I Went to Disney World With My Ex-Husband

by Michelle Dempsey
Originally Published: 
A collage of Michelle Dempsey's ex-husband holding their daughter, and Michelle Dempsey holding her ...
Michelle Dempsey

“Are you nuts??!?!” This seems to be the standard question from everyone in my life recently. In fact, the texts and DMs haven’t stopped pouring in. We are now just past two weeks since returning from the Disney trip heard ‘round the world.

Over 50,000 people visit Disney World each and every day – so why did my trip, the one I took with my four-year-old daughter and her dad, matter SO damn much?

Oh, right, because we’re divorced – and divorced parents don’t often make family pilgrimages to the happiest place on earth together. At least not these divorced parents.

My daughter’s father and I separated just days after she turned two – a split that may not have shocked some, but nonetheless rattled our worlds. Once the proverbial shit hit my South Florida ceiling fan, lawyers stepped in to create nauseatingly detailed rules of co-parenting engagement. While we figured out schedules, number of overnights, vacation breakdowns, who-pays-for-what, and all of the other complexities of divorce with kids – one issue simply couldn’t be solved:

Who would take the kid to Disney first?

This may seem like a real ridiculous riddle to solve to some of you, but as residents of Florida, the home of the Happiest Place on Earth, it’s not unlikely for parents to start taking their children for some Disney magic fresh out of the womb. By the time Bella had turned three, some of her friends had been there multiple times, and she would come home from school bummed that she hadn’t yet had her way with a few fast passes and some Minnie Mouse ears. The only answer I could muster up, time and time again, was the promise of a trip in the future – even though I knew damn well it would be a lot more difficult to figure out than that.

But I get it – no parent wants to miss out on their only child’s first trip to the magic of the Magic Kingdom and everything else that goes along with it.

Michelle Dempsey

When the realization that my four-year-old wasn’t getting any younger and that this princess obsession of hers would eventually make way for more grown-up things, I knew it was time to take the leap. Before I knew it, I had planned the trip of a lifetime.

The trip of a lifetime with my ex-husband in tow.

Before I get down to business here, I’ll tell you a little bit more about my ex-husband and I, so you can understand why everyone in the world seems so blown away by the notion that we spent three days together. We’re not the co-parents from the movies, who lovingly wish each other well on a daily basis. We’re not the co-parents hanging out for the sake of hanging out.

We are not that at all.

But I knew in my heart of hearts that it was time to be – or at least try to be, for that matter. That this wall of tension between us needed to come down – not for me, but for our daughter.

So, with our pride in our back pockets and Disney magic bands on our wrists, my ex-husband, my four-year-old, and I, hopped in the car – the same car – for the long haul up to Orlando. My sweet daughter, so fixated on the fact that her parents were in the same car with her, never even bothered to question us about our destination – a clear indication that us being together was enough to satisfy her soul. Having not sat in a car with my ex-husband at the wheel for well over two years, the emotions were real – for both of us.

It started out tense. Uncomfortable. Frantic. Tension from so many unsaid things. Uncomfortable because, well, this was no longer our norm. Frantic because we were frantically grasping at straws for normalcy, trying to reignite a friendly rapport for the sake of the innocent child we brought into this world, sitting behind us and observing our every move.

Nearly four hours later, the “Welcome to Disney World” sign appeared. My daughter knew instantly what the surprise was. Her dramatically adorable reaction had us both in hysterics; half-tears, half-laughter and with one look of the excitement in her eyes, the walls came down, and we were ready to tackle happiest place on earth. Because even though the happiness between us had ended, the love we once had for each other produced the most important thing in our lives – her. And her happiness is what we care most about now.

I know what you’re wondering, and the answer is no, we did not stay in the same hotel room. We didn’t even stay in the same hotel, though Bella emphatically asked if we could both put her to bed on our vacation. We kept this part separate, though, because confusing our child was not our goal – showing her harmony was.

Was it a perfect trip? No. Was it easy? Not at all. Were there moments when we were both reminded of why we’re better off apart? Absolutely.

But, would I relive this experience again?


Yes, because she deserved it. She deserved a once-in-a-lifetime experience with both of her parents, even if we don’t both tuck her in to bed together anymore.

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