You’ve probably heard of a Disneyland Dad, and the name gives you a pretty good idea of what it means: a divorced father who takes the kids off to have fun with no rules and no obligations.

The kids think that time at their dad’s house is great. They don’t have to do their homework. They get to stay up watching movies all the time. They eat pizza and fast food. They go on road trips or, as cliche as it is, head to the local amusement park.

The father may think this is a fine way to approach parenting, but it actually creates some serious complications.

Why it happens

It can happen for a lot of reasons. In some cases, the father does it on purpose as a way to undermine the mother’s relationship with the kids. From their perspective, Mom has rules, punishments and authority. Dad is like a fun uncle or an older brother. They’d rather spend time with him, and that’s exactly what Dad wants. He just wants to be the favorite parent.

In other cases, it happens because the father feels guilty about the divorce. He knows it was hard on the children. He wants to make them happy, and he’ll do whatever he can. That means letting the children make their own choices, even when they’re nowhere near ready to do so.

The problems

The issues with this are endless. For one thing, it can make the father actually grow apart from the kids. Pretty soon, he’s not spending time with them at all. They’re just playing video games and watching TV while he’s on his phone or working from the house. They may enjoy their time, but they’re not forging a strong relationship with their father.

Another issue is consistency. It is easier for children to learn and understand rules when they have to follow them consistently. If Mom upholds her rules — healthy meals, a reasonable bedtime, a block of time for homework — and Dad does not, they never really learn those lessons. This can harm their development over time.

It can also erode the relationship with their mother. They may not respect her authority, constantly complaining that their father wouldn’t make them do what she’s asking them to do. They may fight and argue more frequently. It may even get to the point where they do not want to spend time with her at all. They do not realize that she has their best interests at heart.

Working together

The key to successful co-parenting after divorce is to work together. Make sure you know what legal steps you can take to set up a plan that puts your kids first.