, do the day to day kind of stuff--not just goof around. Spending six hours of quiet normal time with your dad can be very memorable for a kid. I wonder why it is so hard for some dads to keep it low key and just give their kids their full undivided attention (what they really want) rather than making every encounter an event. Think about it. They will remember you just being with them and that being enough for you. That would give them confidence that they are interesting and of value to you which is more important than them remembering how fun you were. It's about them feeling like they and their lives are significant without all the bells and whistles. To be more succinct, always trying to impress is about you more than them. I'm not saying don't ever go all out but realize that you are basically sending a message 1) that time with them in and of itself is not adequate and 2) their regular lives suck in comparison. Just food for thought. :)
  • momislove

    I find the advice about the mothers resentment misplaced. That isn't the problem in this case, though resentment between parents causes a fair bit of problems. The best answer is not easy. It's a continuous methodical plodding through. Mom needs to be very consistent with the kids when home, and as the author says challenge the dad to grow up and take better care of the kids. Meanwhile mom can seek support through counseling. Some states have a process where one parent can require the other to take parenting classes and some can go through mediation to address these very issues. I have seen parenting plans specifically address homework, bedtimes and dietary concerns. There is no simple solution and in fact most solutions seem like an insult. The responsible parent is burdened with the work of both.

    The presence of a parent who lacks the maturity to parent the children and chooses to be a playmate does a lot damage to kids. Some parents will refuse to cooperate no matter what and family courts are set up to expect parents to work together in the best interest of the children. Some parents revert to Disneyland tactics out of a lack of confidence in their parenting skills or a fear that they will make their children dislike them. But some Disneyland parents do it to make life difficult for the other parent and give little to no consideration of the impact on the children's well being.

     It really truly is possible to cooperatively raise children with an ex. in a peaceful constructive healthy manner. So much so it makes people wonder why the relationship failed. But it is possible. I live that daily. It takes maturity, and a sense of selflessness from both parents. Both parents have to 1) want to do so and 2) make it priority. The resentment just has to be stuck in storage closet or thrown out completely..

  • mom1234
    That is ridiculous advice! I have a similar situation, without the deep pockets.  The first paragraph here says "Her relationship with Mike is strained at best, hostile at worst" and the solution...work something out with the other parent?? Are you serious?? Some people can't work things out with the other parent.More  What a suggestion!  Unbelievable!
    • Diane


      Some men are violent and you can have no contact with them at all and need a restraining order. In this case visitation needs to be supervised visitation.

  • guest144
    Being a child of divorce and having very limited time with my father, the "phenomenon" of disneyland dads makes perfect sense. When estranged fathers finally have time with their children, whether it is by their choice or not, there is a divide that is difficult to breach. You can't expectMore children to have a comfortable relationship with a parent they see Wednesdays and every other weekend. Make it fun and the awkward tension disappears. It isn't healthy. It can certainly make things difficult for the custodial parent, but this is the consequence of the lack of a meaningful relationship with one parent.
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