Two women in a hot tub with their children


No One Is The Aunt — Going To Family Camp With My Husband, His Ex-Wife And Our Kids

Jul 10, 2018

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them how well I get along with my husband Jesse’s ex-wife, Shannon. Few people expect me to say that we do most holidays together — with Jesse’s extended family.

But even my good pals raised an eyebrow when I told them that I would be spending a weekend together with Jesse, Shannon and our three boys (my two stepsons and one biological) in May for Family Camp.

... this is no Big Love situation. Just a regular, functioning blended family.

Yes, we’d all be sharing dorm-style accommodations, and no, it would not be weird.

Every summer, we send the older boys off to camp for a week. Camp Yowochas is about an hour west of Edmonton on Wabamun Lake. The boys absolutely love it there. So when the opportunity came to attend Family Camp for Mother’s Day weekend, we were excited to experience the archery, canoeing, shelter-building, zip-lining and campfire-ing the boys had been raving about.

On the first day, two people approached Shannon to ask what we were — how we all fit together. The three of us had been wondering when that would happen, not if.

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No, one of us is not the aunt. And nope, this is no Big Love situation. Just a regular, functioning blended family. And frankly, I think it’s about time we normalized this. I understand that our situation is ideal, and that not everyone will be able to achieve this level of family togetherness. Breakups are hard. Feelings get hurt and people change.

But Family Camp was a microcosm of why it’s so important.

Not every mother, father and stepmom would stay up laughing until midnight while the kids slept. And that kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight.

First and foremost, this weekend was for the kids. I want the kids to know that having divorced parents can be the opposite of a broken home. That co-parenting isn’t just a buzzword. That when a marriage ends, love and respect can continue. That women aren’t catty and jealous. That, hey — this is your modern family. Like most, it’s not perfect. But it’s full of laughter and genuine care.

It was an opportunity for the older boys to spend time with both of their parents. They love me, but I’m not their mother or father, and I get that. They see their parents together a lot, sure. At holidays, sports games, after school and during pickups and drop-offs. But a weekend of vacation with both parents — plus their beloved little brother and me — is rare.

It was also an opportunity for the three of us to bond and continue to know each other better. To talk about the kids and parenting — which makes us all better at that most important of jobs.

And here’s the secret thing about Family Camp: for me, it was no big sacrifice at all. I enjoyed it as much as the kids did.

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Not every mother, father and stepmom would stay up laughing until midnight while the kids slept. And that kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight. Four years ago, when I first came into the picture, we were friendly, but probably wouldn’t have weekended together.

But now? I really do consider Shannon my family. And man — if you’re going to be parenting the same children, that sure is helpful. She’s the kind of person that is adored by everyone. She’s that person who probably has 20 people who call her their best friend. And I’d much rather co-parent with a kind, supportive superstar than the alternative.

If you’re a parent in a blended family situation and horrified by the prospect of sharing bunk beds with your partner’s ex, I get it. But it doesn’t have to be quite THAT.

It can start with something as little as hanging out together for an afternoon.

And if you’re at all considering it — try it. Your kids will love it. And you might secretly — or not so secretly — end up loving it, too.

Article Author Julia Lipscombe
Julia Lipscombe

Read more from Julia here.

Julia Lipscombe is an Edmonton-based freelance journalist and former staffer at FLARE magazine, NOW magazine and the Edmonton Journal. Julia is an arts and lifestyle specialist, and these days mostly writes about parenting, music and weddings. Alongside her husband, Jesse Lipscombe, she co-founded and runs the anti-discrimination campaign, #MakeItAwkward, which encourages people to speak up and speak out against racism, homophobia and hate of all kinds. Julia and Jesse are parents to three beautiful boys: Chile, Tripp and Indiana. In her ever-diminishing spare time, Julia likes to swim, bike, run, drink wine, and listen to lots of albums as a member of the Polaris Music Prize jury. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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