A common complaint among co-parents is that the other parent is a “Disneyland” parent. A Disneyland parent refers to a parent who is seen as indulging children with gifts and vacations, without taking the day to day parenting responsibility.
Having a Disneyland co-parent can be very frustrating and anger-provoking. It doesn’t have to be! These ten things to think about will set you free!
- The day to day living of life together is how relationships are formed. Co-parents can feel like the other parent is having all the fun with the children, without being responsible for the day to day drudgery. Yes, it can be frustrating to feel like you are doing all the work and they are having all the fun. But the idea that relationship is only good when you’re having fun is erroneous. Navigating day to day life together is very connecting. Cherish the simple moments- it is the stuff that life is made of. Your co-parent is missing out of the real stuff.
- Cultivating a connected trusting relationship with children is what will determine the closeness of your relationship with them in the long run. The experience of going to Disneyland, for instance, without the relationship is empty. If your co-parent is providing the experience, but not the relationship, it may provide some short-term entertainment, but won’t contribute to a meaningful relationship. If they are providing the experience and the relationship, be happy for your children! It doesn’t matter if you can’t provide the same kind of experiences or material stuff. The quality of the relationship is not determined by where you are going and what you are giving them. The quality of the relationship is determined by, well, the quality of the relationship. Therefore…
- Focus on your own relationship with your children. You can’t control what your co-parent does or doesn’t do, and your relationship with your children has nothing to do with what your co-parent does or doesn’t do.
- Unless there’s something you can do to change the situation, find ways to let go. Getting stuck in anger and frustration only hurts you and your children. There are many skills for working your way out of anger, frustration and resentment. Going around and around in your mind about how terrible your co-parent is not productive.
- This is not a competition! You are not in competition for your children’s affection. Children are not consumers whose affections are bought by stuff or entertainment. Children are human beings who need good connected relationship with others. Trusting relationships are what keeps children feeling safe and secure.
- If you treat it like a competition, you will lose. Why? Because what you really want is a good strong connected relationship with your children. Being engaged in a competition, whether just in your own head, or outwardly with your co-parent, creates distress for your children. It makes children feel unsafe. Children need ground under their feet. Engaging in competition makes the ground shaky. It causes disconnection between you and your children.
- Build relationship with your children by being present, tuning in, practicing mindfulness! It doesn’t matter what you are doing. You can be cooking, or driving, but tune into your children. Tuning in means paying attention, being curious about who they are and what they are feeling. Tuning in is listening even if they’re not saying anything. Presence is just being present. You don’t have to be talking to them or asking them questions or getting information to be present. You just have to be available and focused on them. Presence involves getting your own inner worries and distractions out of the way. Mindfulness is a skill that hones your ability to be present. It is easy to learn and very effective!
- Don’t say negative things about your co-parent! If you point out that their other parent is a Disneyland parent, or you criticize what your co-parent does with your children or buys for your children, or if you point out that you are carrying all the responsibility, you are driving a serious wedge between you and your children. Being in the middle is a terrible position for children. It will hurt your relationship with them.
- Have fun and play! Be sure to spend time having fun, playing games, riding bikes, telling jokes, taking walks, whatever it is your family does for recreation. You don’t have to do expensive things to have fun or build connection. In my co-parenting classes, I ask co-parents to talk about a memory about their parents that is special and meaningful to them. I have never heard: The time they took me to Disneyland or the time they bought me a really expensive toy. What I hear is: The time my dad spent time with me alone, the time my mom told me she loved me when a kid hurt my feelings, the time my dad said he was proud of me, etc. Spending time together, being present to them, connecting, is precious.
- Have confidence in your parenting! If you are focused on cultivating a strong, trusting relationship with your children, you are being a good parent. And by the way, you don’t have to be perfect to be good! Parents who lack self-confidence create shaky ground under children’s feet. Don’t compare yourself to your co-parent. Don’t worry about your co-parent “winning” the affection of your children. When you cultivate strong connected relationship, nobody can take it away. Trust it!