Shelley Hunt lives with her two children, her partner of three years and his three children — sort of. The couple’s home in Penticton, B.C., is divided into two apartments with two entrances so that the two families can live separately, together. Hunt lives with her sons, Elias, 13, and Leyland, 10, on the ground floor of the house, while her partner, Peter Verge, lives upstairs with his children, Ellie, 9, Carter, 6, and Sophie, 4. Each suite has its own kitchen and living room, and Hunt and Verge have separate bedrooms in their respective suites. Hunt’s videos describing her family’s unique living situation have been viewed millions of times on TikTok and led others to wonder if an unblended living situation like this could work for them.
Hunt spoke to the National Post about how her family decided to live separately under the same roof. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Q: How did you decide to live this way?
A: Peter and I had started dating just a few months before. We both ended up being in the market for a place to live at the same time. It’s actually an idea that we threw around with other friends who also have kids, like, “Hey, maybe we should buy a place together.” Buying a place with two suites was cheaper than buying separate places would have been. Plus, having separate places would have had less space than the whole house.
We have a mutual friend and we both tried to convince her to buy this place, with each of us respectively. And she thought we were crazy. Then we were like, do we just do this? Do we just do this together? It felt really soon to be embarking on a property purchase together, but we said, “Let’s just do it.” Like, in a way, it’s almost better to buy a place that has two separate suites, in case you break up rather than have a place where you have to divide everything up.
Q: How long have you been together now?
A: Not even three years. We’ve known each other for quite some time. So it’s not like I was moving in with somebody that I just blindly started dating. But, yeah, definitely felt way too soon to fully blend our families.
Q: How long have you been in the house?
A: Over two years. I actually moved in first because Peter was renting a place still.
Q: How have the kids taken to the living arrangement?
A: You know what, they love it. First off, so there’s like, there’s always a range of emotions happening in our house that things aren’t, you know, super black and white. Like, when we first started this, my oldest, he wanted to blend right away. And I said to him, I don’t think you know what you’re asking for. He was 11 at the time. And now he’s really thankful we didn’t blend. All the kids really love it. It’s really fostered really positive relationships between them. And then they have their own independence. Another huge thing for us is that they get time with each of us. We have them 50 per cent of the time. I’m having a meal with my boys and, you know, focusing on them and hearing about their day. And my kids being older, too, I think that’s really important. Because when we all hang out, things kind of cater towards what the littlest one can do. So that kind of moved focus away from my boys and my boys will be the first gone. So that’s just so valuable, that time that we have.
Q: Has your relationship with Peter changed since you started living like this?
A: When I look back on it, the whole beginning of our relationship feels like such a whirlwind. Because so much was going on in both of our lives. Then this opportunity came up and we jumped on it. So I don’t know how much it really changed our relationship, because we were so new to begin with. But I think — you know, there’s always other factors to this, but I would say, and I think all of our friends would say — we have the healthiest relationship they’ve ever seen. When I need something I have to ask him, like there isn’t this assumption. If I dropped the ball in my life, I’m dropping the ball, there’s nobody else to blame for that. And that sounds weird, but it’s actually really empowering for me.
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Q: Do you call yourselves a family? Or do you use a different word for how you live?
A: We all call ourselves a family. The kids started calling us a family right away. Peter’s kids started calling me their stepmom right away. They call each other step-siblings, because that’s the language that they know. And we never ever pushed that. We both are actually still hesitant to use that kind of language. We wanted it to really be from the kids and we didn’t want them to feel like that’s what we were pushing on them.They just view us as a family, even though we’re living differently. It’s really cool.
Q: Is there any part of the arrangement that you have struggled with?
A: The logistics of it, honestly, are absolute magic. He pays 58 per cent of all the bills, and all the household stuff. I pay 42 per cent because that’s how much square footage we each take up. Every once in a while, you grapple with what you’ve been raised to romanticize, and believe, is the perfect family. Every once in a while, you just grapple with it. It’s so funny how these things become ingrained in you. The only struggle that the kids have had with it is that they don’t know what to call it. They don’t know what to tell their friends. When my oldest son has his friends over, he doesn’t like explaining. So he’ll give me some heads up and we will just open the door. He gives them a tour of the whole house.
Q: Will you and Peter ever blend your families?
A: I think when we’ll change it is when the last kid moves out. Then we’ll blend because it will just be the two of us.
Q: If another family was considering a similar arrangement, what would your advice be?
A: My initial gut reaction to that question is to say to make sure that you communicate, but this setup forces you to communicate. My advice would be to make sure that before you embark on it, make sure you both have a clear understanding of what that looks like. But also be open to things changing. Like, when we first started it, the door was locked all the time, but since then we have changed to having the doors unlocked sometimes and even doors to the suites open depending on the day. I will say, though, living like this, and with Peter, it actually feels like a miracle. I think we would have a great relationship no matter what. But, I think this absolutely enhances it and makes it pretty special.