When the five of them rocked up to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, in early 2017, proudly wearing their matching T-shirts, onlookers were amazed. It wasn’t, however, the fact that the four adults and small child were co-ordinated that caused a stir; it was what was written on the backs of their tees.
Joseph Hawkey is a photographer from Florida who has a seven-year-old daughter called Maddie with his ex-wife, Tiffany. Unfortunately, when little Maddie was only two months old, the couple split up.
Then, after Tiffany moved more than a thousand miles away to Pennsylvania, the two grownups tried to move forward with their respective lives. It was by no means plain sailing, though, and sometimes things got rough emotionally. The couple had built up some animosity during the breakdown of their relationship and subsequent divorce, which made it difficult for them to get along.
“It was a really hard time for a few years, trying to get along with each other. There was so much tension, it wasn’t good for our daughter to see us arguing like this,” Joseph told ABC News.
In any case, Joseph followed Tiffany and Maddie north to Pennsylvania to be closer to his daughter. And after a while, things settled down, and relations between the estranged couple improved. Joseph also found love again, and in 2012 he married his new wife, Brianna.
Then it was Tiffany’s turn. She and her new beau, Luke Bankert, got married, too. Nevertheless, it was important to both parents that, even though they had each got remarried to other people, they were still together in the sense that Maddie was central to both of their lives. It was also vitally important to each of them that their little girl realized this as well.
?With this in mind?,? the two couples made the mature decision to try and do some activities altogether. So it was that the four adults and Maddie tried going out for dinner and taking day trips. And sure enough?,? the little girl loved these get?-?togethers.
?But it was something which the Hawkeys and the Bankerts did in spring 2017 that particularly caught the media’s attention – while also capturing the hearts of the public. It all began with one of Joseph’s work trips, after he was invited to take part in a shoot somewhere very exciting.
?He was commissioned to photograph an event at the Disney theme park in his old stomping ground of Florida?.? And hearing this, his ex-partner Tiffany had the most ingenious idea. She proposed that the whole gang join? him ?for the ride: the two couples and, of course, Maddie.
To some, this might have seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. However, both parties readily agreed to the joint vacation, convinced that Maddie would have the time of her young life. And the best part? No one told the little girl about the plan.
So, Maddie arrived at the park with Joseph and Brianna Hawkey, thinking that it would just be the three of them. But there, waiting for them at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, were her mom Tiffany and stepdad, Luke Bankert.
Little Maddie was delighted to have everyone there, and all five of them kicked off their special visit. But while it may have been an unusual situation, it was something else about the group that really struck people.
It was to do with what they were wearing. Yes, they had all really made the effort to dress for the occasion – although that doesn’t mean they were dressed up as Disney characters. In fact, their outfits – designed by Brianna – had an important message that they wanted to share.
Each of the adults was wearing a white Mickey and Minnie Mouse-themed T-shirt with their specific relationship to Maddie printed on the front in the distinctive Disney font: Daddy, Mommy, Step Daddy and Step Mommy. The youngest member of the party’s tee simply read “Maddie.” But when the adults turned around, they revealed another slogan.
Emblazoned across their backs was the proud legend “#Co-parenting.” Why did they decide to have that done? Well, it seemed as though the Hawkeys and Bankerts wanted to set a good example – by showing people that successful and happy co-parenting is possible. Fittingly, meanwhile, the reverse of Maddie’s tee read “#Best Day Ever.”
The two couples have never claimed that their co-parenting situation is easy, but what brings them together is how much they love Maddie. “We love that little girl so much,” Joseph told The Huffington Post. And it’s clear to see that that’s true; indeed, their tees proclaimed it to the world.
Brianna uploaded a photograph to Facebook showing the whole family unit in the Magic Kingdom wearing their T-shirts, and it quickly went viral. She wrote a comment alongside the photo, too, which read, “A child cannot have too many people who love them and want to help them succeed.”
So although at times it may be tough, these four adults have found a way to make the situation work for them. “It definitely doesn’t happen overnight,” Joseph warned The Huffington Post. But they’ve shown that co-parenting in this way can be done, so long as it’s steered by Joseph’s watchwords, “Patience and understanding.”
If all parties remain tolerant and accommodating, then co-parenting has a better chance of working out, according to Joseph. But this Disney holiday wasn’t just a one-off. No, the Hawkeys and Bankerts have been making a concerted effort to keep their style of parenting going.
The couples now try and organize an outing once a month, if not more, and Maddie just loves it. Even though some might see it as unusual, what matters most is that their little girl feels loved and cared for – and by twice as many parental figures than most kids get.