The Disneyland Dad or Disneyland Mom is a phrase commonly used to refer to a parent who sees their child during vacations and holidays often because they live a long distance away and a more typical parenting schedule isn’t feasible. Their physical distance means they often don’t have to deal with the daily logistics and practicalities of parenting nor discipline issues or school struggles. That can make the primary custody parent feel like the bad guy, the enforcer and the “unfun” parent.
My current guest Donna F. felt strongly that it was not in her daughter’s interest to be moving between her and her ex’s home in an equal parenting arrangement. She felt that her daughter would do best essentially being in one place and for that reason Donna decided to move from Arizona to Colorado and to be the Disneyland Mom. If her ex thought she was the “fun” parent, that was not how Donna felt. Here’s Donna:
Deciding to move away was horrible for a couple of different reasons. One, I knew I was going to be judged as a mom. Two, I couldn’t imagine not being with her, but I felt so strongly about not tearing her apart. If he wasn’t going to do it, then I was going to do.
Truthfully, I thought if I moved to Colorado that within a year or even a couple of months, he would realize that you cannot do it alone. You just can’t raise a kid alone. You have to have support of some kind.
Anyway, I moved up to Colorado in ‘99 and for the first year I didn’t really work. I stayed with some friends and I did it all on my own. I did organizing people’s offices. I really would take any job so that I could have the freedom to go and see her, because she was my priority. I tried to go back every other week and I’d have her for four or five days.
She had a phone and we talked every single day. I’d put her to bed and we would do visualizations. When she was crying and sad, she’d close her eyes and I would virtually hug her. And I know that those things touched her, because some of the times when I’d miss her, if I was crying on the phone she would do the same thing to me.
She would go, “Close your eyes and I wrap my arms around you and hug you.
I’ve journaled to my daughter since before she was born. I have a journal when I was pregnant with her. During this whole thing, I journaled about how I felt and what the truth was and that I wasn’t leaving her but that I really strongly believed she had to have some stability in her life. Those journals are available for her at some point in her life when she’s ready for them. And she knows they’re there.
It was such a hard time. It was horrible, because again, I wanted to be her mom my whole life and I tried to be the best mom I could, even from far away.
We talked everyday on the phone. It’s funny now but when she was about three-years old, we got disconnected and afterwards I was trying to explain how the phone gets disconnected, she was sobbing on the other end of the phone. “Oh, my mom hung up on me.” And I was trying to explain, “No, it’s kind of like going over a bump and it just disconnected.”
I would have her for weeks during the summer and weeks over the Christmas holiday. Overall, I had her for a third of the year.
I ended up creating a single life and a mom life because the single life helped me stay alive. I really felt like I might’ve committed suicide otherwise, because it was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. If I would’ve sat around being a mom the whole rest of my time without her there, it would’ve been horrible for me.
There was one guy I dated on and off and it wasn’t the best relationship. My daughter finally told me, “He’s mean to me and I don’t like him,” and so that was it.
When I knew my daughter was coming to visit, I would make my home kid-friendly, because I really had separate lives: being single and being a mom. Then when she left I had to clean my house as if I was single again, really nice and neat to help get through that, because it was devastating. You could imagine.
My ex spent a lot of time wanting to punish me, trying to keep her from me but he had remarried and his new wife helped support me. “Of course she has to go there in the summer. Of course she has to see her over the holidays.”
Initially, any time he questioned my daughter visiting I reacted and I was fighting. I was getting in the battle too until I realized that a lot of it was just to get me in the battle. So I learned how to stay out of it. And part of that was being here.
When I moved up to Colorado I didn’t think it would be more than a year without her. She was with him for ten years. If I had known it was going to be for ten years I don’t know that I would’ve made that decision. I thank God for not knowing that.
As an onlooker, I think it’s very easy and very tempting to think, “Well, if it was so painful, why did you move away? Why didn’t you move back and just live in a different neighborhood? Why not get a job closer to your child?”
It may not make sense to you and it may never make sense because you are not in that person’s shoes carrying all the weight of their experience.
The best we can do is not to judge especially when situations break socially-acceptable norms, as Donna’s does.
The best we can do is to offer acceptance, support, compassion and hope to gain a better understanding.
Are you a Disneyland Parent? What’s the hardest part of that for you?