When Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Simon first met, the actress was already a single mom to daughter Kennedy, now an 18-year-old who is finishing up her first year at Northwestern University. Unlike a lot of couples, Hill got to see early on how Simon was as a mom, and what it might be like to raise a family together.
"I knew that I couldn't lose," the Wonder Years star says. "Because she was already a phenomenon, but I saw the magnificent job that she was doing with Kennedy. I got a chance to see in real time how she parents. And I knew that in any way that we expanded our family, it was going to be a wonderful thing." He laughs. "It would be a very wise move of me to be able to be on this parenting journey with Jazmyn."
The actors — who have also played an onscreen couple in three Psych movies — tied the knot in 2018. The following year, they welcomed son Levi, who turns 4 next week. Hill, who earned an Emmy nomination for his turn as presidential aide Charlie on The West Wing, has also adopted Kennedy.
"I didn't become a dad overnight," the actor says. "Kennedy and I really took our time forming our relationship the same way Jazmyn and I took our time forming our relationship. It really happened organically over time, so that by the time that Kennedy even asked to be adopted by me, it was a no-brainer. ... And I think any relationship that's going to have any staying power has to have a deep foundation. It has to be roots that run deep."
As a former single mom who spent about a decade doing it on her own, has Simon struggled to adjust to parenting with a partner? You bet.
"I will say that the hardest thing for me is co-parenting," she admits. "I'm not joking. I use a lot of 'I's instead of 'we's in emails. I get a little bit resentful when I have to ask somebody else, because for 10 years, which is a long time, I made every decision for her. In a partnership, though, I can't discount Dulé. And so I have to remind myself that it's not his fault that I was a single parent and that his opinion adds value to our children's lives. Now, I feel like I did a really great job with Kennedy — I'm like, I did a great job ... I am Wonder Woman — and so my first instinct is to do that with Levi, to, like, steamroll ahead and do all the things that worked with Kennedy. But it just doesn't work that way, because we have a two-parent home now, you know?"
She and Hill have "bumped heads" over it. "He has to remind me, 'yes, you did a great job with her, good job. But now it's two of us.'" Ultimately, that's "to their benefit," she says, in reference to their two children.
"There's some things with Kennedy that she will call her dad first," she shares. "And there's a lot of things that she will call me first because we are best friends. We grew up together. She knows that she can talk to me about anything, but there's some things that she knows he's going to have a calmer demeanor with, so she starts there. And that's the power of two parents. I have to get out of my own way sometimes."
Last year, Simon released her first children's book, The Most Perfect You, inspired by the conversations she's had with her daughter. Her real-life experience as a mom has also laid the groundwork for the Raising Dion star's second book, Repeat After Me: Big Things to Say Every Day, a guide to kid-friendly affirmations co-authored by her husband and illustrated by Shamar Knight-Justice. The affirmations featured in the book — "I am important," "I am loved," etc. — are things Simon started teaching Kennedy, and now Levi, from a young age as a daily ritual on their drives to school.
"[The affirmations] really have shaped how she sees herself," Simon says. "And she knows that outside of everybody else, this is who I am, and I've heard this for 16 years." She recalls sitting her daughter down after she graduated from high school at age 17 and asking, "Is there anything about yourself that you don't like? Let's talk about it."
According to Simon, Kennedy "sat for a second and she was really introspective and she said, 'No, there's nothing about myself that I would change. There's things that, you know, I obviously didn't love about myself growing up, but as a young adult, there's nothing that I would change about myself.' And I would say that those affirmations got her to that point, because there's so many things in the world for our young people to want, to aspire to be something else, to look different, to sound different, to dress different. And she just doesn't. She's OK and she loves herself. And I think the first-person affirmations truly helped her get to where she's at."
As a child performer who toured with The Tap Dance Kid at age 9, Hill himself got a lot of positive feedback during his youth. He credits his parents with supporting his interests — including track, soccer, dance school and acting — without forcing him to take part. That's something that's stuck with him now that he's a dad. For Levi, that means seeing "where his passions are and not try to mold him into who I think he should be." For Kennedy, it's letting her know that she can change her mind. He notes how impressed people would be when his daughter said she wanted to be an anesthesiologist.
"What I would tell her is that you don't have to — like, I know it sounds big and it's really great saying that and when people respond back to you and they're like, 'Oh my gosh, that's so amazing — but it's OK to not know," he says. "It's OK to go to college and figure it out. It's OK to try different things. And I just think it's important to instill that in children that you don't need to have all the answers right now. You don't need to be forced to do any one particular thing. You can really see where your passions lead you and then let the world take you there."
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