Q: I’m a divorced dad and don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like to. I have the typical custody arrangement – every other weekend and one night a week. I miss them and I know they miss me, so I try to make it up to them by packing our time together with all sorts of really fun activities and trips. By the end of the weekend, I’m completely exhausted and stressed out. I really want to spend some quiet time with the kids, but they seem to want each visit to be more fun than the last. What can I do?
A: Non-custodial fathers–especially those with fairly infrequent visitation–often feel obligated to make every second of every visit with their children “count.” Sometimes they’re 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.”
Falling 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:
Your goal as a non-custodial father-even if your time with your children is limited-is 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.