Last week I published an article about what exactly Disney Dads are and, why they do what they do. So in light of that I thought it only too relevant to now share some strategies for dealing with them. If you’re a separated or divorced mum dealing with a Disney Dad you’re going to want to read on!
Dealing with a Disney Dad, as the primary carer, is EXHAUSTING. It’s also frustrating. REALLY BLOODY FRUSTRATING. You live each week constantly hoping for change. For involvement, for input. Form some gold old parenting! Really you hope FOR ANYTHING that isn’t just ‘fun’. But lady, let me tell you… you will die waiting. NO AMOUNT of anything - begging, crying, showing, telling or demanding - will change a true Disney Dad. He will continue to do what he’s always done.
So, let the frustration out and then check out my top ten coping strategies below. They won’t change him, they won’t solve all the problems he causes but they will help you and your children move forward despite circumstances. Remember, you need to love your kids more than you hate (or ‘strongly dislike’!) your Disney Dad ex. Your kids need you more than ever.
The following coping strategies are taken from my recent interview with Julia from the hugely successful Single Mother Survival Guide podcast. You can check out my interview here! (Look for episode 164).
Before you read on further, if you haven’t checked out last week's article I suggest you do. It’ll provide the context for what you’re about to read below. You can read the article here.
Ok, lets get into it…
Communicate your concerns via email
Let’s face it, Disney Dads aren’t great communicators. They avoid anything parent like – yes? So don’t even bother having a face to face conversation about their behaviour and ‘parenting style’ with them. It can only end badly… and usually for you, not them. So, send an email. Stick to the facts. Make it ‘transactional’ for want of a better term. Don’t reveal your emotional ‘stuff', you will be talking to a brick wall. Your best chance at a breakthrough is by using “he” or “she” statements, in reference to the children… not “I” statements in relation to you and YOUR feelings. Mr Disney Dad doesn’t want to hear it. If you get angry, name call, or put him down heaps you will only be giving him more ammo. Keep it about the kids and their needs.
Don’t try to change him
Minimum words required here! Trying to change him will only destroy you. Have a say then leave it. In time this will get easier, trust me! Also, learning to have no expectations of a Disney Dad helps – when you have no expectations you aren’t as easily disappointed! Sad but true.
Never try to compete
This will only make you bitter and perpetually frustrated. You will constantly be living out of alignment with yourself… your parenting style, your morals and values, all of it. And when you live out of alignment you often become angry, resentful and stressed. Not only that, when it comes to the ‘buying and doing’ (of extravagant things) if you try and keep up or outdo Disney Dad your finances will take a huge hit. As a single mum you don’t need any extra financial pressure, right?
Understand that for young children this fun ‘stuff’ is addictive
Remember that the kids aren’t playing the emotional game or buying into the bs they are simply enjoying what our brains love most, fun! So when Disney Dad goes OTT don’t get angry at the children for enjoying the days out or the new toys etc. To them it’s not about Dad versus Mum… it’s about FUN! Their little brains are firing out dopamine (the chemical associated with pleasure and reward) at a rate of knots so they are bound to be ‘addicted’ to Disney Dad’s offerings.
Understand that kids NEED routine, boundaries and discipline to thrive
Despite what Disney Dad does (or in most cases, doesn’t do!) stick to your guns. Enforce your regular routine and don’t feel guilty for it. Recognise and be proud of your commitment to continue giving them the routine and stability they crave. Set boundaries and enforce them consistently. In time your children will respect you for doing this. If not now, definitely as they grow up. Never think that you should relax your rules to compete with Disney Dad.
Provide balance for the child
If your Disney Dad ex is big on constant entertainment and huge days out, you should explain to your children why down time is important. Why everyone needs to rest. Why home days can be just as much fun. Explain to them that when you CONSTANTLY have days out you don’t appreciate them as much. Use can also use examples to help children understand why love, being together, memories and TIME mean more than STUFF.
Be consistent in your messaging to the child
Whatever you tell your child, make it positive and about YOU and your choices, not their Dad or his choices. You want to bring stability to their life – NOT more chaos. Yes, you can explain that Dad can make his own choices and that yours don’t have to be the same, but leave it at that.
Remain committed to your values at all costs
SHOW your children the right way to live. Show them what’s important in life.
MODEL the right behaviours for them.
REMEMBER; never lower your standards for ANYONE!
Trust that one day your child will see through it all
Trust that with your guiding principles your child will be ok. As children mature and form their own views they DO start seeing the “FAKE”. Let them see it for themselves. If you force it you may jeopardise your relationship with them.
Remember you are their safe place. Their constant. Their everything.
Just be you. There really is no point trying to live a competition of you versus him. No matter what Disney Dad does, remember your children come home to you. You are their sounding board. Their rock. Their place to let loose. You’ve got their back, even if he doesn’t. Actively bring peace to your own life – the kids will benefit from a CALM mum.
I hope these tips help make your family life just a little bit easier. With good, strong boundaries in place and a clear awareness of and firm commitment to your own values, things should slowly get easier. We have the choice to learn to accept what we cannot change, let that be your ticket to peace.
If you enjoyed this article (and the previous article in this ‘mini series’ which you can read here) you may also enjoy my articles Surviving Life As A New Single Mum and 7 Must Do’s To Survive Your Divorce.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me here if I can be of assistance. I’m a single mum on a co-parenting ‘journey’ so I will understand your challenges! My counselling services are available Australia wide. You can learn more about them here.
Until next week…
Yours in better mental health,
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!