A Co-Parenting Success Story - The Awesome Squad
by Bess Kennedy on January 28, 2022
In 1st grade, my daughter brought home a set of notecards she had drawn at school. The notecards are an annual fundraiser – the kids draw something, the school prints the drawing on a folded notecard, and parents purchase sets of the notecards to support the school. The few sets I’d purchased over the years were sitting in the back of a drawer somewhere, still wrapped in cellophane. So when my daughter proudly pulled her set out that year, I didn’t give it much thought. Later that evening, I picked up the notecards from the kitchen counter to tuck them away in the drawer with the other cards. I glanced down at the drawing on the front of the card — a carefully drawn rendition of our family, all 8 of us, with two words written across the bottom: “Awesome Squad.”
There we were — not a broken family, not a dysfunctional family — a squad, and an awesome one at that! In my daughter’s version of our family, we all linked hands – me, my ex wife, our three kids, my new partner, and his two kids. I think even the dog made it into the drawing. Hearts and smiley faces danced around our heads. All parents hope for such a beautiful version of family. As a divorced parent with a blended family, my daughter’s drawing of our “Awesome Squad” provided some kind of long-awaited and much-needed affirmation – we hadn’t totally f&*cked up our kids in the divorce process or the subsequent blending of families. We were AWESOME!
But let me rewind, because I can assure you that any artistic renditions of our “squad” from even just a year earlier would not have included the descriptor “awesome,” and almost certainly wouldn’t have had hearts and smiley faces dancing around our heads.
Just a few years earlier, sitting on a worn Ikea couch with my two older kids (then ages 4 and 6) while the littlest one was napping in her crib, my soon-to-be-ex wife and I held the most heart-breaking conversation. After a year of “nesting,” I was moving out. The kids, we assured our wide-eyed little ones, would always have us, we would still be a family, it would just look different. Mama (that’s me) was moving to a house nearby, so the kids would now have two houses! Our weak attempts to highlight a possible silver lining were thwarted by our even more valiant efforts to hold back tears and not choke on our every word. The kids, to their credit, seemed mildly intrigued, somewhat confused, and mostly interested in getting back to whatever activity they had previously been engaged in.
Those first years were nothing short of brutal. Most communication with my ex happened by text, replete with constant misunderstandings, miscommunications, and text rants that I imagine we both wish we could take back. Neither of us was willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt. Ever. If a sock went missing, it clearly happened on the other parent’s watch. If one of the kids got sick, surely it was because the other parent had let them stay up too late or be out in the rain without a jacket. Every situation required blame, and we existed in a swirl of finger pointing and name calling. It was exhausting.
I wish I could point to some tangible event or concrete inflection point that shifted us to the “Awesome Squad,” but try as I might, I can’t find one. Instead, life happenings required us to work together rather than at cross-purposes. And our kids asked more of us – they wanted fewer things apart and more things together. They were asking us to deliver on the promise we made to them that no matter what, we would always be a family. Slowly, over time, we found common ground, recognizing that living in a constant state of combativeness while trying to co-parent three kids is not sustainable.
We shifted from having two of everything (two birthday parties for each kid, two Thanksgiving celebrations, two visits to the zoo) to combining our efforts and working together. By the time the “Awesome Squad” notecard showed up, my ex and I had co-hosted Thanksgiving dinner for our extended family (including my new partner and his kids), planned some pretty epic birthday parties for the kids (she handled the food, I took on the decor and activities), and worked together to find housing options that now have us living one block apart.
And somewhere between the conversation on the Ikea couch and the notecard, I also introduced three of the eight squad members into the mix – my new partner and his two boys. The blending of the families and our journey to becoming a squad is fodder for another blog post, but suffice it to say that the shifts from being a family with three kids and two divorced parents to a squad with five kids and three parents has been nothing short of awesome.
Four years after my daughter brought home the notecards, I will admit that I don’t always feel like we are the “Awesome Squad” that the drawing reflects; there are plenty of days when I am pushed to the brink navigating and negotiating life with someone with whom I have “irreconcilable differences.” But overall, life as the “Awesome Squad” feels so much better.
Bess Kennedy is a recovering attorney and former teacher who now serves as the Executive Director of the Aspire Public Schools Foundation. She’s a proud mama/stepmom to five pretty awesome kids. Bess credits her current level of sanity, diminished though it might be by this pandemic, to her partner, color-coded calendars, and an inclination towards joy.