What’s Disney Dad Syndrome? It’s where two parents have divorced and the kid (let’s say an 8 year-old boy) lives with his mom. Two weekends a month he stays with dad as part of the divorce decree. Dad, wanting to be loving, tries to make every weekend meaningful. He takes his son fishing and camping, to baseball games and Disneyland. Every weekend that he is with dad is full of adventure, excitement and something special. Then the son returns back to his mom where most of the time she is working long hours to raise a kid as a single mom. Weekends are “normal.” On rare occasion they go and do special things but not often. Mom is also the one who has him the most which means she is the main disciplinarian. Soon, after a little bit of time, dad becomes the hero and mom becomes the boring, strict parent. Her authority is undermined. Dad didn’t have bad intentions. But the constant extra special fun weekends and the same ol’ familiarity of mom make mom seem like the bad parent. Resentment begins to build. And there you have what is often called Disney Dad syndrome.
As Westerners with our big bucks lining our pocket when we come to do missions we often undermine the authority of the local leadership. Have a need? No problem, we’ll fix it. You say that surgery costs $8 and you don’t have the money? Here’s a $10, keep the change. Our intentions are good as we want to be generous but unwittingly we become like “Disney Dad” and unwittingly make the local leadership look impotent. Our problem is not that we are being generous, but that we aren’t involving the local leadership and seeking their wisdom in being problem-solvers.
This is a tricky issue. We don’t want to stifle generosity because we’re over-thinking it. Generosity needs to be reflex. But we also want to do so in a way that builds up and reinforces the local leadership, not be the swooping in hero who makes them look like less.