The term “Disney Dad” was something I was unfamiliar with until recently. However, after reading the legal definition it hit pretty close to home. The “Disney Dad” goes something like this…

“A noncustodial parent who indulges his or her child with gifts and good times during visitation and leaves most or all disciplinary responsibilities to the other parent”.

So, what does this mean for you as a single mother? If your ex is a Disney Dad, you probably already see where this is going. When you send your little ones off to the party house, it can feel as though they are staying with your teenage son, rather than their biological father.

You nag, plead and beg for them to eat just one piece of broccoli and that meals times are planned to incorporate something healthy. But, when it’s Disney Dad’s turn it’s pancakes for breakfast, pizza for lunch and nuggets and chips for dinner. With chocolate and ice cream at regular intervals.

Routine. What routine? While as the main custodial parent it is often a daily battle for baths, bedtimes and brushing – this is not something the Disney Dad needs to concern himself with. Free-range parenting is more his style. Often my children will come home with their eyes hanging out of their heads with my strict 7.30pm bedtime turning into whenever they pass out. There has even been occasions where he has picked them up from school early on his weekend. Because, after all, it’s about “quality time with Dad”.

Are you always busy with your kids but want to make plans for a bright and happy future?



Then, there is possibly the most difficult part to accept – and that is when you’re left struggling financially with school fees, swimming lessons and day-to-day expenses such as keeping the fridge filled. While the Disney Dad swans in for short doses throwing cash around on outings and frivolities. My kids have done it all, and it often amazes me how much can be jam packed into one night a fortnight. Movies, random trips interstate, theme parks, ghost tours, the show, bowling, water slides, rock climbing, aquariums, AFL, ice skating … the Disney Dad does it all. But, if your child needs new socks, a haircut or a pair of shoes, poor old Disney Dad’s wallet is suddenly empty. To him there is no fun in the practicalities of life.

As a parent with the majority of custody, how are we supposed to compete with the entertainment they provide? The answer is, unless your ex is willing to work with you to maintain consistency … you don’t. As long as there is no danger to your child, picking your battles and biting your tongue is going to save you a lot of unnecessary stress.

Your children will learn that there are different rules in different houses and so will the Disney Dad. My number one rule now is ‘no items are to come home’. This rule was formed after two years of Royal Show trips where they proceeded to bring home the giant gorilla teddies you win in the sideshows. I have four giant gorillas in my shed, which won’t fit in their rooms (and won’t fit in the bin). From now on, he can line his walls with as many gorillas as he likes … they are not welcome here. Nerf guns are confiscated at the door and so are bad habits.

Disney Dad

If you look a little deeper, it is easier to understand the logic behind the Disney Dad’s actions. When he sees his children infrequently he may struggle to understand what their real needs are. To hide this huge lack of insight he uses the distraction of entertainment and the “go go go”. The Disney Dad wants to be a friend not a parent. He wants to leave your children with happy experiences and albums full of photos. He may even ‘spoil’ them to compensate for the guilt he feels for not spending more time with them. In his mind, disciplining is not fun for them or for him … so why bother?

If you have to deal with a Disney Dad, understand that at the end of the day your children are just like you. A holiday is nice, but there is nothing better than the feeling of being home.

There is no need to compete, instead create boundaries so they understand the behaviour you expect when they come back. Stick to the parenting style that works for you. They will learn the value of money and what you do for them every day. And, really … most kids are just as happy with a free trip to the beach or the park, or spending time with mum. There is no need to empty your bank account on them in one afternoon, save that one for Disney Dad.

Do you have a Disney Dad in your life? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.

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  • Carla Ruesseler

    Yes, unfortunately i went through this Disney Dad syndrome twice and now as a grandmother I am dealing with the Disney grandpa syndrome. I spend a great deal of time and energy on my grandchildren on a regular basis but one visit from the ever distant grandpas and it seems my efforts fade to insignificance in the presence of the Disney grandpa. I try to console myself with ” well they are the ones missing out ‘ but it is hard to deal with the amount of respect, appreciation. love and excitement which is showered on these distant relatives. These gifts they receive do not often come my way with such generosity. So yes, Disney dads just turn into Disney grandpas –wait for it !!!!

    • Lucy Good

      Thanks for sharing this Carla. It’s so interesting to hear that it continues onto the grandparent years. I had simply never considered it. I can imagine it was would exactly the same, and pretty hard to deal with. However, I am sure kids (grandkids included) can see it for what it is eventually.

  • Sharelle Will

    Reading this story it felt like you had written about my children. I truly wish that there was a way that these Disney Dads could be held accountable for their actions.

    • Lucy Good

      It makes it so very difficult for the mothers. But I truly believe that when your children are older they will look back and realise what was really happening .. and they will love you all the more for it.

  • I have been accused of being a Disney Dad, and at the time it was probably a fair thing. I honestly hope that, for their own sake as well as the kids’, men who behave this way come to their senses before either one of the two inevitable things happen: 1) the kids wake up to what’s happening, and turn their backs; or 2) the money runs out, and the kids don’t understand why Dad “doesn’t love me any more” (because buying them things was how he showed his love).

    My evolution into a Disney Dad was partly as a result of feeling utterly disempowered after the marriage ended. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that my “right to parent” had been removed by my ex. It has taken a long time (including counselling) for me to re-establish myself in my own mind that I have a right to participate, be involved, and positively co-parent. I only say this because sometimes it’s not narcissism or belligerence that maketh the Disney Dad.

    To present Disney Dads, I say this. If you truly are a narcissistic pillock with only yourself in mind, then you will have only yourself to blame when your kids eventually reject your pretend love. Your actions aren’t getting back at your ex, or even “letting the kids have some fun like they deserve”… it’s just long-term damaging. If, however, you genuinely care for your kids and want the best for them, but just find it hard to enforce a good structure, get help: talk to workmates, family, professionals, your ex… and stop the endless spending. Your kids might gripe for a while that you stop buying things, but earning their respect will be well worth it for them — and you — in the long run.

  • Lucy Good

    Hi Vic

    Thanks so much for your response to this blog. It really is so interesting to hear from a single dad point of view.

    Your message to other dad’s in this situation is absolutely brilliant. Especially outlining the fact that many of these dad’s do genuinely care for their kids, such as yourself, and they possibly need support and help to enforce a structure .. without the constant spending. The thought of the money running out and the kids ultimately feeling unloved is truly terrible.

    You write beautifully, let me know if you’d like to do a guest blog on my website .. topics from a single dad point of view. I think many mums would love that.


  • PS Inspired

    My husband is a ‘Disney Dad’ when his son comes to visit. What makes it worse is he’s pretty much a normal dad with my kids. We don’t have a lot of money right now so there was no vacation this summer and my kids don’t ask for ‘extra’ things since they know we can’t really afford much. This summer was spent with us hanging out at home. My stepson was too busy to visit all summer and it’s a 9 hour round trip to get him (18+ hours on the road for a weekend visit). Anyway, my stepson asked to come down for the weekend and immediately my husband is asking someone if he can bring the kids swimming (he hasn’t done that all summer for my two). His son wants to go to the mall (he has $50 to spend), so he takes the boys and hangs out at the mall with them (we only go to the mall when we ‘need’ something from there). He takes the boys to Walmart and buys them a new toy, my son hasn’t had a new toy since the last time his stepbrother came to visit. I hope this paints a picture well enough for someone to give me some advice.

    • Lucy Good

      Thanks for sharing this. It’s good for others to know they’re not alone. And it is a common problem. Always happy to hear and share other people’s single mumma stories x

  • CE

    Sounds like Disney Dad is better off without the ex. What a bunch of spiteful whining. If you think scoring points by buffooning what the kids see as “The World’s Best Dad” in front of them you’re in for a shock during the teen years.