As the American Chemical Society (ACS) reminds us, “the dose makes the poison.”1 For example, says the ACS, the average American would have to eat 5.4 pounds of sugar in a single sitting to have a 50 percent chance of dying from too much candy. That translates into 1,627 pieces of candy corn.

Delicious as candy is, too much of anything can be very bad for you. Remember that when you find yourself turning into Uncle Dad to your own children.

What is an Uncle Dad?

The terms “Uncle Dad” and “Disneyland Daddy” apply to the divorced, non-custodial father who takes none of the responsibilities and rule-setting of parenthood but all of the fun. The divorced mother, who often has physical custody of the children, continues to be a mom, issuing out curfews, bedtimes and green beans. Uncle Dad, meanwhile, lets the kids stay up until all hours when they are with him, buys them ice cream instead of dinner, and pays little if any attention to homework and school lunches.

Signs of Being Uncle Dad

You can assess for yourself just how far down the path of becoming your own kids’ Uncle Dad you are. Are you…

  • Letting your children stay up past the bedtime they have at Mom’s house?
  • Taking them on expensive vacations, such as Disneyland, while Mom socks away money for their college educations?
  • Providing no discipline, so if Bubba Jr. hits Babs and Babs comes crying to you, you ignore them both and offer to buy them a pizza?
  • Buying them junk food, candy, soda, and ice cream when they are with you?
  • Assigning no chores to them when they are at your house?
  • Sending them back to Mom with dirty clothes?
  • Letting them trash talk you, their mother, or each other?
  • Ignoring homework, school projects, team sports or organized activities they are expected to do when with Mom?
  • Buying their love?

That last one was intended to hit hard. You are behaving like an Uncle Dad because you are insecure in your new role. You are their father, still, but you also crave their approval. You may feel they bear emotional scars from the divorce. You may feel you have hurt them and are constantly seeking to make up for it. Or, frankly, you just may be too unmotivated to fulfill your duties as their Dad.

Stop It

After a divorce, your children still need two adults in their lives: Mom, and, separately, Dad. You are the adult. You are not your children’s best friend. You are also not their mother’s enemy, so do not take on that role. Be a Dad without morphing into Uncle Dad.

Many divorced parent websites provide practical solutions—from the mother’s viewpoint. They all have one thing in common: they see Dad as almost as much of a child as the children. Think of how you want your children to view you. You do not want them to view you as a two-dimensional buffoon, easily taken advantage of. You are their father, come distance, divorce or disappointment. Do your job; be a Dad.

If your ex-wife tries to tell you that your rewards are too much and consequences too little, avoid being defensive and listen. Empowering Parents points out that a good conversation with your ex-wife can put a stop to a lot of the Uncle Dad nonsense:

  • Agree on bedtimes at both homes
  • Set up a place for homework in both homes
  • Agree on spending patterns
  • Discuss big purchases ahead of time
  • Do not use vacations as weapons, bait or rewards

You may not have been the disciplinarian in your household during your marriage. Perhaps you need advice. Ask your ex-wife how she set boundaries. Your children will actually do just fine with predictable limits and a sense of continuity between your two homes.

Parallel Parenting

If you and your ex-wife are still tossing daggers, one excellent solution to stopping your own behavior is parallel parenting. As outlined in Psychology Today, parallel parenting keeps a firm distance between the two parents while formalizing all decisions.

Divorce Magazine provides five guidelines for this to work:

  1. All communication must be non-personal and business-like in nature and relate to information relevant to your children’s well-being
  2. Parents never use their children as messengers to communicate back and forth
  3. No changes to the schedule are made without written agreement
  4. No personal information is shared with the other parent in any form
  5. To minimize conflict, schedules are shared via a calendar or in writing

Parallel parenting is not your only option. Co-parenting can also help prevent Uncle Dad syndrome. For more help getting through a divorce as a father, call The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184. Our attorneys can help you with the finer points of child custody, visitation, child support and shared parenting. Get in touch with our Virginia Beach office today to schedule a consultation and discover why we’re the men’s divorce lawyers Hampton Roads trusts!


child custody and visitation lawyer